Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras
July 24, 2012
The promises of Greece's conservative New Democracy party and its leader Antonis Samaras that they would negotiate an easing of austerity measures if they came to power have been abandoned. Prime Minister Samaras' coalition government is dominated by New Democracy, but it has the support of the main center-left party PASOK, now headed by Evangelos Venizelos, and the smaller Democratic Left, led by Fotis Kouvelis. The government is pressing ahead with implementation of the austerity agenda encapsulated in the so-called "Memorandums"--two agreements made by a previous PASOK-led government in return for a European rescue of the Greek financial system.
Privatization of state-run services and enterprises has emerged as a central component of the austerity agenda. Now, the left-wing opposition to the government, led by the Coalition of the Radical Left, or SYRIZA, which nearly won two national elections in May and June, must confront the further threat to jobs and living standards that privatization will bring.
Azad, who was part of a reporting team for the Kasama Project that traveled to Greece. The translation appeared in English at the Winter Has Its End website.
analyzed the stepped-up drive to privatize in an article that appeared on the website of the Internationalist Workers Left (DEA), a Greek socialist group that cofounded SYRIZA in 2005. The article was translated by
IN PARLIAMENTARY discussions, privatization has been identified as the central and most immediate goal of the pro-austerity coalition government. The three coalition partners appear set to fully implement the medium-term requirements and the second Memorandum, which had been passed by the previous pro-austerity governments. What they may not remember, and should be reminded of, is that such goals led to major struggles by workers and the fall of previous governments.
In reality, Samaras and his coalition partners have announced massive privatizations. These include privatization of energy and electricity (DEH), water (EYDAP and EYAF), the post office (ELTA), the Agricultural Bank and its subsidiaries (SEKAP, Dodoni, Sugar Industrials), Hellenic Petroleum (ELPA), natural gas (DEPA and DESFA) and National Rail (OSE).
This neoliberal program was anticipated by the "medium-term requirements" and the second Memorandum. Only the timing has changed. The medium-term requirements anticipated privatizations generating revenue of 50 billion euros until 2015, while the second Memorandum reduced expected revenues to 30 billion euros. Of this, 4.5 billion euros were expected in 2012, 7.5 billion by the end of 2013 and the remainder by 2015.
Privatisation is a long-term goal of capitalists. Its leading exponents are supporters of neoliberal politics. Samaras, Venizelos and Kouvelis are the personalities currently embracing such politics. They insist that revenue from privatization will be apportioned for the "leaking barrel of debt." Or at least, this is specified in the Memorandum. Resorting to extortion in order to force the consent of the people, they have raised the question: "privatization or slashing of wages and pensions." Moreover, they remind us of the poor conduct and operations of public agencies.
It is certain that the services provided by public utilities are less than ideal. Why? Because their operation is based on serving big capitalist sharks. To give an example, for decades now, the government has increased electricity tariffs for households, but kept prices low in major industries, thereby increasing the profits of capitalists. Actually, all examples of privatization suggest that users and workers are generally harmed. Everyone is harmed, other than private owners who fill their own pocket with large sums of money.
Water tariffs have risen sharply in many countries--for example, Britain, where water and sewage bills increased by 67 percent during the period of 1989 to 1995. In Morocco, privatization of the water company led to a 300 percent increase in tariffs. Besides price increases, we also note a poor safety record and many fatal accidents on the railways of Britain [following privatization].
Finally, the quality of service falls with privatization, thereby endangering public health in many cases. In Australia, in 1998, a few months after the takeover of water by the French Suez Lyonnaise des Eaux, water in Sydney was found to be infected with parasites and cryptosporidium. It is generally unacceptable to commercialize goods and services necessary for the survival of humans and the environment.
Workers also suffer under privatization. They are either dismissed or their wages are tragically reduced in order to increase profitability. National Rail (OSE), which has already been subjected to a long process of privatization, has dismissed 55 percent of its staff and reduced wages by 45 percent.
From the voices of government, however, we hear noises about combating unemployment through privatization. Let us remember that the transfer of ownership of SEMPO to COSCO drove wages to absurd lows for such difficult work on the docks. These new wages do not exceed 600 euro per month, and may fall even further still. COSCO has been even granted the right to terminiate as many workers as it wishes without restrictions. Workers are quite aware of the poor safety measures of private contractors undertaking projects for the public electricity company as there have already been many fatal accidents.
The neoliberal recipe of privatization has not saved other European countries like Ireland from the risk of bankruptcy. It is a recipe for the continuation of wage reductions. Finally, the deceptions about bankrupt public enterprises cannot stand. There are public enterprises such as DESFA, which during the economic crisis of 2011 had its profits increase by 150 percent year-over-year. Even EYAF, despite the economic insecurity of many households and the corresponding difficulty in paying their bills, saw profits rise during the first half of 2011 to 12 million euros, compared to 6.2 million euros during the corresponding period of 2010.
We prefer to pay taxes in order to safely reach even the most remote village as opposed to enriching international moneylenders and bankers.
Faced with such politics, we must respond with struggles. The results of the election of June 17, despite the formation of a pro-austerity government, enable us to fight for the overthrow of austerity from a superior position as the left experiences a record high in its share of ballots cast. Already, SYRIZA has committed to renationalizing any organizations and public services privatized by the current administration. But to even reach this point, there is a prerequisite.
We must not give the administration any room to breathe. With a section of the people as its nucleus, specifically those who believed in the idea of a left government and by calling for coordinated actions by all struggling workers and all left organizations, let us organize our counter-attack. With strikes, occupations and actions in neighborhoods, we will defend public property. If privatization proceeds even tentatively under the current administration, we will fight in an organized way for the downfall of the coalition government.
First published at the Winter Has Its End website.