The recent elections in Greece, France and Britain saw the social democratic parties increas their votes and were considered “winners” of the elections. This is an expression of a discomfort many workers have with the crisis in the Eurozone and its consequences.
More and more states are suffering from the heavy load of debt resting on their shoulders. The living conditions of most workers in Europe are deteriorating under inflation that is by far outstripping wage increases. This is made worse by heavy austerity packages being pushed through in almost all countries, destroying social security. The capitalists want to shape the argument around “lazy Greeks“ and nationalist interests. At the root of all this lies a deepening crisis of the whole capitalist system. So which political forces can really bring change?
A deepening crisis, a system of absurdity
Hardly a day goes by without any new shocking news about the Eurozone crisis. New facts and figures, painting the future in the blackest black are fuelling the capitalists and governments fears. What they fear is that they might lose their money. Latest in line is the new banking and housing crisis in Spain. The announcement of Bankia, a Spanish Banking conglomerate, of being 19bn Euro short of cash caused the markets to tremble and the Euro fell to a 22 month low. Spain is just one of the countries on the brink of crisis. The so-called PIIGS (Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Greece and Spain) states have all been in the spotlight over the last 3 years at one moment or another, with Greece definitely being the worst hit.
Fuelling the crisis is the massive debt of governments. Greece at the moment holds a deficit of 160bn Euro. The problem being that as states lose trust in each other money becomes harder to borrow for countries already deep in debt and only on higher interest rates. Greece now pays 21% interest on its loans, pure usury that benefits a few financial speculators and banks. This dynamic spirals out of control and works thus. First, nations have debt, they need more money to pay those debts, so take out more loans, getting into even more debt at even higher interest rates deepening the national debt crisis. The governments of those countries often see only one way out- austerity. Austerity, however, cuts the vital infrastructure of a country and the consumer demand of its population, constantly fuelling the crisis again by under investing in national industry.
In fact the current crisis is the aftermath of the first wave of crisis 2007-2009. Back then it was uncovered that many of the financial products, often complicated algebras only understood by specialists, had no basis in reality and were often based on bad loans. This created a massive panic and a credit freeze that could only be done away with by massive rescue packages of the different states to save their banks. Now the debt that was created in the previous phase to save these states is now threatening to crush them. Sadly it is the same banks that took the money so willingly in 2009 that now make money from indebted states. The politicians and the bankers are working hand in hand and in each others pockets to profit off the back of the working class. For those capitalists and politicians the crisis is a mere game of numbers and power.
Workers in Greece
For the workers in Greece however the crisis is a different one. It is a massive social crisis putting at stake the livelihood of millions of workers. Unemployment in Greece is 21.7%, meaning that more than one in every five is out of work. Youth unemployment is even higher, affecting approximately half of the people under 25! Prices have increased massively, by 40% for electricity and transportation since 2009. Also, food prices have risen to such an amount, that food riots, especially plundering supermarkets, in Athens’ poor districts have become a common feature of everyday life. 28% of the population is expected to live in poverty with homelessness and suicide rates skyrocketing.
The capitalists and their media try their best to denounce Greek workers as being lazy and the cause of the crisis. That is both cynical and disgusting. It is the capitalists who created the crisis by their craving for quick profits and it is the Greek workers who suffer the most!
Workers in Britain
The picture over here starts to look similarly frightening. In Britain 2.63 million are out of work. Inflation, meaning the average rise in cost of goods, is at 3%. This is less than expected but 5 times the increase in real wages! The figure also has the serious flaw that it does not take into account housing costs, which are on a constant rise. Also certain important products have risen disproportionately, such as food, which costs 5-12% more than last year and fuel as much as 11%. The average consumer has £100 less to spend a month than a year ago. Even worse, in Britain relative poverty, a highly controversial and most likely understated index, is at 28 %. So even by the “generous“ measurement of the capitalists almost one third of the population lives in poverty.
So everywhere in Europe the workers are made to pay for the crisis by direct attacks from the bosses and the politicians under the flag of “austerity”. The working class in Britain is put in the same situation as the working class in Greece.
The rich are getting richer
While the workers have to deal with the mess the capitalists have made the rich themselves seem to be weathering the storm largely unscathed. The number of US-Dollar Millionaires has risen by 9.7% in 2010. The same year, the ultra-rich, those having more than $30 million of disposable capital have not only increased in number by 10.2%, their average assets have also increased by 11.5% in 2010, making them as rich as never before in history! With the wallets of the ultra-rich swelling the market for luxury goods, sales of yachts and Rolex watches have shot up. This year the luxury industry is growing by 6-7% and the total amount of revenue of that industry will reach above £200bn.
From that point of view, all of the capitalists’ talk about austerity seems to be utter nonsense. There is enough money, there are enough goods and there is enough labour to provide everybody on the planet with a decent life right now! Not only are the capitalists spending the profits they extract from the workers on useless luxury, British companies at the moment hoard £700bn because “it can not be invested profitably”. Well if these people don’t have a use for that money, why not give it to the workers? We all know too well what do with a bit of extra cash. For example we could use some of that wealth creating jobs for those 44 million people who are out of work in the OECD states alone. They are out of work not because there wouldn’t be useful things for them to do, just because the capitalists have to save labour power.
Their crisis, our resistance!
It is in front of that background that workers in Britain, France and Greece turned to the left. However, Labour in Britain and the Socialist Party in France are hardly ‘left’ forces. They have always worked with the capitalists and have said time and time again that they see the need for cuts; all they want is to force them through at a slower pace. And Syriza in Greece is in the same situation, it must necessarily play the game of the capitalists if it does not want to be unable to govern Greece. A coalition between PASOK, the social democratic party of Greece, and Syriza has already proven to be impossible at the current stage.
The workers of Europe cannot afford to delegate the assertion of their interests to an elected government. What is important is resistance on the streets, in the workplaces and in the schools. The workers have the strength to put an end to the capitalist madhouse and introduce an economic system based on planning and reason rather than on the mindless rush for profits. What it takes now is for us to gain confidence in our strength and show the capitalists and their politicians that we are better off without them.