by Eugene McCartan
writing in the August 2015 issue of Socialist Voice published by the Communist Party of Ireland
As events unfold in Greece it’s clear that the EU is determined to make Greek workers pay for the crisis now engulfing the country.
The Greek debt, like the Irish debt, is simply unsustainable and unpayable. The impact and renewed assault on Greek workers will be felt throughout the European Union: it will not be confined or contained within the borders of Greece.
Many myths have been spread about the Greek people over the last five years. One is that they don’t pay taxes. Well, do workers employed by the government—road-sweepers, people who repair the water system, repair roads, work in hospitals, etc.—not pay tax? Do those workers employed by both large and small businesses, or transnational corporations, not pay tax? If the taxes are taken from workers’ wages and not handed to the government, who is responsible for that?
Regarding pensions and the increase in the age of retirement, we have to ask the question, Why should workers have to work to 67 or 68 years of age? Are workers not entitled to have time to experience and enjoy other elements of their lives—to enjoy travel and to experience new countries and cultures?
Most workers work 40 or 45 years of their lives; they are more than entitled to experience what life has to offer. Since we create, produce and build everything in the first place, why should only the professional classes and the rich experience and enjoy these things?
The crisis in Greece and the crisis of the euro will continue to be used by elements within the EU to further shift the balance of power in relation to capital. It will give further impetus to the anti-democratic thrust that is central to the EU’s strategic development. German monopoly capitalism, as the strongest and most concentrated form, will push for a greater say and influence.
What German and other workers in Europe who fall for the myths of the EU fail to understand is that these same people and institutions—the EU Commission, EU Central Bank, German big business, the IMF, and the rest—when they have demolished and pulverised Greek and Irish workers will come after German and French workers’ rights, their terms and conditions, using the Greek and Irish workers as the example. They will play one off against the other.
In Greece, as in Ireland, the tax code is skewed in favour of the rich and powerful, to make sure they pay little or no tax. The professional classes also received favourable treatment under previous and present governments’ taxation policy.
So no: Greek workers, like workers everywhere, carry an unfair share of the tax burden, and derive little in return.
Greece’s debt now stands at about €328 billion; and 90 per cent of the money borrowed in the form of loans went straight back out of the country to service old debts, to banks that the new money was borrowed from. This revolving door of debt was also a feature of the Irish debt. Greek workers got nothing from all this borrowing.
As Irish workers contribute most in taxes, both direct (income tax) and indirect (VAT), we pay nearly €8 billion a year in interest to service the massive national debt, which is 17 per cent of all tax revenue. The present government, since it came into office, has paid more than €35 billion to international finance houses to service this debt. Have we not other priorities for this money?
We are made to pay every day for debt that does not belong to Irish workers or the Irish people in general. This is a debt incurred by bankers and speculators, egged on by European financial institutions, all too willing to lend vast sums to Irish banks in order to make a killing, in the form of huge profits from property speculation.
They were complicit in the whole deal. Those German and French banks knew that Irish banks were borrowing money off them on a short-term repayment basis, and that they were lending it on a long-term basis to speculators.
These EU and global financial institutions were planning on a quick turnover and a high return, with high risk. As the Dáil banking inquiry has shown, when the economic system went into crisis the EU’s priority was to save German and French banks and the euro, while the priority of the Irish political establishment was to protect the economic interests of the Golden Circle.
These buccaneers of the casino economy took a massive speculative risk; and when everything went pear-shaped, as it inevitably does under capitalism, workers were forced to pay the bill and, for generations to come, will continue to pay it.
It’s clear why the government was so forceful and outspoken in criticising the new Greek government. Why would they do anything different? They never protected the interests of the Irish people but rather put their own selfish interests and their dependent relationship as gatekeepers for the European Union before their own people, making us pay for a debt that does not belong to working people.
So the likelihood of them standing up for the Greeks was slim to nil. To put it simply, it would have exposed their own hypocrisy. They know who butters their bread.
Debt is the means of imposing austerity. It has provided the pretext for launching a massive assault on workers’ terms and conditions throughout the EU. With the defeat of the Soviet Union they are confident that they are now in a position to take back from workers the rights, terms and conditions and the social advance that they were forced to concede during the twentieth century because of the very existence of the Soviet Union and the organised strength of workers. They don’t have to keep looking over their shoulders any more.
SYRIZA, like other social-democratic forces, fails to understand the real nature of class power. What has emerged is how opportunist and cynical leading elements of SYRIZA are. The former minister of finance, Varoufákis, acknowledged that he understood that while they were calling for a No vote in the referendum, leading elements secretly wanted a Yes vote, to give cover for the massive retreat they were prepared to make in regard to the EU and austerity. Like previous Greek governments, they are prepared to sacrifice Greek workers to save the euro and the European Union.
It’s a strange “left” that wants to save an economic system that is based on exploitation, domination, and control.
They continue to underestimate, or simply do not recognise, that the state is primarily an instrument for imposing and protecting the interests of the system, that the European Union is not a coming together of equals but a political and economic bloc constructed to protect and advance the interests of European monopolies, and that the much-hyped talk of European democracy was little more than a veneer.
The EU has skilfully used the ideological superiority that was carefully and deeply embedded within European societies, culturally, economically and politically, in particular within the working class, an ideology that has been nurtured over the centuries by the various European colonial powers for ensuring compliance and complicity in the barbarism inflicted on the colonised peoples. The EU has taken ownership of this ideology to re-create the myth of Europe’s civilising mission in bringing “democracy” to the world, as well as being a counterweight to the United States.
The dominant economic forces took the long view, carefully building the necessary controlling legal structures—the treaties—that are designed to remove all possibility of democratic accountability, to neutralise any possible challenge to EU controls at the national level. The euro is one of these essential controlling mechanisms.
It is a simple fact that workers will find no solutions to their problems so long as they believe that the euro is more important than their own interests. Greek workers are learning a very painful lesson. They will be sacrificed to pay the debt and to save the euro.
Workers and youth need a political strategy that liberates the people, that gives them power over their lives, that gives them control over the wealth they create, that allows the people to have control over all economic and political decision-making: a society that creates a humanised culture—a society of genuine equality.
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