“I strongly believe that the people and the working class of Europe have to build a broad front against the economic war that neo-liberalism has launched”

Speech of Syriza Member of the Greek Parliament Theano Fotiou at the GSC and FBU fringe meeting at the Trades Union Congress (TUC) in Bournemouth, UK Monday 9 September 2013. Theano, a former University Professor, was an official guest of the TUC.

 On behalf of “Solidarity for all”, I want to thank the Fire Brigades Union for their invitation. I am honoured to be with you as you as a guest of your annual Trades Union Congress.

I am here tonight because I strongly believe that the people and the working class of Europe have to build a broad front against the economic war that neo-liberalism has launched within the European Union; a mass front against austerity policies that attack economic and social rights and dismantle any social provision yet left in the welfare state.

I am here tonight because your people must not experience what the Greek people already have experienced.

There is a red thread that connects us. It is the common struggle against austerity, unemployment, recession, the axing of salaries and pensions, the tax plunder, the dissolution of labour rights and the collapse of the welfare state. They attack the role of the unions; the impose competitiveness as the main principle of life in order to “divide and rule” the working classes, to increase their profits, to lower the wages and turn the environment, the planet and any human activity into commodities.

This red thread connects us. It is the common struggle of our peoples; the strikes, the demonstrations, the peoples’ assemblies in the squares, the civil disobedience and the confrontations with the police.

It is a common thread that connects all the peoples of Europe, that attempted the first European-wide strike in recent decades, last year on 24 November 2012. It is this thread that builds the solidarity of the working class today, as the necessary condition for an end to the regime of austerity in Greece, Europe and the world.

I am here tonight in Bournemouth in order to weave and make visible this red thread of resistance – solidarity – Regime Change. In order to exchange experiences and practices and to build our common ideological and social arsenal. In order to tell, but also to learn from you.

As you may know, Greece has been chosen to become the testing ground of the “shock therapies” of the current capitalist crisis, with the implementation of the austerity memoranda and the bailouts. The neoliberal system started its experiments from Greece and it tries gradually to spread it all over Europe. Like back in the 1980s, when Thatcherism first hit the British working class and then spread to the rest of the globe.

The Greek people, the working classes and their trade unions, have been resisting this assault with all their might. There have been over 20 general and mass strikes within the last three years, which along with the squares occupation movement, the “WON’T PAY” campaigns and the still-growing grass-roots social solidarity movement have contributed to and expressed the radicalisation and growing political strength of the Greek people.

This kind of popular mobilisation is what has been redefining the role of the Radical Left within the crisis. The active involvement of SYRIZA in these movement, the fact that it was inspired by them, that it heard their voice and incorporated their demands into its programme, is why SYRIZA is very significantly gaining in political strength.

Today, when the Health, Education and Public Administration sectors are yet once again under attack in Greece, our goal is to coordinate all struggles around one aim – to change this regime of harsh austerity with one slogan: ”We must get rid of them!

On the ground of economic crisis, Democracy has been destroyed. With the government a puppet of the Troika, the functioning of parliament has become a parody. The closing of the public broadcaster by the government and the dominant political system’s backing for private media, one of the cornerstones of the system of corruption in Greece, have created a filthy alliance of lies and silencing. Under these conditions of economic crisis, political corruption and police “state of emergency”, fascism rises, in a country with a strong anti-fascist tradition; in Greece, who paid a big price in human lives and resources fighting the fascists during World War II; in Greece, a neo-Nazi party, “Golden Dawn”, hides its face using a pseudo-discourse against the crisis, exploiting people’s discontents to promote its venomous, racist, divisive policies against migrants, refugees, trade unionists, public sector workers, etc.

Thus the struggle against the crisis, against austerity, against poverty, against social collapse, for us is a struggle against racism and fascism, for the deepening of democracy, enhancing the people’s participation.

 The face of the humanitarian crisis 

The economic and social destruction due to recession mean a 25% fall in Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and above all sky-rocketing unemployment. Unemployment stands at 27% (officially 1 350 000 people). Four years ago it was 9.5%. Unofficially, the number is 2 million people. The unemployment rate for women is 32% and for the young people, the greatest victims of the Memorandum, between 55 and 62%. 350 000 people have lost their jobs over the past year and 60 000 businesses have closed. Each month 30 000 people lose their jobs.

Under Greek law, people drop out of the social security and health care system and lose their free access to public hospitals when they lose their jobs. This “free” access now costs at least 25 Euros.

Casual employment is on the increase, and the pension age has been increased to 67. Two million workers have not been paid for between 2 and 5 months. Pension schemes have been cut by up to 40%. The “haircut” of Greek state bonds caused a loss of 70% in the real value of social security fund deposits.

Wages and pensions have fallen by up to 53-50%. Over the last three years the average income has decreased by 40-50%. Fifty per cent of the active population say they are ready to emigrate in order to find work.

The public welfare state – education, health, food and housing – is collapsing.

As a result of all of this,

  • ·        Over 2 million people live below the poverty line
  • ·        Fifty percent of citizens cannot pay their taxes, loans and debts. They buy goods of inferior quality. Nowadays the governments allows food past its shelf life to be sold.
  • ·        People risk losing their houses. The government is willing to allow mass foreclosures by the end of the winter.
  • ·        People are not able to buy medicine, send their children to school, vaccinate them, or pay for basic goods.
  • ·        Or buy heating oil (consumption of which fell by 75% last year).
  • ·        Children are collapsing from hunger in the classroom.

Greece – a European country – is facing the results of war during a period of peace.

However, beyond the Greece of crisis and misery, another Greece is being created. A country of a people who get self-organised for survival and resistance. Thousands of people all over Greece, men and women, young and old, employed and unemployed, native and migrant, of different political and ideological beliefs, have created a unique mass movement of resistance and solidarity, shouting and practicing the slogan: “No one will be left alone in the crisis!”

The movement has its backbone in the unemployed and the women, pensioners and migrants. The participation of thousands of people has turned this grass-roots movement into a thriving public sphere of real democracy, social solidarity and resistance, far removed from any notion of bourgeois charity. A vast network of solidarity has emerged in six fields:

  1. 1.      Health: social clinics-pharmacies
  2. 2.      Food shortages: social kitchens and food distribution, social groceries “without middlemen”, direct producer to consumer markets
  3. 3.      Social and solidarity economy of co-ops
  4. 4.      Social classes – social music schools
  5. 5.      Legal support teams / immigrants’ support
  6. 6.      Social cultural centres

The neighbourhood is the focal place of their activities and the assembly – open to all – is the form within which they function, direct democracy the way they take decisions, and where both activists and those whose needs the structure addresses have equal rights. 

“Solidarity for all” 

“Solidarity for all” is a new structure that has emerged out of this experience and by activists of the Radical Left. Its aim is:

  • ·        To facilitate the interaction between social solidarity structures all over Greece which work in the framework of self-organisation / resistance / solidarity. We do not represent the 300 structures, but we facilitate and communicate their activities, experience and knowledge.
  • ·        We spread the message that people have to take their lives into their own hands
  • ·        We organise nationwide campaigns for solidarity (like the campaign for a bottle of olive oil for every unemployed person, or for school materials for every child).
  • ·        We organise international campaigns for solidarity with the Greek people on a political and economic level.

What we have learnt is that, beyond providing a direct answer to the problems of pauperisation, social structures of solidarity create a new public sphere, a new paradigm of social organisation and political intervention from below.

  • ·        These are models of social reform in which self-organisation, direct democracy and participation take the first role.
  • ·        They are social incubators of political discontent, but they are also places where political consciousness and trust is established
  • ·        They have a great impact on their neighbourhoods. They know and work with thousands of people. They are trusted and gain the necessary social grounding.

Syriza politically supports this field of action by giving it political legitimisation, without trying to dominate them. 

New steps and perspectives 

They are now taking steps to link trade union struggles more strongly with the people’s resistance. We want to connect the activities of the social solidarity movement with people on strike and those who are losing their jobs in the health, education and public administration sectors.

At the same time the self-organised solidarity movement expands on a new level – the level of production. We already have attempts to run self-managed factories (such as the VIOME factory in Salonika, or factories in Euboea), newspapers, radio stations, etc., and now attempts to bring abandoned land back into production and empty buildings back into use, and harvest abandoned crops under the slogan: “They destroy – we create! They close – we open schools, hospitals, factories”!

We should all create a broadly effective paradigm which deconstructs in practice the Memorandum’s doctrine of “growth through destruction and mass privatisation”. The examples of the social solidarity movement create a paradigm that encourages the people, gives them hope that “there is another future, another prospect”, which strengthens their resistance for political change. People do not any longer mobilise by abstract political and ideological discourses, but rather by concrete social and political action which paves the way tangibly towards a solution of their actual needs.

Last but not least, this solidarity movement aspires to contribute, to the best of its ability, to the creation of a new international solidarity movement of the people of Europe, the Mediterranean and beyond.

We are very proud about the creation of the Greece Solidarity Campaign in the UK. We receive a lot of help and courage from you. Going further in our common struggles, we would like to link the activities of the health, food, education etc. structures more firmly to the various British trade unions and their Greek counterparts.

The situation we face is unprecedented. We must go forward step by step, all together, inside and outside Greece, trying to make the most of every opportunity we get to strengthen the bond which connect us and to share our practices.

The Greek people conduct their struggle with dignity and power, with passion and good humour, drawing strength from an historical tradition of struggle, in Greece but also internationally.

The needs are massive. There are plenty of ways to join in. We invite you to communicate with us, to dare to experiment with new ways of resisting and to join us in forging a path together towards our common future.

For Solidarity, resistance, political change!

For a future without exploitation, racism and capitalism!



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