By Giorgio Cremaschi
If the new Greek government begins now to live up to his election programme by establishing the minimum wage to 750 euro per month Germany’s Merkel-SPD government will close the door to any negotiations on the debt. In fact, with the “reforms” that have made the German model to the whole continent, the millions of casual workers employed in minijobs would be getting less than a Greek worker. It is true that there are top ups from the welfare state, but it is equally true that the coherence of the new Greek government would open a front with Germany on welfare cuts too.
So the coherence of Tsipras would be unsustainable for a German ruling class, who for years has imposed terrible sacrifices on workers, explaining that all the others are worse off. German workers, who have suffered one of the most brutal wage restraint policies in Europe, would wonder why. That is the fear of social contagion, of recovery, perhaps wages, even if through struggle, and this is why the German elite will say no to better welfare in Greece, not because of the size of Greece’s debt.
The public debt of Greece is around 350 billion euros, and debts to other EU states is approximately two-thirds of that figure. To cancel half of it would mean the EU losing up just over 100 billion. It is a huge figure of course, but since 2008 the European governments, the ECB and the financial system have spent 3 trillion to help the banks. And another one trillion euros will be spent in Quantitative Easing, presented as a support to States that actually still finances the banks, as buyers of government bonds.
What then is 100 billion euros debt relief to Greece that in any case cannot pay it, compared to the 4 trillion euros granted to the banking and financial system? Nothing in terms of the size of the figure, everything in terms of its meaning. As they rumours (subsequently confirmed) have it, a deferment of payments over thirty years would have been granted by the Troika in November last year, but of course in exchange for the commitment to continue the neo-liberal policies of recent years. The problem, therefore, is the continuity or break with those policies, and here Syriza and the Troika will clash.
What is happening in Greece and Spain is something different from the history of the European left. The policy of austerity is bringing all of southern Europe towards what was once called the Third World. The first real responses are linked then to this new terrible reality. Social democracies were sacrificed on the altar of rigor and the sinister communists were too few in number, and divided, to matter. This opened the space for alternative forces different from those of the past. After all, the success of Beppe Grillo’s Five Star Movement was an initial sign, although so far that movement has lacked a social thrust and its policies have been confined to the so-called struggle for honesty. Instead SYRIZA and Podemos resemble more and more the populist left formations that govern much of Latin America and with this imprint tackle the European crisis and draconian budgetary constraints like the EU fiscal compact. Or so we’ll see.
What is certain is that things are changing, but not in Italy. It was easy to anticipate the jump onto the Greek horse by the entire Italian political world, now champion of transformismo in Europe. There is clearly a parasitical calculation that is not only electoral. If Greece gets something, hopefully so will we. So we’ll all pretend to be Tsipras, forgetting of course the substance of the program of the new Greek government. Which translated into Italian would mean immediate measures such as cancellation of the latest labour ‘reforms’, dubbed Jobs Act, attacks on pensions through the Fornero law, and the balanced budget that is now in the constitution thanks to the fiscal compact. And also would mean stopping privatization, cuts in health and to state schools, and the ‘stability pact” that imposes a deathly budget straight jacket on local authorities.
Of course, these should not be the strategic objectives of an ambitious government, but merely the actions of the first hundred days, so dear to to Italy’s Democratic PM Matteo Renzi. Then should follow the questioning of the debt policy and the debt itself, that since in 2011 Giorgio Napolitano has pointed to as a driver of austerity policies and that has expanded from 1.9 trillion euros to 2.15 trillion euros
It is a question of breaking with all the policies followed, not only the right-wing, but by the centre parties in recent years. How can be then be on the side of Greece, as Nichi Vendola* declares he is, while you are allied with the Democratic Party of Renzi in all major regions. I will stop here because it is absolutely obvious that if you do not break with the parties of austerity, there can be no real support for Greece.
Even the unions are over-joyed by the Greek elections. But I remember the many times in the CGIL that Greece was used as an example of vain resistance. Fourteen general strikes in the country and nothing has changed, said the unions, as they allowed the retirement age to rise to 68 years and the other regressive reforms under the government of the unelected former EU commissioner and Bilderberg Mario Monti. And in the name of flexibility CGIL, CISL and UIL came to an agreement on the free labour for thousands of young temporary workers who will work in Milan’s Expo.
It is therefore unnecessary to use the Greek brand as a cover for policies and leadership that is responsible for, or complicit in Italy’s social disaster. The only serious thing that we must do at home to support Greece against the Troika is practicing the same break with the policies of austerity.
I don’t know if Tsipras will stick to his promises, but if we Italians are to help him, we must ensure that there is more that links us to Greece than fine words – and a rendition of the song Bella Ciao.
* See comments on the Syriza victory by Nichi Vendola, governor of Puglia here
Translation/edit by Revolting Europe