EU leaders, Greek gov’t keep squeeze on workers

By Terry Evans
August 13, 2018
Mati resident Giannis Kardiakos, right, confronts Greek Defense Minister Panos Kammenos July 26, after forest fire killed 91. Government organized no evacuation, blamed area residents.
AP/Thanassis StavrakisMati resident Giannis Kardiakos, right, confronts Greek Defense Minister Panos Kammenos July 26, after forest fire killed 91. Government organized no evacuation, blamed area residents.

The editors of the New York Times and other liberal meritocrats view the capitalist leaders of the European Union as “cultured” and “brights” like they consider themselves. They see the EU as a model of what they call the “rules-based international order.” But the reality of capitalist rule in the countries of Europe — like that in the U.S. — is dog-eat-dog competition and attacks on the conditions of life for working people.

The EU is run by the propertied owners in Germany, and, to a lesser degree, of France. Their domination rests on relentless exploitation of the weaker capitalist nations in southern Europe, which has been especially ruinous for workers and farmers in Greece.

EU coming apart at seams

Liberals shrieked when President Donald Trump called the EU a “trade foe” of the U.S. ruling class. What are the facts? The EU and its predecessors were formed as a protectionist trading bloc to counter U.S. imperialism after it won ascendency through its victory in World War II. They said it would become an ever closer political union, something that was always a fake. Competition among the rival capitalist rulers in Europe’s nation-states is tearing the EU apart at the seams.

On Aug. 21 Athens is due to complete the onerous “austerity” terms of a third and “final bailout” imposed since 2010 by the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund after the Greek government went bankrupt that year. The bankruptcy was the result of the sharp contraction of capitalist production and trade worldwide in 2008, on top of years of disadvantageous relations between southern EU countries and Berlin. The Greek rulers had gone deeper in debt to Berlin and other capitalist creditors, constantly forced to borrow to pay for needed imports.

“The Greek crisis ends here,” claimed Pierre Moscovici, European Economic Affairs Commissioner June 22, commenting on the latest deal that gave Athens some more time to pay off its debts.

But for working people in Greece there is no letup by the capitalist class in making them bear the brunt of the crisis. Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’ Syriza government plans further cuts to pensions and more tax hikes in 2019. A deal struck with eurozone finance ministers last month imposes restrictions on government spending for 40 more years, the Financial Times reported.

In 2015 the Panhellenic Socialist Movement and New Democracy party, which had governed since 1981 were pushed aside by Syriza, the acronym for the Coalition of the Radical Left. It pledged to reverse the crisis, create jobs and boost wages. But that would have taken mobilizing working people, leading a fight and organizing independently of the bosses, a course at odds with Syriza’s perspective of subordinating the interests of workers to the needs of the capitalist rulers.

They blustered and threatened to pull out of the eurozone rather than kowtow to demands for deeper attacks, but ended up carrying them out to defend capitalist rule.

The official unemployment rate has remained above 20 percent for the last six years, in contrast to 7 percent before the 2008 crash, intensifying competition among working people. Youth unemployment is a whopping 43 percent. An estimated 52 percent of households rely on state payments to retirees to get by.

The EU’s finance ministers and the IMF have made their loans dependent on slashing workers’ living standards. To secure a 5 billion euro loan in January Syriza agreed to proposals demanded by creditors that included a reduction of benefits and adopting measures to make it harder for unions to call strikes.

The government also decided to find a way around protests at courthouses that on occasion have prevented judges from carrying through foreclosures and evicting people. Now the courts will conduct repossession proceedings online.

Under previous “bailouts,” Greek rulers have imposed massive layoffs of government employees, a 22 percent cut to the minimum wage and a raft of tax increases against workers and farmers. These have included a sales tax on food going from 9 percent in 2009 to 24 percent on many items today, including rice and flour, and steep increases on income taxes for workers and the self-employed.

“No-one was bailed out here,” bus driver Stavros Manikas told Al Jazeera June 22, referring to the working-class neighborhood where he lives.

Loans made to the Greek government by the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the IMF have been largely used to pay off profit-hungry bondholders. The main beneficiaries are German and French capitalists.

Union misleadership

Workers and farmers have sought ways to protest and strike against the impact of the assaults. But with Stalinist and social democratic misleaders heading the trade unions, working people have no leadership willing to chart a political course independent of the capitalist class. Nor have union officials anywhere in Europe fought for a halt to the attacks on working people in Greece.

The response of the Tsipras government to deadly fires raging near Athens has thrown into sharp relief its contempt for the lives of working people. Some 91 people died in a blaze that began July 23, 25 more are missing. Authorities organized no evacuation.

Defense Minister Panos Kammenos was shouted down when he visited fire-hit Mati. He tried to deflect government responsibility by blaming the residents themselves for the deaths, claiming they built their homes defying government regulations.

The experiences of Greek workers and farmers graphically expose the bloodthirsty policies of the capitalist ruling classes in Berlin and Paris that dominate the EU.