Thursday, June 9, 2011

Europe's long hot summer


European workers battle bankers’ attack

Published Jun 8, 2011 11:14 PM

Some 80,000 people marched down the streets to Syntagma Square in Athens, Greece, on June 5 on the 12th straight day of protests emulating the uprising of youth in Spain. In Greece organized struggles over the past 18 months have also included general strikes led by the PAME labor confederation.

Protest in Syntagma Square in Athens, Greece,
on June 5.

In Puerta del Sol, Madrid, a meeting of people representing the encampments or occupations of main squares in 56 cities in the Spanish state since May 15 called for organizing mass mobilizations on June 11 and 19. They also urged that decisions on continuing the occupations be made locally.

In both countries the actions targeted austerity programs and intervention in the national economies by the “Troika”: the International Monetary Fund, the European Central Bank and the European Commission.

These issues were also central to Portugal’s June 5 national election. The ruling “Socialist Party” — socialist in name only — had been imposing the Troika’s austerity on the workers.

The election results were easy to predict. As in Spain’s May 22 local elections, there were many abstentions in Portugal — 41 percent plus 4 percent blank votes, with many voters defecting from the SP. The Communist Party’s electoral coalition made small gains. The “Social Democrats” — really a rightist party — will lead the new right-wing coalition government, and have promised an even harsher application of anti-worker austerity.

These countries have relatively weak economies in the euro zone, as do Ireland and Iceland. The worldwide economic crisis, which began in 2007 with the housing price and financial collapse and which was then exacerbated by austerity programs, has led to official unemployment rates ranging from 13 percent in Portugal to 15 percent in Ireland, 16 percent in Greece and 21 percent in Spain. Workers are also reeling from cuts in government services and generally lower wages and pensions.

Austerity aimed at aiding banks

The Troika goals are not to help the people, but to prevent these countries from defaulting on their payments to the big banks that loaned them money in the first place, as well as maintain the strength of the euro.

These financial bodies offer loans with strings attached so that the banks — which are based in the more powerful countries like France and Germany — will be repaid on schedule. To qualify, the administrations have to cut their national budgets and privatize government assets. In every case this means cutting social benefits to the working class, hiring fewer government workers, slowing the economy and increasing unemployment. Increased unemployment leads to lower wages.

Reports in the capitalist media give the impression that the Troika is “aiding” the countries in economic trouble and their people. This is as far from the truth as the lie that NATO is bombing Libya to protect its civilians. Indeed, the Troika is waging war on the working class of Europe, forcing wages and social benefits downward in order to assure loan payments to the rich and powerful banks.

The Troika is intervening in the peripheral countries of Europe much as the IMF did with its “structural adjustment programs” in Asia, Africa and Latin America. It robs the countries of sovereign control of their economies by imposing austerity programs and demanding privatizations, while holding the club of refusing new loans.

Something similar happens within the United States. Financial institutions, through undemocratic government bodies, have taken over the running of city and even state budgets to assure the repayment of loans and bonds to the banks. It is another tactic in waging class war against the workers and especially against cities with a majority African-American or Latino/a population and administration.

The Greek experience

In May 2010 the ECB and the IMF came up with the first “bailout” of Greece. The 110 billion euros loan (currently worth about U.S. $155 billion) was aimed at paying the banks and propping up the euro. In return — and despite a series of general strikes — the government imposed cuts in benefits, government layoffs, etc.

While the austerity did much to harm the workers in Greece, it did nothing to stabilize that country’s debt payments. Now, a year later, the Troika is back offering another loan. And Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou on June 6 offered a program to cut another 6.4 billion euros from the budget. It’s another blow aimed at the workers on behalf of the big banks.

According to the June 6 International Business Times, “Eurozone finance ministers must also approve Greece’s new budget — international lenders have demanded that Athens speed up its public sector job reductions and privatization scheme to raise 50 billion euros by the end of 2015.” The government must also sell off an additional 10 percent of the national Telecom firm so that, at the end, Deutsche Telecom will own 40 percent.

A mass uprising confronting the economic crisis has flared up around the world, from Tahrir Square in Cairo — where, combined with workers’ strikes, it removed the dictator — to the Capitol in Madison, Wis., to Puerta del Sol in Madrid and Syntagma Square in Athens. In Greece, due to the class-struggle-oriented leadership of PAME and the strong role of the Communist Party (KKE) in the resistance to austerity, there is the best opportunity to date in Europe to join the youth uprising to organized workers’ struggles.

But whatever the outcome of an individual skirmish, it is apparent that this class battle won’t end soon.

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