The old joke “what’s a Greek urn?” has a new and depressing rejoinder: “a lot less than they did before the speculators arrived”. Throughout Greece, wages, pensions and services that ordinary people rely on are being slashed, and higher sales taxes are hitting their pockets, in an effort to compensate for the greed and speculation of a few ‘Lords of Finance’.
At the ETUC, we’re increasingly concerned that Greece seems to be alone to face a renewed wave of financial market speculation, as heavily leveraged speculators take advantage of Greece’s debt crisis, exacerbating the country’s situation for a heavy profit. The European Council, the European Central Bank and the European Commission are giving an entirely wrong message: The speculators are to be left alone, whilst workers and governments are being pressed to cut wages, social benefits and public services.
Europe needs to come together right now and take collective action against the speculators. If the EU can’t organise the solidarity between its member states and its workers, then the crisis won’t stop in Greece. Financial markets will use their power to single out individual countries, moving on as certain states fall. Member state after member state will be forced to cut wages, benefits and jobs. Portugal, Spain, Italy, Ireland – this could spread both quickly and widely, with everyone in Europe feeling the repercussions. Without real action, and action aimed at fundamentally changing the system, the whole idea of a Social Europe is in grave danger.
This is why we’re demanding a New Social Deal for Europe. The EU needs to see a financial transaction tax, a common Euro bond, a European rating agency and a European Central Bank, which also supports public policy and public finances (not just the banking sector). In the European workplace, collective bargaining needs to be strengthened. Competitive wage cuts and wage freezes must not come to replace the competitive devaluations of the period before the single currency.
The way forward has to be through recovery plans agreed with Europe’s social partners, in which the rich and comfortable accept that they need to take a fair share of responsibility for the situation, and it is not just the wider populace who should be left to carry the burdens of the recession, in the form of unemployment, pay and pension cuts.