Monday, March 8, 2010

Has the Popular Resistance Begun?

Contributed by John W. Warnock
Act Up in Saskatchewan

Over the past year and a half the general population has sat quietly by as governments everywhere have introduced numerous programs to bail out banks and large corporations. Governments have been printing money, and debt and budget deficits have balooned. Very little of the massive government spending programs has gone to assist people who have lost their jobs or their homes.

Now governments are going to have to pay for the bailouts. And guess who is going to have to tighten their belts?

The silence and apathy of the great majority may be ending. In Iceland and Greece we are seeing popular resistance to the right wing policies being imposed by their governments. European politicians and businessmen are fearful that the emerging popular movement will spread to Portugal, Spain, Ireland and even the United Kingdom, the countries with the most significant debt problems.

Iceland – a country goes bankrupt

The first country to go bankrupt was Iceland. Its conservative and social democratic governments privatized and deregulated the state banks. The liberated banks engaged in wild Ponzi schemes which brought the whole financial system down. When they went bankrupt, they left a debt that was five times as great as Iceland’s gross domestic product. The governments of Great Britain and The Netherlands demanded that the people of Iceland compensate for the losses incurred by their citizens.

However, the people of Iceland said no. Why should they have to pay for the fraudulent pyramid schemes of the private bankers? Their unending mass demonstrations against the parliament brought down the Independence Party-Social Democratic Alliance government.

An election was held. But the new government, led by the social democrats in partnership with the Left-Green Movement, caved in to international finance and proposed paying $5.3 billion in compensation. The President, petitioned by the people, and observing the mass demonstrations, refused to sign the legislation and instead called for a referendum.

Last Saturday, March 6, the people of Iceland spoke. 93% voted “no” to the proposed compensation bill. Enough is enough.

The Greek government confronts the workers

In the 1990s Greek governments of the rightist New Democracy and the social democratic PASOK, followed Bill Clinton and Tony Blair and privatized and deregulated the economy, especially the finance sector. It is now known that they deliberately misled their people and the European Union by publishing false data on the economy. The huge debt of the government cannot be paid, no one will buy Greek government bonds, and the European Union is struggling to find a way to keep the country from going bankrupt.

In October 2009 PASOK won the national election. They were supported by the two major trade union confederations: ADEDY, representing public sector workers and GSEE, representing unions in the private sector. Between them they represent 2.5 million workers, roughly 50% of the workforce.

The new PASOK government has introduced policies to help pay for the debt. These include raising the retirements age by two years, a percentage reduction in the wages of all public sector workers, and a wide range of cuts in social services. They will increase the taxes on fuel and the VAT, a general consumption tax.

But the Greek population is also in a resistance mode. Demonstration opposed to the government’s program have been occurring across the country for several months. A general strike was held on February 24, and another is scheduled for March 15.

Members of PAME, the trade unions with links to KKE, the Greek communist party, have occupied the Ministry of Finance. Workers who were laid off after the national airline was privatized have occupied the General Accounting Bureau, which falsified official government data.

Resistance is strong in Greece because of the militant position taken by the KKE and its trade unions, working with the new Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA), a Green left political party and movement, now in parliament. While the leaders of the trade union centrals opposed a strike against “their government”, the rank and file have ignored them and gone into the streets.

What will happen next? The leader of the opposition in Ireland states that if the government gives any more money to Ireland’s banks, there will be mass demonstrations and strikes.

John W. Warnock is a Regina political economist.

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