Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, leader of the Coalition of the Radical Left party, known by its acronym Syriza, won the Jan. 25 elections promising reforms to capitalism and an easing of the social and economic disaster workers have faced. His government has sought to walk a thin line between promising Greeks he would stand up to Germany while seeking to reach an accommodation with Berlin on paying its enormous debt.
One of the weakest capitalist countries in Europe, Athens has been impacted by disadvantageous trade relations in the EU between southern Europe and the stronger northern exporting capitalist powers, especially Berlin.
At the same time, the EU itself faces economic stagnation, losing ground to U.S. capital. The European Central Bank announced March 9 it was launching a “quantitative easing” program, buying up mountains of debt in hopes of boosting economic activity.
Running on the slogan “Hope is coming,” Syriza promised to restore pensions, create jobs, stimulate the economy and renegotiate the onerous payments on the $264 billion debt, which is greater than the country’s annual gross domestic product.
The new government got agreement from European capitalists Feb. 20 for a four-month grace period to work out a plan on debt repayment, and $7.6 billion in funds contingent on more attacks on working people — cutting pensions and making it easier for employers to fire workers.
A meeting of eurozone finance ministers April 24 accused Athens of not driving those measures through and refused to release the funds. Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis responded that the government was a few weeks away from insolvency.
The condition of the working class in Greece is dire. Some 27 percent of the working-age population and more than half of Greek youth are out of work. About 45 percent of wage workers make less than $817 per month — the minimum wage before it was cut 22 percent in 2012. And an estimated 1 million workers are paid with delays of up to five months, according to the labor ministry.
“The lower classes have been forced to foot the bill for the crisis, while the rich have gotten richer,” Panos Efthymakis, 31, who works in shipping at the port of Pireaeus, told the Militant recently. “The bosses feel they can blackmail you, threaten you by pushing you around with the fear of unemployment.”
Many workers have hopes in Syriza. Georgia Oikonomou, one of 595 janitors fired by the finance ministry in 2013, has been participating in a tent encampment protesting the firing for nearly a year.
“The minister of labor was here the other day, and he said it wouldn’t be long before Parliament passes a bill concerning our case,” she said. “However, we are staying right here until we are actually reinstated. Nearly all of us are women in our 50s. It’s impossible to find another job.”
European and U.S. finance capitalists are now debating whether the eurozone governments and institutions holding Greek sovereign debt should take another “haircut” — write down outstanding Greek loans, as they did once before in 2012 — to give the capitalist government in Athens some time to implement further cuts.
Tsipras warned April 28 that he might hold a referendum by Greek voters if creditors don’t back off from insisting on a “vicious circle of austerity.”
The government has difficulty paying pensions and public sector salaries, and on April 18 ordered 1,500 state institutions — including municipalities, hospitals and universities — to transfer their cash reserves to the central bank in short-term “repurchase agreements.”
Natasha Terlexi and Georges Mehrabian in Athens, Greece, contributed to this article.
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