Left must counter false dominant narrative that ‘austerity has been a success’
GUE/NGL MEPs took part in a debate this morning in Athens on how the Left can steer public opinion towards indignation with European governments’ disastrous austerity policies.
Portuguese MEP Alda Sousa said: “The Troika will leave Portugal on 17 May, and the Portuguese government is claiming that the Memorandum has been a huge success. We of course know that this is not true. In 2013 to reduce the deficit by one euro you had to implement six euros of austerity measures. The result has been slashed salaries and pensions and widespread privatisations in the public sector, from port services to postal services, to utilities and parts of the health service. There is also widespread poverty among both those in and out of work. People are migrating because they can no longer afford to stay in the country."
MEP Sousa continued: “Even in their own terms the memorandum has not been a success: debt is 132% of GDP this year. But the government and the Troika are winning the propaganda battle. Many people will believe that after 17 May the worst will be over and will feel that something has been accomplished. It is very hard to counter this dominant government narrative which is enforced by many political commentators. We must get the message out that although the bailout will be over austerity will remain.”
Cypriot MEP Takis Hadjigeorgiou presented some proposals in terms of the situation in Cyprus: “Cyprus should exit the Euro and readopt a domestic currency for some period of time. Resolution of the Cyprus question would have a direct impact on improving the economy.”
He added: “The landscape looks much the same in Cyprus in terms of the economic and social situation as it does in countries like Greece and Portugal. But what were the causes of this disaster? One failing was linking Cypriot banks to the Greek banking system. When other banks were trying to sell off Greek bonds Cypriot banks were buying them.”
Professor Kazakos from Thessaloniki University spoke about the trend for dismantling collective labour agreements in capitalist economies: “The law of 2012 dismantled Greece’s exemplary laws on collective agreements. These laws protected workers by ensuring that it was not solely employers who decided the cost of labour and that workers had the right to go to arbitration. The 2012 law has made workers vulnerable; all in the name of ‘more competitiveness’.
He continued by suggesting that one way to counter the dominant narrative would be to frame the debate by talking about human rights: “Human rights have been won through struggle and over the last four years of austerity policies these rights are being shot at: the right to a dignified wage, to a dignified pension and to be treated when you are sick. When these rights are shot at people fall down. This is true for countries in the south as well as for countries in the north. What we can see clearly is the deadlock of a policy that is bringing more and more people in society into poverty. Selling off public assets and protections is a way to slowly kill a country.”
The debate was also enriched with contributions from Greek civil society representatives who illustrated both the extent of the pain that Greek society is feeling as a result of the rollback of social provisions, and the essential work being carried out by those resisting the cuts by developing citizen-led alternatives, such as an association that helps citizens fight arbitrary abuse by banks and a solidarity music school where children from all backgrounds are given free access to music education that is not provided by the state.
The MEPs also heard from Doctor G. Vihas about the government’s shocking closure of primary healthcare services as part of their reform of health and social services: “Aside from frontline public health services now being shutdown, there is also a severe lack of medicine in hospitals and people who cannot pay are not admitted. Before people can undergo surgery they have to go through an incredibly bureaucratic administrative process which results in delays that worsen medical conditions. We have parents in poverty who simply cannot afford to vaccinate their children. Who are these politicians who think they can play with human lives? This situation will have heavy consequences for the Greek people for years to come.”
Yesterday GUE/NGL President Gabi Zimmer led an MEP visit to a primary public health clinic in Athens which has been closed for over a week.