|Louisa Gouliamaki/AFP/Getty Images|
|Striking steelworkers march to Greek parliament in Athens Feb. 7 during one-day political strike. Action protested latest government moves forcing workers to bear brunt of crisis.|
The so-called troika—the European Commission, International Monetary Fund and European Central Bank—underwrote previous loans to Greece to put off default, on condition of austerity measures, and is dangling $171 billion in new loans if Athens will make deeper cuts.
The Greek government has agreed to cut 15,000 additional public sector jobs over the next year and a total of 150,000 jobs by 2015, about 20 percent of all government jobs. The unemployment rate is already 19 percent from previous rounds of austerity-driven cuts and economic contraction, with more than 45 percent of youth out of a job. The job losses are accompanied by ever deeper cuts in health, education and other services.
For the first time, European Union leaders and the U.S.-backed IMF are demanding the Greek government lead assaults on workers in private industry as a precondition for further loans.
Among the demands are a 25 percent cut in the minimum wage, which would lower the wage scale across the board; reductions in holiday bonuses, equivalent to eliminating two months’ pay; and steep cuts in pensions.
On Feb. 7 the two largest Greek unions conducted a one-day political strike and tens of thousands demonstrated, closing ports, factories and public transportation.
“The goal of any pay cuts would be to help make Greek workers, who are generally less productive than workers elsewhere in Europe, able to compete more effectively inside the euro zone,” the New York Times said Feb. 3, “where countries share a common currency that does not allow devaluations to help even out differences in labor costs.”
Reuters reported that productivity in Greece is just 65 percent of the European Union average.
This line of attack on industrial workers is becoming increasingly popular with European rulers, in the name of fueling growth. Those pushing this course argue that reliance on austerity alone only further contracts the economy, driving Greece and other “peripheral” countries deeper into debt.
In other words, the propertied rulers’ “alternative” to continually raising taxes and slashing government expenditures—including state workers’ wages, pensions and jobs—is to combine it with an all-out assault on wages and working conditions of broader layers of the working class.
This approach is being carried out by Italy’s Prime Minister Mario Monti, also installed at the behest of the stronger imperialist powers led by Berlin. “Monti and Labor Minister Elsa Fornaro have pledged to make labor reforms,” the Wall Street Journal reported Feb. 7, “in an effort to put an indebted and economically stagnant Italy on a path to sustainable growth.”
Europe’s rulers are incapable of solving the deepening crisis of capitalist production and trade. They grasp for short-term measures to kick the can down the road. With all their competing interests and views, the one thing they agree on is continued attacks on workers in an effort to increase sagging profit rates.
Working people are feeling the impact across the continent. At the end of 2011, eurozone unemployment reached its highest level since the euro was inaugurated more than 10 years earlier.
Over the last two weeks, more than 420 people have died across Europe as frigid temperatures descended. The vast majority are workers who have become homeless as a result of the crisis. Day after day, from Poland to Italy, dozens have been found frozen to the ground, unable to find shelter.
Meanwhile, one area in which Greece’s rulers are expanding their budget is the construction of a six-mile-long, 13-foot-high fence along the Turkish border topped with razor wire and remote cameras to keep immigrant workers out.
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