Friday, 13 February 2015
Monday, 2 February 2015
Here is a letter I sent to the Herald Letters page last Tuesday following an article by Iain Macwhirter wrote claiming Syriza the 'Radical Coalition of the Left' were merely populists like the SNP. The Herald chose not to publish it. Having just returned from Athens I feel I must correct several errors in Iain Macwhirter’s article ‘A New Deal could be the real deal for Greece’ [Herald 26/1/15] because, if left uncorrected, they would seriously mislead your readers. First on a point of information. Syriza forged a coalition yesterday with one of the smaller parties the ‘Independent Greeks’ [ANEL] for one reason only, to secure an arithmetic Parliamentary majority. As readers will know Syriza won 149 MP’s on Sunday out of 300. In order to prevent an opposition ‘vote of no confidence’ they moved to secure the support of another 10 MP’s. This ‘coalition’ should be seen as little more than housekeeping. ANEL, for all they are a right-wing party of small businessmen, fully support Syriza’s anti-austerity and reflationary economic programme and have done so throughout the past two years. All the other suitors were either unsuitable partners [like PASOK the Labour Party's neo-liberal equivalent in Greece] or are like the Greek Communist Party [KKE] with 17 seats bitterly hostile to Syriza. Since very few Greek Governments serve their full 4 year terms the approach to ANEL on Day 1 was a wise move. But it is Iain’s central contention that Syriza is ‘a populist coalition much closer to the SNP' that runs the risk of misleading readers most. For Syriza is not like the SNP. They are not ‘populists’, they are, as their name suggests a highly politicised ‘coalition of the radical left’. They are anti-austerity and anti-neo-liberal. The SNP are not. The two parties are represented in the European Parliament but whereas Syriza are in the unmistakably socialist ‘European Left’ group the SNP belong to the populist ‘Nordic/Green’ caucus. Iain also ignores Syriza’s socialist principles entirely when he suggests ‘..rhetoric aside their [Syriza] programme isn’t that different from Ed Miliband’s Labour’. You think? Syriza aims to confront the most powerful capitalist institutions in the world and recover 160bn of debt relief. They intend to double the national minimum wage and state pensions. They will introduce collective bargaining rights for Greek workers. They have called for a European wide debt relief conference to write off monies owed by Spain, Italy, Portugal, Ireland and others. They believe in practical solidarity assistance from the left across Europe. Ed Miliband doesn't support any of that nor is he ever likely too! If Iain really thinks Labour and the SNP can be compared to Syriza I suggest he has been drinking too much Ouzo at his Burns supper.
Sunday, 25 January 2015
The poll of polls published today in the Greek General election show Syriza the ‘Coalition of the Radical left’ on 35.7% of the vote meaning they would secure 147 seats in the 300 seat Parliament. Whilst this is just short of the overall majority needed to govern outright three of the smaller parties likely to pass the 3% threshold for representation [Potami, PASOK and Independent Greeks] have said they would abstain in any 'no confidence vote’ and therefore allow Syriza's Alexis Tsipras to become the next Prime Minister. After casting his vote in Athens today Tsipras forecast the result would ‘mean the future of Europe will see progress and democracy predominate, not austerity.’ It is clear Syriza has won today’s election on the most left-wing programme Europe has seen since 1945. In their manifesto, the famous seven point ‘Thessalonki Declaration’, they promise to confront the most powerful financial institutions in the world to ensure half the 319bn Euro Greek debt is written off. The ‘Troika’ [European Central Bank, International Monetary Fund and EU] as well as the establishment parties New Democracy and PASOK insist the Greek people must continue to live in their existing economic, social and political purgatory for years to come. Standing up to these interests on behalf of the Greek people Syriza have said ‘No. We refuse to live under these conditions a moment longer. There is another way that protects our dignity and improves our appalling standard of living. Hope is coming. Greece will advance. Europe is changing.’ They have promised to convene a European conference against austerity to allow similarly indebted nations to jointly campaign against austerity and for debt annulment. Syriza will work with other radical left parties across Europe, including the Scottish Socialist Party, to secure concrete solidarity support for the Greek people. Meanwhile here in Greece Syriza have pledged themselves to raise the national minimum wage and state pension to 751 and 700 Euro’s per month respectively. They will also create 300,000 new jobs to get the unemployed back to work as soon as possible and have guaranteed no one will again go without food, healthcare or electricity. Greece will not be a socialist country tomorrow but socialists will be running the Government. Syriza is a left-wing anti-capitalist party. It supports public ownership and wealth redistribution and it is determined to lift millions of Greeks out of poverty and want. And that job starts tomorrow morning. Tonight however is a time for celebration both for Syriza activists and socialists everywhere. Their historic breakthrough has been achieved after many years of struggle. Moreover they realise winning the election was, relatively speaking, the easy part. For it is the preparedness of the Greek working class to struggle against the considerable conservative resistance inside Greece and the power of international capital outside lined up against it that will ultimately be decisive.
Wednesday, 21 January 2015
From Syriza HQ, Leonidas, Athens, Greece The latest opinion polls here in Greece show 'Syriza' [pronounced 'CeeReeZa' and meaning the Coalition of the Radical Left] increasing its lead over the conservative New Democracy to 5.5%. This means the party looks set to become the biggest party in the new Greek parliament on Sunday. As Greece has a PR system of elections it is touch and go whether Syriza will have an overall majority to allow it to govern alone or must rely on the support of one or two smaller parties. If it does triumph it will be the first radical left-wing Government to be elected in Europe since WW2. This does not of course mean that everyone who votes for them on Sunday is a socialist, or a former Communist like Syriza's leader Alexis Tsipras. It means that Greeks have voted for the radical left because they are a the end of their tethers. Unemployment in Greece is a 27%. For young people its 65%. Pensions, salaries and the national minimum wage have been cut by 40% in the last 5 years. There is visible and widespread impoverishment across the country. Greece owes 319bn Euro's to the European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund and cannot possibly pay it back. It relies to a huge extent on 'bail-out' money from these same creditors. Having voted for PASOK [the Labour Party equivalent in Greece] in the past and New Democracy more recently only to find them impose crippling austerity programmes they have now turned in desperation to Syriza. Tsipras has promised to renegotiate the ECB/IMF loans to get 50% written off and to return pensions, wages and benefits to 2008 levels. He has also promised to create 300,000 new jobs and ensure every Greek can afford electricity. The election campaign in Athens is everywhere with billboards, marquees and campaigners all over the city. Even the Community party [KKE] has its own commercial advertising billboards and bus stop posters. Tomorrow night in Omonia Square in the heart of Athens Syriza stages its final election rally with Alexis Tspras joined by Pablo Iglesias of Podemos from Spain and guess from all over Europe including the Scottish Socialist Party. It promises to be a night like no other and I will post photographs here afterwards.
Tuesday, 13 January 2015
I am delighted to have accepted an invitation from 'Syriza' [The Coalition of the Radical Left] to fly to Athens for a week to observe the Greek General election first hand. The eyes of the world will be on Greece on Sunday 25th January and I will be there. There is a strong chance Syriza will win the vote and form the next government. They are ahead in all the polls and have given a clear manifesto commitment to halve Greece's debts to the 'Troika' [The International Monetary Fund/ European Union/ European Central Bank]. They have also made it clear they do not intend to leave the EU or exit the Eurozone. Although the final result is uncertain - elections in Greece are conducted under a proportional voting system - and Syriza may have to rely on additional support from smaller independent parties, they are the favourites to win at this stage. Greek society is in crisis. The country's enormous debt, the bail-out terms imposed by the 'Troika' and the crippling austerity programme implemented by the previous conservative Government have left Greece teetering on the abyss. The country has endured a crippling economic depression that lasted 6 years. Working class people have suffered an appalling decline in their living standards and devastating cuts in public services like health, education and welfare. Greek society is heavily polarised between the left and the right. The right, represented by the conservative New Democracy, PASOK [the UK Labour Party's equivalent in Greece] and the openly fascist 'Golden Dawn', have all lost support in recent times. Meanwhile Syriza, leading the left, has seen its support grow and grow. There are smaller independent socialist groups too and the Greek Communist Party [KKE] although the latter are no admirers of Syriza. Syriza won most seats in the European elections in May. If they do win on January 25th it will be the first time a radical left-wing party has been elected to government anywhere in Europe since WW2. It will also precipitate a huge clash between the money markets and the new Greek Government. The bankers will want assurances their money will be paid back in full and will threaten Greece with all kinds of sanctions if it does not. On the other hand Alexis Tsipras, leader of Syriza, has made it clear he will use the democratic mandate the people of Greece has given his party to pay nothing until he receives assurances most of the existing debt is written off. The scene is set for fireworks and the ramifications will be felt far beyond Greek borders. I will be filing regular reports to this blog and elsewhere whilst I'm over in Greece.
Saturday, 10 January 2015
Do you ever despair at the way corporate organisations dress up bad news for working class people as if it was good? Take yesterday’s announcement by the City of Edinburgh Council that it intends to sack 1,200 people and cut £67m from front line services. In true Orwellian tradition the Labour /SNP Council declared their decision would make the Council ‘more efficient’ and ‘improve customer services’. That will be right! Lets speak plainly. Edinburgh City Council services are already woefully inadequate. They cannot provide the basic levels of service presently demanded of them. Taking a further £67m out of the budget will not make that service better. It will make it worse, plainly. There was a time when politicians were honest and such cuts passed down from the Government were fought. It was a time many will believe never existed. But it did, really, Councillors were honest and courageous. They stood up for their constituents and reminded Governments of the promises they made at elections to improve services and improve the quality of life for citizens. Now they would rather lie and spin than take a stand. Everyone of Edinburgh’s 56 Councillors know full well the services they provide are inadequate and have been for many years. These cuts will not result in a ‘more efficient service and better customer satisfaction’. That is a fiction even they do not believe. There was also a time when the unions would mobilise their members and the wider community to oppose such cuts to jobs and services. But now they meekly settle for assurances there will be ‘no compulsory redundancies’. That is not good enough. The unions need to acquaint those members tempted to ‘take the money and run' what awaits them when they leave. When their redundancy money is long gone chances are they will end up in insecure jobs on zero hour contracts, earning poverty wages less than the living wage with no job satisfaction and no union protection. The Labour/ SNP coalition that runs Edinburgh Council should fight these cuts, but they won't. Edinburgh is the second richest city in Britain and yet the inequalities here are as bad as anywhere. The impact of another £67m of cuts and 1,200 more redundancies will be to widen that gap between the rich minority who barely ever use Council service and the working class majority who depend on them. This issue will, I’m sure, be an important feature of the forthcoming General election campaign in the city in May.
Tuesday, 6 January 2015
A disgruntled Labour Party member I spoke to this week depressed that his party had elected Jim Murphy as its Scottish leader told me when I suggested the place for socialists was in a socialist party ‘Yes, I’d like to join you guys but the Left are never going to be in power are you? I mean it’s hard enough for social democrats like Labour to get elected, socialists have no chance.’ You come across that view a lot as a socialist. I suggested he might consider the General election campaign now under way in Greece and reconsider. The Greeks go to the polls to elect a new Government on January 25th after their Parliaments failure to elect a new Head of State [now there’s a novel idea] but the election is actually all about the country’s crippling economic problems, it’s mountainous debt and the tortuous terms set down by the European Union for its repayment. Greece’s $254bn debt is bigger than its entire economy at 175% of its annual GDP. Everyone knows they cannot pay it back. The country has just been through a devastating economic depression over the past 6 years and the consequences for working class people have been vicious. There has been an exodus of young people leaving the country. In many ways they are the lucky ones for unemployment, poverty and deprivation for those left behind are at appalling levels. The elderly have been badly hit as one might anticipate. First they lost their jobs, then their pensions and welfare benefits and finally their dignity. Amidst the gloom however has emerged hope in the shape of the ‘Coalition of the Radical Left’, or ‘Syriza’ as it is known. Led by Alexis Tsipras Syriza won the European Parliament elections in June and are now expected to win most seats on January 25th. Whether they can form a government is more uncertain. Greece has a complex system of proportional representation and Syriza will have to work with other parties in order to govern. The Greek state is pulling out all the stops to prevent that from happening by running scare stories about the economic disaster that would ensue and smears about Syriza’s leaders. But the Greek people have suffered such hardship at the hands of the right-wing ‘New Democracy’ /PASOK Government in recent years they appear to be in no mood to put up with them any longer. In the circumstances however many feel victory could be something of a ‘poisoned chalice’ for Syriza as it would inherit a dreadful financial position. If it decides not to repay the ECB/IMF loans and default on its obligations it will be kicked out of the Euro zone. Some even argue in favour of this approach as it would mean they could write off their debts and revert to using the Drachma or some new currency. But it is not that simple. The consequences of such a move could be equally disastrous. Who on earth is going to lend them a penny piece in such circumstances? Who would trade with them or risk taking their new currency? The money markets would seek revenge for their losses by speculating against the new currency and Greece would be unable to rebuild its crippled economy. Alexis Tsipras has rejected such an approach. He insists Greece will stay inside the Euro zone and 're-negotiate’ the terms of the existing ECB/IMF loans to urge that large parts of it are written off. Syriza also advocates the reversal of public spending cuts and supports economic reflation in its manifesto. But even if the IMF ‘takes a haircut’ as they say and writes off some of the debt – and this is by no means certain - the challenges facing a Syriza led Government are still considerable. The Greek people will continue to suffer terrible hardship for many years to come even after any renegotiated terms. Syriza will then be forced to defend the agreement it has reached. It is difficult to see how they can maintain popular support in such circumstances. And yet what is the alternative? Do nothing? Their challenges remain considerable. No wonder the eyes of the world are today on Greece, not least those of us trying to build an effective radical left alliance fit for Government here in Scotland.