Avoiding another Greek tragedy
The intervention of the IMF in the British economy in 1976 cast a long shadow over the economic competence of Labour Governments. It was a time of national humiliation, a time that was not easily forgotten, and a time which dogged the Labour Party for over 20 years. I was in Athens last Wednesday (5 May) to join the Greek unions in protests against the EU/IMF/Greek Government deal. The sense of national humiliation was everywhere, producing tensions on the streets.
The tragic deaths of three people after a firebomb was thrown into a bank were the work of an idiotic individual but other petrol bombs were tossed around and the risks of a serious incident were high. The incident overshadowed the large, peaceful demonstrations which also took place and in which I took part. The Greek unions are to demonstrate again to express their abhorrence at the deaths.
The Greek Parliament is under great pressure from an angry, humiliated population, faced with a 16% cut in Greek GDP over the next few years, with pension cuts, lower labour standards, and disruption of collective bargaining. In truth, Greece has no choice. If it does not accept the EU/IMF deal, it will have to default on its debts, which because of the single currency would take the country and the rest of the eurozone into unknown territory. But at the moment, it is hot anger rather than cool calculation which is running strongly.
In my speech to the demonstration, I wanted to put the blame for the crisis where it rightly lies – with the previous Greek Governments who cooked the national accounts to gain entry into the euro, aided and abetted by Goldman Sachs and other banks; and on the richest tax dodgers. I wanted to urge the Greeks to copy the Finns who in the early 90s were faced with a sharp drop of 15% of GDP in their economy following the collapse of the Soviet Union but who produced an agreed national economic plan which put the economy back on the path to growth. It all sounds a bit Nordic to the Greeks but they will have to work hard to preserve democracy and to summon the will to accept short-term pain for the prospect – a distant one admittedly – of longer term gain.
Remember – when the UK was briefly in the hands of the IMF, Greece was under the heel of the Colonels. Violence and chaos plays into the hands of the far right. Avoiding another Greek tragedy will be a major task for the Greek trade unions as they struggle to make the best of a very difficult situation.