The Greek people are not the only ones strangled by the bankers

15 July 2015

So, on 12 July, after five months of negotiations, the international institutions finally agreed on a new bailout package for Greece. This deal should pave the way for the restructuring of the country's debt. In the short term, it will provide its economy with a temporary lifeline - in particular by restoring the access that its banks previously had to the funds of the European Central Bank (ECB) and by allowing the government to take emergency loans.

Big finance's screw

The spectacular "ATM crisis", which limited cash withdrawals to 60 euros per person per day, had nothing to do with economics.

It was in response to the announcement of the Greek referendum over the austerity demanded by international creditors, that the European Central Bank suspended the flow of euros between Greek banks and the rest of the eurozone. This was part of their blackmail, designed to browbeat Greek voters into endorsing more of the same austerity which had been strangling them for years. But this blackmail failed when 61% of voters rejected the austerity plan.

For all their democratic rhetoric, the very idea that Greek voters should be given a say on a matter which directly concerned them, caused outrage among the rich countries' leaders. Of course, the likes of Osborne would never dream of putting their own austerity programmes to the vote - would they?

For these leaders, there was, and is, no question of allowing the Greek population to stand in the way of the profiteering of big finance. The country had to repay its creditors, come what may, including if this meant bleeding the population dry.

Greece is a small country and its bankruptcy could have been easily absorbed by the eurozone. But it was a matter of principle for the rich. Greece had to be made an example of, to make sure that no other poor country would dare to stand up against big finance.

Tsipras' "compromise"

Days after the referendum, Greek prime minister Tsipras came up with a new austerity plan designed to unlock the negotiations with the international institutions. It is this plan which, in the main, has provided the basis for the 12 July agreement.

It involves £8.6bn (10% of the Greek budget!) in spending cuts. Retirement age is to be increased from 65 to 67, solidarity payments to top up the smallest pensions are to be phased out and pension contributions increased; VAT is to be increased on a range of products; corporation tax is to be increased from 26% to 28% (Syriza wanted 29% but the IMF objected!). And then there is a range of deregulation and privatisation measures, restrictions to collective bargaining, etc...

As to Tsipras' past promise to restore the minimum wage to its 2012 level, this has disappeared, together with his pledge to repeal the land tax introduced by the previous right-wing government, which badly affects even the poorest in a country where most people are homeowners.

Although he came to power on an anti-austerity platform, Tsipras' agenda was primarily nationalist, aimed at defending the dignity of his people against foreign interference. Other nationalist leaders before him held their ground for much longer - after all, Cuba's Castro held out against the US for half a century! As it turns out, Tsipras has only managed to stick to his guns for 6 months.

The role of the working class

Far more importantly, Tsipras did not represent the interests of the working class and poor who were at the receiving end of the austerity policies - nor did he ever claim to. He was willing to mobilise the support of his population in the ballot box. But he was never prepared to seek the support of a social mobilisation in the streets, against all profiteers - both Greek or foreign.

However, only one thing can make the big financial institutions which rule the world and their men in government change course: a force which is strong enough to threaten their profits. And only the working class, whether in Greece or in any other country, has the means to create such a force, because of its collective strength and its role in the economy.

Beyond what happens in Greece today - or, on a more limited scale, with Osborne's austerity in Britain - the real issue, of course, is this capitalist system which has become so corrupt that it can only survive as a parasite on the majority of the population, causing always more suffering. And this is why, ultimately, the only possible way forward for the working class will be to expropriate big business and take control over the whole of society.