This letter appeared in the Guardian on the 1st of June
The Greek people’s democratic rejection of the policies of austerity on 6 May could not be clearer. Christine Lagarde told the Guardian that the Greeks must pay their taxes (It’s payback time: don’t expect sympathy, 22 May; Christine Lagarde’s Greek comments provoke fury, 28 May). This is an issue. Last year alone, $8bn in collectible taxes in Greecewere in arrears – half the country’s annual deficit.
But if those of us outside Greece want to comment on this issue for the Greeks, let’s be clear where this money is. In Greece, as in the UK, the problem of tax avoidance and evasion is caused by the wealthiest. The Greek shipping magnates and their families live virtually tax-free. Their shipping assets alone are estimated at $85bn. Fleets are based offshore to avoid taxes, and the wealth is secreted in offshore accounts. In short, they enjoy a position that Christine Lagarde, on her tax-free salary from the IMF, will be familiar with. It is those opposing austerity in Greece who are calling for action to make the wealthy in Greece pay their share. The Greek people voted against austerity and are demanding action on corruption at the top. The progressive, anti-austerity Greek politicians are campaigning for an overhaul of the tax system, for a public inquiry into where the money borrowed went to, and for corrupt MPs to be no longer immune from prosecution.
The EU memorandums imposed on the Greek people are not democratic, just or humane. They will also fail to restore stability to theeuro, as will abandoning Greece, building so-called “walls against contagion”. In 2008, banks in Britain and Iceland were bailed out and nationalised to stop what was feared would be a worldwide collapse of the finance sector. We need similar radical action now. But this time it shouldn’t be to shore up the super rich, but to benefit all society, starting with the interests of the Greek and European “99%”. It is not true that there are no alternatives to austerity. What is true is that there are no alternatives that don’t challenge the right of the 1% to carry on amassing vast wealth and contributing no social benefit. The bravery and determination of the Greek people in the face of bullying and threats from the EU/IMF and World Bank and their own corrupt political and economic leaders should be applauded by all of us.
Secretary, Greece Solidarity Campaign