Greek austerity measures spark resistance

FRFI 213 February / March 2010

Greece is in the midst of its worst economic crisis since the end of the Second World War. In the post-war period, the US Marshall Plan brought Greece, then reeling from the impact of civil war and famine, under the economic management of imperialist countries and destroyed the Greek revolutionary movement. Now imperialism is once again determined to maintain control over Greece as it is wracked by economic and political crisis.

Trouble in Euroland

The Greek economy is broke; public debt is expected to rise this year to over 120% of GDP while the annual budget deficit stands at 12.7% of GDP. Unemployment is 7.7% and looks set to rise. The situation is aggravated by Greece’s membership of the euro. Poor EU countries such as Greece struggle to maintain a currency that is levelled with much wealthier, imperialist countries like France and Germany. Some economic analysts suggest that Greece and other weak states could be expelled from the eurozone, but in reality European imperialism will not allow Greece to leave the euro. To do this would seriously undermine the EU.

Furthermore, Greece is of strategic importance, a gateway to Turkey, which is due to join the EU, and hence to the Middle East. In an epoch of increasing imperialist rivalry the EU understands that if it is to expand its borders, markets and influence it must maintain the current ‘union’. However, neither will Greece be allowed to default on its debt.

Austerity breeds resistance

Greece is under pressure from the EU to introduce huge spending cuts. But such austerity measures will fuel the demonstrations and strikes that have characterised Greece over the past two years. In December 2009, the social-democratic PASOK party led by George Papandreou won the election with a pledge to return the country to economic health without penalising the poor. Papandreou then immediately reneged on his election promise by committing to reduce the annual budget deficit to under 3% in three years.

Greece’s history of resistance makes it potentially a weak link for European imperialism. During the 1960s, a revolutionary movement against the monarchy led to a right-wing coup and military junta in 1967, supported by Europe and the US. Several thousand communists and militants were exiled. But in the early 1970s, organised working class resistance led to the removal of the junta and the formation of the modern Greek republic. European imperialism then worked with Andreas Papandreou (founder of PASOK and father of George Papandreou) to integrate Greece into the EU in 1981. Since then there have been intermittent but prolonged demonstrations against austerity measures, but a combination of police brutality and opportunism within the movement have held back real political developments. During the December elections, a series of strikes shut down schools, hospitals and airports in 60 cities and towns across the country. The protests were organised by the PAME trade union organisation, which is affiliated to the Greek Communist Party (KKE), but the country’s two biggest unions refused to support the strike. And PAME and the KKE, who are tied to the opportunist politics of PASOK, in turn failed to support demonstrations by angry students and youth against unemployment and poverty. However, as the economic crisis intensifies, the history of the Greek working class suggests that they will continue to organise to resist.

Andrew Alexander


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