18 February 2012     

Break the chains

By Lynda Walker

A spectre is haunting Europe, with crisis after crisis. The European single market is proving to be a disaster. The “bail-outs” from the European Union are more akin to a sinking ship. As Greece heads towards default, Italy, the Netherlands, Ireland, Portugal and Spain are tumbling back into recession.
     Greece has the highest profile to date, where the left wing leads a trade union and community backlash against the vicious attack on working-class living standards. Poverty is rife, hospitals are running out of medicine, people are sleeping on the streets, scavenging from rubbish dumps and resorting to soup kitchens.
     The removal of three months’ salary annually from the workers (22% reduction) and four months’ salary from newly hired workers (32% reduction) is part of the new measures, which also include heavy taxes which remove even more of the workers’ income. Some workers have not even been paid, and more cuts will slash the minimum wage by 22%, lay off thousands more public-sector workers and cut old-age pensions.
     However, none of this is enough for the EU creditors, who this week abruptly called off an emergency meeting that was supposed to agree a €130 billion bail-out. The Dutch finance minister, Jan Kees de Jager, said: “We don’t give an inch. We want everything, a complete package . . . If we don’t have that clear, we cannot agree with the package.” This week there were reports that Antonis Samaras, leader of Greece’s conservative New Democracy party, would sign the letter promising to enforce the package.
     Some older people in Greece are comparing the political situation to life under fascism, and old wounds are being opened up vis-à-vis Germany. Political protests are being held in the form of general strikes, rallies, and demonstrations. Hundreds of thousands of demonstrators were out on the street protesting this week. The GSEE and ADEDY trade union groups protested outside the parliament, whilst the communist-affiliated trade union federation PAME, at a separate rally, called for a fundamental change.
     A speaker at the PAME rally said: “It is of no importance whether this happens inside or outside of the euro, with a controlled or uncontrolled bankruptcy. What is of vital importance is that the people decide that they will make no more sacrifices for the plutocracy, to fill the treasure vaults of the capitalists, while they and their children will be submerged in absolute poverty and destitution.”
     And the Communist Party of Greece added: “The government with the criminal political line must leave now, together with the Troika. No memorandum must be signed. No new agreement. The plutocracy must pay.”
     Over the past two weeks Europe has experienced massive protests against unprecedented attacks upon living standards, in Spain, Portugal and Belgium as well as Greece. The historical record of unemployment in Europe was recently exposed. Spain recorded the highest level of unemployment, and it was noted that this particularly affects young workers, where youth unemployment is running at the rate of about 50%.
     Just over a week ago Belgian workers were protesting outside the European summit, and the very same day a historic struggle took place, with a general strike called by the three general unions, for the first time in two decades. In Portugal, in what was the largest demonstration in 30 years, over 300,000 workers transformed the Square of the Palace into a square of the people. The Portuguese workers loudly affirmed their determination and fighting spirit in defence of “the right to work, decent wages, for a developed and sovereign country.”
     It becomes increasingly clear that a united opposition is needed both within countries and across countries in order to break the chains of capitalism.

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