|Goldman Sachs New World Headquarters (Photo credit: Wikipedia)|
|Coat of arms of Greece since 7 June 1975. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)|
|the logo of syriza (Photo credit: Wikipedia)|
I have been filling in my spare time in recent weeks reading a lot of thrillers, mysteries, and the like, about which more on a later post. Before embarking on this trivia I feel bound to write about what is really exercising me, day by day, which is the fate of the brave new leftist government in Greece.
From what I have read (most of it on the internet, where the freedom to express alternative opinions seems to be so much more available than in the mainstream media) I have come to the conclusion that what the Greeks are proposing is, in effect, the boldest move taken by any government in the last quarter century to oppose what seems to be accepted everywhere these days as the only reasonable economic route into the future. That global consensus, not to put too fine a point on it, is dictated by the oligarchs (otherwise called corporations) of the Western powers, and constitutes a root and branch defence of a capitalism that is untrammelled by any limitations imposed in the public interest.
It is exactly this kind of capitalism that in 2008 plunged the global economy into a severe crisis from which President Obama rescued it by having the United States print huge amounts of money and give it to the international bankers, adjudged too big to fail, so that their skins could be saved and they might be free to look ahead to more profitable days. Which, one might say, they have done, so that inequality everywhere in the world has grown to levels hitherto unheard of, with the top one per cent gobbling up almost the entire income that has been earned as a result of all this skulduggery.
Greece’s earlier pathetic governments signed agreements with the European and international oligarchs that were away beyond their capacity to repay, and had to accept the imposition of rigid austerity on their economy that has immeasurably reduced the standard of living of the Greek people, thrown them into severe depression, plunged them into massive unemployment and sucked whatever income they might have earned into the repayment of the huge loans --- in other words, the Greek economy as inherited by Syriza is committed to keep paying loans into European and international banks, and letting the welfare of their citizens go to hell.
One might ask is this really what Europe wants, until one realizes that behind all these financial machinations lies the vile hand of the Goldman Sachs bankers ( Mario Draghi, head of the European Central Bank, is a Goldman Sachs guy) and their ilk. And we do know what kind of a world these people want: virtually the world as it exists now, in which they are desperately trying ensure the Greeks do what they are told forever.
Syriza was elected on a platform of rejecting this austerity economy. In their first efforts to negotiate changes to this programme, the Greek government agreed to what they thought was a pause in their repayment schedule of four months, to enable them to set their economic ship back on a smooth sea from which they hoped to be able to embark on a new course. Their charismatic finance minister Yanis Varoufakis was repeatedly rebuffed and demonized by the lords of the European economy, the so-called troika, later called “the institutions” of the European Union, the International Monetary Fund and the European Central Bank. Varoufakis was reputedly so exhausted after a day of hectoring from these European plutocrats that he did not attend a celebratory dinner that evening, which was held against him, and against his country, as having no manners.
Thereafter, the global media has parroted the government line that insists Greece must pay up or withdraw from the Eurozone, something they all say they do not want.
I am indebted to a writer under the name of Talos, in the European Tribune, a serious on-line site for the ventilation of European issues, who points out that most of what the Western media is peddling about what is happening, is incorrect. There is no left within Syriza which is threatening to pull away from the negotiations, he says, although certain leftists have made the mistaken assumption that by agreeing to the four-month pause, Syriza had fatally compromised its independence, and violated its election pledges. Not so, says this well-informed insider. What stands as a block against progress in the negotiations “is neither Yanis Varoufakis' lack of proper table manners nor some sort of inability of the Greek government to quantify their plans.” Rather, it is the fact that there is a “very important political gulf” between the two sides on four issues.
These issues and his commentary on them give an excellent idea of the reactionary, plutocratic demands of the European institutions, as of the Syriza hopes for the future:
Labour laws / wages: the Greek government has already introduced a bill that restores labour protections and gradually raises the minimum wage in the private sector to 2009 levels, starting October and reaching 751 Euros/month next year. The Greek government is also unyielding to pressures aiming to further facilitate large-scale firings.
Pensions: The government is adamant that no further cuts to pensions is possible and insists on reintroducing the Christmas bonus ("13th salary") for those pensioners under 700 Euros per month. Pensions were paid until 2010 in 14 instalments. The troika demanded that these be reduced to 12, thus enforcing a 14% cut across the board in all pensions. The average pension has been reduced since 2010 by 30-40%.
VAT tax: the government is open to an increase in the luxury tax, but considers VAT to be ridiculously high at 23% already for an economy in its 5th year of depression.
Public property: SYRIZA will not proceed with privatizations other than those already under way, and on those it wants a serious renegotiation of terms (which are colonial i.e. in the case of peripheral airports).
On these issues, Syriza says it is immovable: they are the red line beyond which they will not move. And these surely seem reasonable positions, especially when one consider the list given by Talos of the legislation the government has already passed or is in the process of passing. (My impression is that this list has not been mentioned in mainstream Western media).
These include abolition of entrance fee to public hospitals and making them available to everyone, whether or not they are insured; re-establishment of collective bargaining rights and restoration of the minimum wage, in two steps, over a year; the public broadcaster ERT has been reopened, and all of its employees rehired and private TV channels that have been exempted from all sorts of fees and taxes and their monopoly over the digital TV spectrum is being ended; within the year, a number of public employees will be rehired (including around 4500 new nurses and doctors) to support the decaying health system; primary residences are again protected by law against foreclosure, and emergency aid for the most afflicted is being delivered, while banks are being forced to remove debt burdens from the poorest people; and oligarchs are being brought to justice for tax evasion, and a deal with Switzerland has been initiated to tax depositors in that country.
Talos concludes his article on the following fighting note:
“This negotiation and the fight with neoliberal Europe can only be a marathon, in which every step will be fought tooth and claw against an increasingly undemocratic EU establishment. SYRIZA will either be forced to attempt to go it alone, or to remain within the EZ having created a space in which it can cultivate an anti-paradigm to current macroeconomic policies. If it is forced to submit, this will signal curtains for the whole European project as a democratically legitimate endeavour and the beginning of a very turbulent time for Greece.
“Myself, I'd rather see my children go hungry than submit to what will have been proven to be a colonial plan to create a permanently dependent protectorate restored to its proper oligarchic masters and bereft of any hint of democratic legitimization.”