Last Friday several thousand demonstrators stood as one in Syntagma Square, Athens, to tell the eurocrats of Berlin, London and elsewhere that they can get stuffed. Their quiet, dignified protest was reminiscent of the silent marches of the Chiapas-based Zapatistas, who now manage their own autonomous economy, adrift from the corrupt and murderous Mexican regime. Over the weekend more demonstrations took place elsewhere in Greece, notably Salonica, and on this coming Thursday hundreds of thousands are expected again in Syntagma Square, Athens. But the Greek’s uncompromising stance is also a clarion call to all those millions across Europe who are sick of the bullying of the capitalist class that has secured such a stranglehold on their lives – the dispossessed of Liverpool, of Belfast, of Valencia, of Naples, of Nicosia, of Krakow… Those forced on to zero-hour contracts, so-called ‘apprenticeships’, or ‘internships’, receiving less than the laughable minimum wage (with no permanent job at the end either); those who can only survive each day thanks to food banks or other handouts; those who find themselves homeless or sleeping in alleyways or ‘couch surfing’; and those who have simply lost all hope. The common ground is unarticulated, yet tangible and frighteningly raw.
They are the grey workers, moving in and out of shadows, barely eking out an existence; often transient: in economic terms, their lives little different from the thousands of migrants – refugees escaping even worse conditions. Go to any town or city in any country in Europe and they – the dispossessed – are there – serving the rich in coffee shops, cleaning the streets, taking debit cards at the check-out counters, caring for the old and infirm – though, more often, not even allowed to carry out the most menial of tasks, blamed for their own impoverishment.
The false economies of zero hours, zero growth and zero morality are dependent upon the drudgery of millions, on meaningless tasks of meaningless work and, above all, a subservient underclass that knows its place and which can find no way of fighting back. They are economies, too, that see politicians of all shades promising nothing, yet still demanding power – alienated from their constituents, they stand naked, bereft of all integrity.
Meanwhile, for the eurocrats its ‘business as usual’. For years – decades – they have ruled, entrenched in their economic models, controlling their interest rates – and all the time disdainful of anything that might disturb them in their unholy endeavours.
But in 2015 – this year – there is now a glimmer of hope.
In Greece, the people kicked out the corrupt politicians. Those who replace them in parliament have yet to prove that their idealism – and it is a genuine idealism – is strong enough to withstand the collective onslaught of the eurocrats, baying for blood, demanding their pound of flesh.
On Sunday the Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras said he would not accept an extension to Greece’s current bailout. He also pledged that his government would heal the “wounds” of austerity, sticking to campaign pledges of giving free food and electricity to those who had suffered, and reinstating civil servants who had been fired as part of bailout austerity conditions. (For more on what Tsipras said, see end of article…)
But the people of Greece know, too, that the idealists cannot conduct this battle against the austerity culture alone, and if push comes to shove they will need to act as one, acclaiming a new way of running a national economy that puts people, not profits, first.
Greece is often described as the ‘cradle of democracy’ – and perhaps 2015 will see Greece again giving birth to democracy – a real democracy, based on the needs of all and not the greed of the few. And in this herculean endeavour the underclass of Greece might even succeed in inspiring others – millions – across Europe, to join them in their noble mission.
More from Tsipras speech….
The full list of the new government policy:
1. From Wednesday morning, there will be a focus on the humanitarian crisis. Measures will include free food, electricity, shelter and medicine for families that have been hurt by the economic crisis. “Greece cannot be a European country when thousands are hungry, without electricity,” he said.
2. School guards and cleaners would be returned to their posts.
3. a) Administrative changes, something that began with the shrinking of ministries to 10 for a fast-paced structure. The abolition of political privileges eg. Government cars worth over 700,000 euros at a time when people are suffering are being sold off and said that the time has come to no longer provide Ministerial cars. Tsipras also said that one of the three government jets is being sold.
b) The cost at Parliament will be slashed by 30% and the personal security of Parliament by 40%. He said that the police force needs to leave the Parliament and go to neighborhoods where they are needed.
c) New technologies will be used for faster service and help limit corruption. No public service will require documents that another public service already has in order to limit bureaucracy.
d) The Kallikratis plan for municipality zones will be reviewed for the sake of greater efficiency.
4) a) The biggest battle will be against tax fraud that Tsipras described as the greatest reason that led Greece to where it is today. The electronic crime squad will immediately be mobilized to check the Lagarde list and Liechtenstein list.
b) Customs offices will be put under scrutiny.
c) Body of public revenue officers will be moved to check the cost of supplies and put an end to bribery.
d) Loans without collateral will no longer be accepted.
5) An abolition of asylum to the Bank of Greece and the Hellenic Republic Asset Development Fund (HRADF), stating that all people are equal under the law.
6) An examining body for what led Greece to the verge of bankruptcy will be created to investigate who is responsible for the country’s state. Public contracts will be scrutinized. “Public funds are not for the interest of oligarchies,” he said, adding that he wants to cut the triangle of corruption between banks-politicians-mass media.
7) The Greek radio and television network (ERT) will be recreated after it was shut down by the previous government. Funds will come from the duty paid by citizens in their electricity bill. Regarding media, he also said that television controls will also be enforced. An end will be given to the unpaid loans of private TV networks.
8) “Democracy everywhere,” is the slogan that Tsipras referred to. A social state of justice to ensure the freedom of all individuals. The police will ensure the protection of citizens from crime. In this framework, the neighborhood policeman will return. Reinforced training will be offered to policemen.
9) For the first time in Greece, there will be a special department dealing with migration as is the case with many other countries. An integrated policy focused on protection and inclusion. The immediate voting of a law for 2nd generation immigrants is a priority for this department.
10) Tax inequalities will be dealt with. “Tax justice is an unknown word for our country,” he said, pledging that there will be an end to this unfairness. “Each citizen and business will contribute to the country as the constitution demands.” A joint tax system will be created, with those having the most assets required to offer more, rather than the other way around. People who earn less than 12,000 euros per year will not pay taxes. The unified property tax (ENFIA) will be replaced with a large tax, though the final payments for 2014 will need to be paid.
He spoke of the haemorrhage from unpaid taxes that undermines Greece’s independence. For this reason, measures will be taken to settle these debts. The measure for tax payments in 100 installments will continue.
11) A return to employees’ rights. He said that most employees have been harmed by the Memorandum. Profits have increased on the backs of employees. Employees have over the last few years seen their rights diminished and wages lowered. SYRIZA does not believe that competitiveness is based on cheap labor but innovation, technology and quality of service. He said that his government aims to collaborate with the international employment organization. He called for a return to collective contracts and a strict framework for protection against mass lay-offs. Minimum wage will be lifted to 750 euros by 2016 and equal wages for equal work regardless of age.
He said unemployment is a ticking “time bomb” for Greece.
Support of SMEs, decrease in unemployment, combatting corruption and tax evasion are some of the principles Tsipras said he wants to enforce. He noted, nonetheless, that this is not possible with programs that leave no leeway for development to the Greek economy.
He underlined that without renegotiating the debt, Greece is condemned to slide down a recession spiral.
12) He said that another victim of the economic crisis is social welfare and that his government believes in the dignity of citizens. He committed himself to save social welfare, especially after the Private Sector Involvement (PSI) that placed the burden of saving banks on social institutions. The government will not impose the e-mailed promises made by Former Finance Minister Gikas Hardouvelis and Former Prime Minister Antonis Samaras that spoke of an increase to retirement age and pension cuts. Low pension earners who receive under 700 euros per month will receive the 13th pension check. A fund of national wealth and social insurance will be created that will be autonomous. He wants to use Greece’s national assets to fund social problems rather than sell off these institutions.
13) “Education will play a central role in restructuring the country,” he said, adding that education is what will make our country competitive even though the education system has been downgraded during the economic crisis. He said that changes will not be full of surprises but will come through discussions. A Research and Innovation Minister was appointed because the new government believes that research in tertiary education is a long-term investment. Hopefully, this will attract some of the young people who left Greece and are currently employed at universities and medical centers abroad.