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The Fate Of Greece

W.R.A Mckay

13 окт. 2023 г.

Greek workers marching against the imposition of a 72-hour maximum working week (Photo: Greece Reporter)

The recent piece of legislation passed by the Greek parliament, which pushed the working week to a maximum of 72 hours, serves as another reminder to all workers that EU membership is not any guarantee of workers rights but in fact the opposite. The bill contains some weasel wording which seeks to present the concept of working 72 hours a week as somehow “voluntary” and even tries to make it look as if this might be some kind of voluntary act by workers. The average income in Greece has declined from 21,000 euros in 2009 to 16,000 euros today. This at a time when the cost of living in Greece was not falling with workers wages, but in fact getting proportionally worse. Greek workers have been pushed relentlessly downwards into ever greater poverty since the beginning of the Eurozone debt crisis in 2009. 

The Accumulation Of Greek Debt Since The Year 2000

This saw successive Greek governments plunged into crisis as they had accumulated vast debts through the 2000s following Greece’s entry into the Euro in 2000. The rules for entry into the Euro were supposed to be stringent in a way that would have barred a weaker economy such as Greece from entry into the Eurozone. These rules were changed in order to get as many countries as possible into the new currency. The principal beneficiary of the entry of Greece into the Euro was German capitalism.

The removal of the barrier to trade posed by there being different currencies enabled German manufacturers to flood markets such as Greece with their manufactured goods. This severely damaged domestic Greek manufacturing as it was out muscled by the far more competitive German products. This then unbalanced the Greek economy so it became ever more dependent upon tourism and the service sector. As Greece has to be buying in more manufactured goods from overseas, this then adds to Greek debt, as they have to borrow more from German, French and US lenders in order to actually buy-in German manufactured goods.

Therefore, by the time the Eurozone debt crisis began the Greek government had been piling up debt in order to sustain their position within the Euro.  This gigantic amount of debt became a serious problem after the beginning of the 2008 crisis because suddenly the ability of the Greek government to make payments on its debt came into question. If Greece had defaulted on its debt, then this would have had a severe effect on German and French banks who are heavily exposed to this, therefore their governments (via the EU) insisted that the Greek government continue to make payments on the debt. Of course the Greeks couldn’t afford to do this and this meant that the IMF and EU funded so-called “bail outs’ which weren’t meant to alleviate the increasing poverty of the Greek people, but to enable the government to continue making payments on this debt.

In short, in order to make payments on the old debt, the Greek government took on new debt. In order to pay off the old debt and the new, the costs were passed onto the Greek working class. This is what has been going on over the last 15 years, the Greek workers are being made to pay for the continuation of Greece’s membership of the Euro and to support the viability of German, French and US banks who are over exposed to Greek debt.

Greek Workers On Strike

The Greek working class has also been betrayed, specifically by the Syriza party which held office until recently. Syriza, under the leadership of Alexis Tsipras, was elected on the promise that they would be able to solve the debt crisis without having the cost passed onto the Greek working class. These promises turned to dust as soon as the German and US ruling class put the pressure on them – the Syriza leadership crumbled and agreed to carry on the ruinous bailout process and commit to conducting further attacks on the Greek working class in the form of wage cuts, the shredding of public sector budgets, raising the retirement age and now a dramatic extension of the working week. 

As Karl Marx observed in a chapter entitled “The Working Day ” in volume one of Capital, the struggles over the length of the working day is central to the profitability of capitalism. The capitalist class always seeks to lengthen the working day however they can, as the profits of capital are dependent upon having the worker available to be exploited as much as possible. In order to revive the severely damaged Greek economy, the capitalist class are seeking to make the working class subject to hyper exploitation. This is being disguised by the government when they say that it’s not “compulsory” to work a 72-hour week.

This is deceptive though, because the Greek government knows very well that due to the cuts to the pay of the working class over the last fifteen years, many workers cannot afford to live on the wages they receive from one job where they work a standard 35-40 hour week. Thus more and more workers will be forced into working longer working weeks, often in two or more jobs, just to make ends meet. This is how Greek capitalism is trying to revive itself by dramatically increasing the exploitation of the working class. This is the price of Greece’s continued membership of the Eurozone and the European Union. How ridiculous therefore does it look now when the TUC makes an argument that the EU stands for workers rights in any way? In the days and weeks leading up to the 2016 Brexit referendum, the TUC and the Corbyn leadership made the argument that workers rights in Britain were “guaranteed” by EU membership. This was always a myth, based on a fantasy that the TUC leaders chose to try to sell to the working class after the 1980s. Even with all the evidence that the EU was the body through which the German and French ruling classes sought to pass the costs of the Eurozone debt crisis onto workers in Greece, Italy, Spain Portugal and Ireland, the TUC and labour left continued to peddle this complete and utter lie. 

The danger to workers is not just confined to Greece of course. That unfortunate nation is merely the most extreme manifestation of a capitalist crisis which also affects us here in Britain. As the crisis of British capitalism intensifies the employers here will start demanding similar measures be taken. They will look to extend the working week, to suppress wages and force workers into taking two or more jobs just to be able to make ends meet. How can we expect the leaders who have ignored this crisis affecting workers across Europe, who have lied about the nature of this crisis and who have failed every single time to build a real fight back, how can we expect such leaders to actually resist this when it comes to Britain? The answer is that we can’t. As we at the Class Consciousness Project have argued before, the only way forward for us is to start rebuilding trade unionism from the ground upwards. Without that rebuilding we will not be able to resist the attacks that are coming our way from the British ruling class. 

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