Saturday, May 26, 2018

Trucker's Strike in Brazil Shows the Power of Labor. Let's Use It.


Source
Richard Mellor
Afscme Local 444, retired

It’s West Virginia all over again but this time on a much larger scale.

Brazil’s government has called in the military in order to break a nationwide strike by truckers. The strike which  started on Monday, is mainly over the increasing cost of diesel fuel and truckers unions have been blocking highways throughout the country, a country larger than the USA.

The consequences of the strike are severe. Bosses’ organizations are claiming that as many as 20 million pigs could die over the weekend as pork and poultry plants close down affecting 200,000 workers in that industry. Ten airports are without fuel according to reports in the media.

Prices have risen rapidly due to the cost of oil and also the decline in the Brazilian currency something that was avoided to a significant degree by the previous left of center government that subsidized prices.  The present right wing government removed those subsidies in order to help the employers allowing domestic fuel prices to skyrocket.

In these situations the sheer hypocrisy and blatant lies from the capitalist class and their political representatives is fully exposed. Michel Temer, Brazil’s president has this to say:
“We will not allow consumers to go without products, we will not allow hospitals to go without what they need to save lives, we will not allow children to be harmed by the closure of schools”

How caring they are. Workers are forced by necessity to withdraw their labor power and the bourgeois and their political representatives announce how much they care about humanity. Brazil is an incredibly poor country. Just a few months ago Temer brought in the military to combat what he called a “security” crisis but what is in actuality a poverty crisis.

Here in the US the most powerful and ruthless gang of global capitalism is closing schools left right and center from Chicago to Oakland to Puerto Rico. We just posted some information fromMercedes Martinez, the president of the teachers union in Puerto Rico about that Island’s government under pressure from Washington closing over 200 schools.

When workers are forced to take drastic action, to use our collective power to force the bosses to back off, suddenly they become egalitarian. I was on the picket lines in the great British Miners strike 0f 1984-85. I was on a picket line in Yorkshire outside Barnsley where thousands of workers battled thousands of cops who were escorting scabs to work, I think in this case it was one guy who couldn’t do anything anyway. I recall Thatcher or one of her flunkies talking about a person’s right to work. This only applies to strikebreakers; the unemployed looking for work can starve to death if there’s no surplus value/profits to be extracted from their labor power.

The blockades and the immense power of the truckers has won some small concessions apparently and there was an agreement by some union heads to suspend the strike and withdraw the barricades. But one of the largest of the truckers unions refused and withdrew from negotiations.  The leaders of this union, the Brazilian Association of Truckers (Abcam), did call on its members to free the highways and remove the barricades but the members refused to heed their leaders’ advice.  This is how we win.

We are witnessing here a similar situation that has occurred here in the US with the recent teachers actions, particularly in West Virginia where teachers refused to heed the official leaderships call to return to work, an action that won them and all state workers---- on strike or not----- a 5% increase.  As we have pointed out in previous commentaries (see teachers and education tabs on the right of this blog) the West Virginia teachers struck in a state where strikes are illegal. For decades, bosses, their politicians in both parties and their agents at the head of organized labor, have warned us that violating the law is impossible, we can’t do it, we will fail, we cannot win this way.

It is not surprising we hear little about this huge event in the US mass media. A strike in one of the world’s largest countries. We hear next to nothing about such developments here in the US like the class war that is being fought in Puerto Rico at the moment so it shouldn't surprise us that we hear nothing about what actually happens when workers fight back in other countries.

Not being on the ground in Brazil I am not in a position to say too much about the details of the strike which is in reality a strike against the neo-liberal agenda and world capitalism represented by the IMF and the World Bank.  But there is tremendous potential here to bring down the Temer government and drive back the capitalist offensive in Brazil. The bosses, as seen by Temer’s comments, will try to use the disruption strike action causes against the truckers which is why the trucker's unions must spread the strike, add to their demands to draw in other sectors as well as the poor and most oppressed and build a generalized movement against austerity.

There is also a major struggle taking place in Amazonia as the indigenous community and environmentalist are battling against the agriculture industry. No major struggle can win without spreading the battle across national borders either. The global capitalist class is waging a ferocious assault against any Latin American country that fights back against the neo-liberal agenda. From Greece to Poland, Brazil to Puerto Rico, this war is a global one.

It is important as workers to recognize one important point. When we go on strike, when we go on a strike of labor power, they savage us. Yet they go on strikes of capital as well. We have to recognize that the banks, the financial industry, the ownership of capital is crucial in any struggle. This entire industry, the ownership of capital must come under the ownership and control of the working class. 

No struggle of working people today in any nation can win without an international perspective, and strategy and tactics that reflect that international outlook.

Sikh cop save the life of Muslim boy from a violent mob

The video is not the best but this is a heartwarming story that first appeared in Countercurrents.org. I've been a fan of Indian film for a long time and it's a bit like Gadar the truck driver has come to life in real time. This is what a healthy diet of Punjabi food can do for you. Religious sectarianism is poison. RM


Recently a video is making round on social media where a Sikh police officer saved a Muslim boy from the violent mob in Uttarakhand.

In the video, the officer Gangandeep Singh made an entry like a bollywood hero and saved the Muslim guy, who was allegedly found with the Hindu girl in a temple.

The video shows the Muslim boy surrounded by the mob and suddenly mob started beating him, showing exemplary courage and sense of duty Gangandeep took the target to out the guy from the mob to safety.

After the video went viral there are lots of reactions coming from the social media across the country. Justice Markandey Katju former chairman Press Council of India tweeted that “it was heartening to see on Youtube the videos of a brave young Sikh police officer, Gagandeep Singh, saving the life of a Muslim youth who may have been lynched by a frenzied Hindutva mob had it not been for the courageous intervention of Gangandeep.”

As we know the Sikh community known as for the kindness and this cop shows the tenderness and also shows the honesty towards his duty. Such sense of duty in the face of violent mobs is a rarety in India, as we usually see cops shying away from duty by simply looking away from such violence.

Apart from positive reactions from the social media some negative reactions are also coming but it’s a very few in number. However people from the different states and cities are appreciating this real hero and saying this Singh is the real king. In the past few years we’ve seen lots of lynching taking place in India and lot of police officers simply didn’t do their duty. If police officers do their duty like Gangandeep Singh probably we will not see the any such incident of lynching and mob attacks in our country in future.

Azam Abbas, MCRC Jamia Millia Islamia

Friday, May 25, 2018

Appeal for Messages of Solidarity from Norwegian Union

Source
Please send messages of support to:
Markus Hansen
President
Norwegian Elevator Constructors Union
Tlf: 46913040 / E-Mail: Leder@heis.no

Dear Brothers and sisters, and friends of the Elevator Industry

I am writing this letter because of a fight we are having at the moment for a collective agreement on the elevator company called Orona Norway. I think many of you know about the company. For many years, this company has managed to prevent us from organizing their workers, until now. Now we have managed to organize about 60 percent of the workers, which means we can go to industrial action - and strike for the right to have a collective agreement. To be able to strike is the last, and only option we had to show Orona that we mean business.

17 of the workers have been on strike for 10 days now. The strike will be expanded by two on Monday - up to a total of 19 workers at Orona. Total workforce is 34 workers. The last 15 workers don´t dare to approach the union because of fear of the Orona management.

Orona is the last, and only, international company present in Norway that does not have a collective bargaining agreement - up until now they have managed to avoid all unions and threatened people not to join a union. At Otis, ThyssenKrupp, Schindler and Kone we have a 100 % organisation rate, and their management respect and follow the one collective bargaining agreement we have in the industry.
Orona is now threatening to shut down the entire operation if we do not give up our demand to have the collective agreement of the Elevator Industry. We know that they fear the collective agreement because it will mean the end on the use of sub-contractors and the use of temporarily staff. With the collective agreement Orona would have to pay their workers the same, equal pay as the rest of the elevator industry - and I think it does not fit to their agenda on using cheap labour and sub-contractors.

The good news is that those on strike, the workers at Orona, are feeling strong and brave when they know that they have the strength of the union at their back. They will not succumb until they win through their demands - even if Orona is to withdraw from Norway. Those on strike are not alone. Together with all the elevator constructor throughout Norway, we fight side by side with our brothers in Orona. This is a fight that means a lot to everyone in Norway.

I hope your organisation would, in solidarity, would write some words of support, for our 17 brothers at Orona, who are fighting against a multi-International company who does not accept unions and would rather withdraw from Norway - than to give the those 17 the same rights, the same salaries as the rest of the Elevator Industry. Please send words of solidarity back to my e-mail address. Thank you for reading this. Solidarity forever.

Best Regards,
Markus Hansen
President
Norwegian Elevator Constructors Union
Tlf: 46913040 / E-Mail: Leder@heis.no

First-ever agreement between Amazon and unions halts inhumane work hours in Italy


 Reprinted from Unionglobalnews

Amazon employees in Italy have made history. Workers are announcing today the first-ever direct agreement between unions and the company anywhere in the world. The Italian agreement tackles inhumane scheduling, one of the core labour problems at Amazon fulfilment centres globally.

The deal, which is supplementary to the nationwide sectoral collective labour agreement, ensures fairness in scheduling through reductions in mandatory night shifts and distributing weekend work in a just way. Amazon is notorious for long hours, punishing quotas, and little break time during shifts.

In some facilities, workers say they do not have time to even use the restroom.

Italian union Filcams Cgil Nazionale played a leading role in the negotiations.

"We are pleased with this result which is currently unique in Europe,” said Massimo Mensi, a leader in Filcams Cgil Nazionale’s Amazon campaign. “We hope it will pave the way for many other negotiations in all the countries where Amazon has its operations.”

"The agreement provides that night work is initially carried out only by voluntary employees, providing, among other things, an increase of 25% of the compensation under the employment contract,” Mensi continued.

Workers are guaranteed four consecutive free weekends every eight weeks and shifts alternate between Saturdays and Sundays.

The win in Italy comes after months of protests and organising by workers. With UNI’s help, Italian and German workers coordinated strike activity in November 2017.

"This deal is important in light of the strikes and protests of last November, when on Black Friday many employees demanded reasonable workloads and less of an impact on their family life. This agreement that can now pave the way for new corporate relationships on issues of health and safety of the workplace,” said Maria Grazia Gabrielli, General Secretary of Filcams Cgil Nazionale.

The agreement, approved by a large majority of voting workers, will run for one year starting June 17, and the union will closely monitor the results.

“It’s clear that Amazon must negotiate with workers who have organised into unions, and with Amazon’s labour practices under fire throughout Europe and the U.S., the agreement will be the first of many that will reform the company’s model of exploitative labour relations,” said Mathias Bolton, Head of UNI Commerce.

UNI Global Union is working to build alliances between national unions who represent Amazon workers. Currently, its Amazon Worker Alliance is made of from unions from countries including, the US, UK, Germany, France, Spain, Italy, Poland, and Czech Republic.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

A Poem: Irish Referendum Tomorrow, Repeal the 8th Amendment.

Image Source
Another poem from our friend Kevin Higgins originally published at The Platform UK 
As was pointed out in a previous post there is an historic referendum in Ireland tomorrow to appeal the 8th Amendment.  It is an an attempt to drive back patriarchal laws and those forces that oppose the right of women to control their own bodies and reproduction.  The Catholic hierarchy and its allies on this issue particularly religious forces in the US South are opposing the repeal. The introduction below gives some history.  Also read: Ireland's 1916 Uprising. The Sell Out Of Women and the Catholic Hierarchy.

FFWP Admin

Introduction (From The Platform UK)
Tomorrow, Friday 25 May, Ireland will come out to vote in a historic referendum that will determine the future of abortion laws.

Voters will decide whether to remove the 1983 Eighth Amendment from the country’s constitution, a clause which explicitly bans abortion and gives a foetus an equal right to life as the mother.
No Irish woman of child-bearing age has previously had the opportunity to vote on this issue. Someone who, as a then 18-year-old, had her first vote in the 1983 referendum would now be 52 years old.

Women and girls have resorted to travelling outside the Republic of Ireland to access legal abortion services. At least 3,265 women and girls gave Irish addresses at UK centres in 2016 – an underestimation given that not all women will provide their Irish addresses and some will have travelled to countries like the Netherlands.

Despite the ban, abortion exists in Ireland, though until now Ireland hasn’t officially had the courage to admit it. A 2016 report shows that 1,642 abortion pill packages were sent to Ireland in a three-year period, between 2010 and 2012, by a single provider.

A number of women or girls have over the years been forced to take legal action against the Irish state in order to obtain the right to an abortion, or the right to travel to the UK for an abortion. These are commonly referred to in Ireland as the ‘A’, ‘B’, ‘C’, and ‘X’ cases. Miss X was a 14-year-old rape victim who, in 1992, was only allowed to travel to the UK for a termination after taking a case to the Irish Supreme Court.

This poem looks at all the various euphemisms used in Ireland to talk about abortion without actually saying the word.

The Euphemisms
after Peter Reading
A great and sure remedy
for unmarried ladies. A boat
somewhere so she can sort this out
and then get back to her life.
A Ryanair flight to Leeds-Bradford.
A pill the modern woman
can take with her coffee.
An ex-nurse above a fish and chip shop
who helps girls in trouble.
A day trip to a clinic
near Liverpool. Flushing it
down the lavatory. Something
the Irish government is in no rush
to legislate for. What the Bishop of Kerry
is definitely against.
Something no one wants.
The world’s second oldest profession.
A number in England her doctor
suggests she phone.
Something the Irish government
will deal with in a prompt
and appropriate manner.
The constitutional amendment of 1983.
The letters A, B, C. The letter X.
If we leave it long enough
all the letters in between.
Something you can’t have women
walking in off the street
and demanding.

Kevin Higgins
Kevin Higgins is co-organiser of Over The Edge literary events in Galway. He teaches poetry workshops and is a poetry critic with The Galway Advertiser. Kevin has published four collections of poetry: The Ghost In The Lobby (2014), Frightening New Furniture (2010), Time Gentlemen, Please (2008), and his best-selling first collection, The Boy With No Face (2005). The Stinging Fly magazine recently described Kevin as "likely the most read living poet in Ireland”. Follow him on Twitter @KevinHIpoet1967

Israel targets journalists in Gaza



Republished from The Electronic Intifada

Israel has killed Palestinian journalists Yaser Murtaja and Ahmad Abu Hussein, and injured more than 90 others, during the Great March of Return protests.

Reporters Without Borders
has formally requested that the International Criminal Court prosecutor investigate the deliberate targeting of journalists in Gaza as war crimes.

The Palestinian Journalists’ Syndicate is also preparing to send files to the International Criminal Court and some European courts in regards to Israel’s targeting of journalists in Gaza, especially the killing of Murtaja and Abu Hussein.

“The occupation directly targets journalists because it finds that the truth is bitter,” photojournalist Ibrahim Zanoun told The Electronic Intifada. Israeli snipers shot Zanoun in the arm while he was covering the march.

“Those who carry cameras with long-focus lenses are especially targeted,” said photojournalist Abdulrahman al-Kahlout, who was shot in the foot with live ammunition. “So that what’s happening on the ground remains hidden.”

Israel has killed more than 100 Palestinians since the beginning of the marches and injured thousands more.
Video by Mohammed Asad

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Billionaire NFL Owners Move Against Individual Freedom

Terrible
Richard Mellor
Afscme Local 444, retired

So the NFL introduces a new rule that a team can be punished if its players don't stand for the national anthem. What if one player kneels? Will the entire team be punished as collective punishment Israeli style? Will their mum's house be bulldozed? Apparently to kneel in order to bring attention to any social issue, issue, rape, racist attacks, government overreach, war, poverty, lack of health care, education costs. the Predator in Chief calling immigrants animals and murderers, is disrespecting the anthem.

Leaving aside how a protest against police murders of unarmed citizens is "disrespecting"an anthem. Why is an anthem played at a football game at all? I personally can't stand anthems. I generally stand at them simply out of respect for workers who died fighting for what they believed was a just cause and I pick my battles. But if a person doesn't want to stand at an anthem then that's their choice. It's not my anthem. It's not a song praising the merits and history of the working class. By using it all they are doing is dragging us in to their triumphant refrain. The Internationale is the best workers' anthem. The very force behind all this nationalism doesn't give a damn about workers especially when they return from the conflicts they send our kids to.

All the flag waving is for when they leave to fight their wars. When they return, if they do, inevitably damaged, sometimes physically and always emotionally, the "patriotic" cheerleaders are short of money.
Perfectly fine. Doesn't disrespect an anthem, just women.
Some religious groups do not stand for anthems. Will they be the next targets? Also remember this; the folks that run the NFL are all billionaires, a gang of thieves if there ever was one. I saw a post the other day condemning the M-13 gang and their power. They say the same about workers organizations, that the unions have too much power, they call them big labor. The heads of the NFL, the Chamber of Commerce, the Business Roundtable, the National Association of Manufacturers and the other multiple other bosses' gangs make the M-13 look like a club from Mr. Rogers neighborhood.

I suggest folks drag themselves away from the basketball games once in a while or the other distractions they place in our line of sight and wake up and smell the roses.

Iran, China, Europe. Trump Administration Heading Down a Dangerous Path.


Just a few thoughts for today.

Historic Irish referendum on Abortion

Reprinted from Left Horizon's UK

By JD in Dublin

The referendum taking place in the Republic of Ireland on Friday the 25th May presents a clear choice for repealing the constitutional eighth amendment, and thereby enabling the government to introduce legislation to legalise abortion.

At the moment this reactionary clause in the constitution grants equal rights to the foetus, even at its earliest stages of development, as to the rights of the woman carrying that foetus. This applies no matter how much the woman might feels unable to cope with the pregnancy and even to the point whereby her health might be critically endangered by carrying that foetus.

Many readers of Left Horizon will scratch their heads wondering how this got into the Irish constitution, but that is to underestimate the traditional power of the Catholic Church in Ireland over the past 100 years. Thankfully, much has changed in recent decades with divorce and then most notably, the introduction of same-sex marriage rights two years ago following a similar landmark referendum.

The key to understanding this new ‘liberal’ enlightenment is not the persuasive powers of lobby groups and politicians but more fundamentally the transformation of the Republic of Ireland from a predominantly rural-based society to one where approximately 70 to 75 per cent of the population live in cities or urban centres.

This dramatic change has taken place in less than fifty years and, coupled with the growth of the working class, the globalisation of culture and human rights, has also undermined the influence of conservative social forces in Ireland as elsewhere. The litany of domestic and international paedophile scandals has also contributed to a marked decline in the trust of the faithful towards an institution, which claimed to have a direct line with God.

While abortion has been all but banned legally in Ireland, the need for abortions of course has continued. The solution found by the establishment is to turn a blind eye to the need for it and allow the solution to be ‘contracted out’ (metaphorically speaking) to British health service providers.

The eighth amendment doesn't prevent the occurrence of abortion. In 1983, the very year it was introduced into the constitution, 3,677 women gave Irish addresses at UK abortion clinics. By 2001, a recorded 6,673 women gave Irish addresses at UK abortion clinics. These numbers are considered not to be the full story, as many women would give the address of friends and relatives living in Britain when they have sought a pregnancy termination in the UK. Since that amendment that effectively ended abortions in Ireland, more than 170,000 women have travelled abroad for abortions!

Serious or permanent risk
What these figures make clear is that the eighth amendment did absolutely nothing to reduce the number of Irish women accessing abortion. All it achieved was to interfere with the care of pregnant women. It requires doctors and nurses – often  against their own medical and ethical beliefs – to override the wishes of a pregnant woman, even when it is clear that the pregnancy involves serious or permanent risk to her health.

When doctors and obstetricians see a woman with an underlying serious medical condition, as things stand currently they have to make decisions in a legal rather than a medical framework and indeed these decisions take place under the threat of a custodial sentence.

The result of all this is that women are forced to undergo an arduous and expensive trip overseas to procure the termination of an unwanted pregnancy, be it for family or financial reasons or indeed to end a pregnancy arising from incest, marital or date rape.  The costs incurred are often prohibitive for women on low incomes. In some instances, women with no money are resorting to induced miscarriage at home without any medical assistance.      

This absolute rigidity in the law, which criminalises women and doctors if equal rights are not measurably given to the woman and her foetus within all clinical decisions, has been found consistently to violate women’s human rights by several UN and European bodies.  There has been a campaign running for several years now to finally repeal the eighth amendment and ditch it from the Irish constitution. A National Coalition to Repeal the amendment has come together and has been to the fore in campaigning for progress on the issue.

Nevertheless, the conservative forces that have been trying to police women’s bodies for centuries are not giving up without a fight. A highly effective poster blitz and social media campaign has been orchestrated with money not just from some of the churches in Ireland, but from deep pockets in the south of the United States. Graphic images of abortion and appeals to ‘Love Both’ are making apparent inroads into the original 2-1 predictions in favour of change.  Repealing the amendment is being portrayed as ‘A Licence to Kill’ and there are claims that ‘another way’ is possible.



Trades unions and women’s groups
A clever tactic is being deployed which allows for the ‘No’ change campaigners to acknowledge ‘there is a problem which needs to be addressed,’ but that ‘the government proposals go too far…. providing for ‘abortion on demand’ and are extreme’ and that ‘a safer compromise is possible’, thereby implying that another solution is possible down the road. This maybe having an effect in that it cynically spreads the false notion that retaining the amendment is possible while prioritising the health of both mother and foetus.

This campaign of preserving the status quo also points out that the Supreme Court ruled that abortion is possible as a last resort, where it is necessary to save a woman or a girl’s life. However, that ruling did not save the life of Sapina Halappanaver in 2012, and many other women have come close to death in the meantime.

Another cynical ploy being used by the ‘No vote’ is to take the government to task for their poor record of taking care of people’s health generally, thanks to savage health cuts over the years. People are being asked to trust that this government wants to put people’s health first! It doesn’t take a genius to work out that the government is vulnerable on this one.

However, thankfully many trade unions and women’s groups have come out and called for a Yes vote to change the constitution and the legal framework around abortion provision. And it is the unions and the left who are highlighting also how procuring an abortion disproportionately hurts the low paid, particularly in the case of complicated procedures.

Friday the 25th can be a watershed day for women’s rights in Ireland.  The result could be tighter than predicted a month ago, but it is still likely that those looking to repeal the Irish Constitution will secure victory. A lot of nails will be bitten between now and the result and nothing is taken for granted. Hopefully, it will be a day to celebrate for all those who believe in trusting women to make the right decision for themselves and their families.

For  more reading on Ireland and the role of the Catholic hierarchy see:
Ireland's 1916 Uprising. The Sell Out Of Women and the Catholic Hierarchy.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Greece: the spectre of debt

I’ve just got back from a visit to Greece to speak at a conference on my book, Marx 200.  While I was there I talked to several left activists and academics and it seems that little has improved for the Greek people since my last visit two years ago.  Back in 2010, Greece started to sink fast under the Aegean, hitting the bottom in 2015.  But since then, the economy has remained stuck in the mud and hardly moved.

In my book, The Long Depression I characterised the difference between a ‘normal’ slump in capitalist production and a depression.  The slump takes the form of a V in investment and output, down and then back up.  But a depression is more like a square root: down, then a small recovery but not to the previous level but staying trending below.  The Greek economy since the beginning of its crisis in 2010 fits that perfectly.

Greece’s economy grew 1.4% last year, marking the first time that real GDP growth has exceeded 1% since 2007.  But national output is still down 22% from its peak, an output collapse unprecedented in the annals of modern Europe and one that rivals the severity of the Great Depression in the United States while average real living standards (real wages, pensions, social welfare) are down 40% from the peak. Unemployment remains over 20% and youth unemployment is closer to 40%.

More than 600,000 working age Greeks have left the country seeking work.

And Greek capital remains prostrate.  Gross investment as a share of GDP is about half of its pre-crisis value.

Moreover, part of gross investment is the replacement of depreciating capital – such as replacing worn-out machines, or renovating decaying hotels. Net investment (i.e. gross investment, minus depreciation) was about 10% of GDP before the crisis, indicating that the capital stock was increasing at that time. But net investment has fallen absolutely since 2010, so the effective capital stock of the country is decaying.

Investment by the Greek private sector is constrained by low corporate profits (limiting its own funds available for investment) and weak bank balance sheet positions, as reflected by the approximately 40% share of total loans made by Greek banks that are non-performing loans (which constrains available bank lending).  Indeed, although the profitability of Greek capital has finally recovered a little, based on the liquidation of the weak and smaller businesses, huge unemployment and a reduction in real wages, the rate of profit is still below the level of 2010.

And small businesses and workers also face the huge burden of sharply increased taxes.  This is to meet the fiscal targets set by the Troika (the ECB, the IMF and the Eurogroup) imposed in a series of ‘bailout’ programmes introduced since 2010.  Greek public debt was about 80% of GDP in 2010 as the tsunami generated by the global financial crash and the Great Recession reached weak Greek capitalism.  That public debt is now around 180% of GDP.  Why?

Because the German and French banks demanded full face value repayment of the Greek government and bank bonds that they had bought before 2010 when interest yield was so high. But Greek banks could no longer service these bonds because Greek capitalists were going bust or defaulting on their bank loans.

The Greek state was also unable to bail out its banks and meet its bond obligations as the economy collapsed.  The rising cost of unemployment and welfare and falling tax revenues drove up the government budget deficit to record levels.

Austerity was now the order of the day.  Workers, as taxpayers, had to take on the burden of servicing and repaying the capitalist sector’s debt.  First, Greek conservative governments agreed with the Troika on a series of cuts in public sector jobs and services, privatisations and pension reductions to ‘stabilise’ the debt.  But despite the sacrifices, successive bailout programs failed to restore the economy. So more loans from the official agencies were conjured up, along yet more austerity.

Then the leftist Syriza party won the election in 2015 pledged to oppose any further austerity and called for debt repudiation.  And as we know, in July 2015 the Greek people voted 60-40 to reject the Troika measures.  But within days of that referendum, the Syriza government capitulated to the pressure of capital as the ECB withdrew credit and support for Greek banks and the banks were closed.  Syriza signed up for a new program that took the debt up to its current 180% of GDP.

That program comes to an end in August this year and in the next few days the Eurogroup and the Syriza government must decide what to do next. But, as a recent report by some top mainstream economists, put it: “A spectre continues to haunt Greece and no less its creditors. Under plausible projections for growth, interest rates and fiscal performance, the government’s debt is unsustainable, as its official creditors have effectively acknowledged.”  Despite never-ending ‘austerity’ in the form of annual budget surpluses, the debt level has remained undisturbed – because as fast as the government cuts spending, the loans keep rising – but not to fund government services but to repay previous loans to the IMF and the ECB!

The Syriza government has done everything asked of it by the Troika and now, with just a maximum of a year to go before new elections, it is desperate to get the Eurogroup to agree to some ‘debt relief’ to convince voters that things are finally going to improve.  The IMF agrees that debt relief is needed, along with a less severe trajectory for further austerity.  But the Eurogroup does not.  It refuses, so far, to reduce further the interest rate on its loans (already pretty low) or extend the time scale of the maturity of the debt repayments (already well into 2030).  And it certainly does not want any actual cut in the face value of the debt outstanding (a write-off), which it sees as setting a precedent that debtors can get away without paying eventually.

The Eurogroup claims that the Greeks should be able to service their debt and grow now that they have met the terms of latest program and so can return to ‘normal’ by borrowing on world markets.  The IMF and most economists disagree.  The IMF reckons the burden of the debt is too high for generations of Greeks to service through taxation and cuts indefinitely.  So the IMF supports a form of debt relief (extend loan maturities and lower interest rates).  But it also wants the Syriza government to pursue a neoliberal programme of: decimating trade union rights, deregulating markets and continuing privatisations.  As the recent IMF communique put it:“Despite progress on the structural front, Greece’s overarching challenge remains the liberalization of restrictions that impair its investment climate. Thus, the authorities should reconsider their plans to reverse cornerstone collective-bargaining reforms after the end of the program, and should instead focus on redoubling efforts to open up still protected product and service markets, so as to facilitate investment and create new jobs.”

The reality is that with the Greek economy unlikely to grow at more than 2% a year after inflation for the foreseeable future and the burden of financing the debt standing at 15% of GDP each year and rising, there is no way that Greek capitalism can escape of the spectre of the debtors prison.

At the end of 2015, 75% of Greek public debt was in the form of official loans. Bond holdings of European central banks amounted to an additional 6%, while some additional percentage was held by (largely state-owned) Greek banks. Even if Greece reaches an overall budget balance this year, new borrowing will be needed in the future. The current €16bn loan from the IMF needs to be repaid by 2021, and the €20bn bond holdings of the ECB and national central banks by 2026. The current stock of €3bn pre-2012 bonds, which were not restructured in 2012, also needs to be repaid. Repayment of the remaining €31bn bonds which resulted from the 2012 debt restructuring will start in 2023. The €53bn bilateral loans from euro-area partners granted in the first financial assistance programme will have to be repaid between 2020-2041, according to current schedule.

As the economists group put it starkly: “To achieve debt sustainability without face-value debt relief, ….would imply a large increase in the total exposure to Greece of the European official sector from currently expected end-2018 levels, that is, by 50% or more. It would also mean that Greece could still be paying off debts to European official creditors well into the 22nd century.”!

As the economy crawls along the bottom, the Syriza government can offer no relief to its voters from the grinding poverty and tax burdens they now suffer.  Indeed, on 1 January 2019, pensions, already cut heavily, face another cut of up to 18%.  The government calls for debt relief from the Troika but what is really needed is debt cancellation; proper taxation of the very rich who continue to avoid any severe measures; the public ownership of the banks and big businesses that rule Greek investment and a state plan for investment.   It was what was needed at the time of 2015 referendum when the Greek people voted down the Troika measures.  Three years later, nothing has really changed and, as a result, in the next election, voter turnout will plummet and Syriza is likely to lose and be replaced by a right-wing coalition.  The spectre of debt will remain.