The first AGM of the Greece Solidarity Campaign (GSC) took place at the UNITE headquarters on Saturday 1st March. The GSC was set up a year and a half ago in response to an appeal to Tony Benn on behalf of Greek people facing austerity measures, by veteran Greek political activists – Manolis Glezos and Mikis Theodorakis, for support from the British labour movement. Glezos is a national hero who, as a young man, tore down the swastika flag from the Acropolis. Theodorakis, apart from being a well-known songwriter, was a staunch campaigner against the dictatorship of the Greek unta from 1967-74.
Today the Greek government, led by the ND (Greek Conservatives), and press is claiming that the crisis is nearly over and that the Greek economy will soon return to growth. Christine Lagarde, formerly of the International Monetary Fund, responsible for imposing the most savage austerity programme in Europe on the Greek people, was quoted as saying that Greece was no longer “the fashionable crisis”.
However for the Greek people the crisis is far from over. Unemployment stands at 28%, and for young people it is 60%. But this does not take into account the number of workers who are not being paid. New jobs that have been created, as in the UK, tend to be lower paid, part time and insecure. Thousands of Greeks have had to emigrate to find work. Austerity measures have meant irreversible damage to public services – such as education and health and to the environment, as the government sells off assets at a knock-down price to multinational companies.
One of the speakers at the AGM described the sale of land in Skouries in the Halkidiki (in the north-east of the country) to a Canadian company Eldorado Gold for gold mining, which will generate profits for the company, but will mean a loss of jobs for local people in agriculture, fishing and tourism. There is currently a bitterly fought local campaign to save this area.
Greek people have been at the forefront of austerity measures in the Eurozone. But they have fought back, with over 20 general strikes, occupations and the movement of mass demonstrations in “the squares”. Politically the system was brought to the limits of its endurance, with the long-standing left party PASOK reduced to melt-down. It now has only 4-5% of the vote and could disappear completely. There are lessons here for the Labour Party if it does not resist austerity measures.
SYRIZA, now the main party of the left, is tipped to win the next general election and will be campaigning in the European elections in May. Its leader Alexis Tsipras is the left candidate for President of the European Union. But some Greeks in despair have also turned to the fascists – the Golden Dawn, whose violence against immigrants and political opponents are still a real threat.
The GSC has the support of 11 national trades unions in the UK, and of the TUC. It is committed to building solidarity with all political parties on the left and trades unions who are fighting austerity in Greece. It is also planning to raise funds for solidarity groups in Greece who are running clinics for those now excluded from primary health care by the cuts that have taken place.