What the Greek “no” vote means for American workers

“… little Greece is not marginal now! …This courageous vote hit usually smug politicians and bankers so hard you could almost hear their teeth rattle – or gnash – in well-appointed cabinet rooms from Berlin’s Tiergarten to the Palais de l’Élysée, and oak-paneled bank executive offices in skyscrapers high over Frankfurt, Amsterdam and Luxembourg.” – Victor Grossman

Imagine yourself back in 2007 when the biggest financial crisis in 80 years descended on American working people with a hurricane force. Home equity was wiped out for many. Millions lost jobs. Retirement funds were destroyed. Lending dried up completely for anyone except millionaires. Small businesses and large, if they were not “bailed out,” went under. Long-term unemployment benefits extension battles raged in Congress. Most have still not regained their previous incomes. Grown children moved back into their parents’ house. Debts went unpaid. Foreclosures boomed. Cupboards and refrigerators were bare. Violence and inequalities grew together ….

Now, double or triple all that harm and damage – and you have the condition of the Greek people, or at least its working class. European Union bankers and their friends – creditors to Greece – now say: “We will ‘bail you out’  with some more loans you won’t ever be able to repay. But only if you kneel and double down on the misery, so you don’t ever forget to pay your debts again. Oh – don’t worry, you will be better off in the long run.”  Long after we are all dead, that is.

James Galbraith is a progressive American economist and a close friend and economic policy advisor to the Greek Syriza party – the leftward leadership of  Greece elected to resist and oppose imposing further austerity on the Greek people. He published a cogent refutation this week of the slanders and misinformation leveled against Syriza and Greece by their adversaries – the vultures of austerity. The propaganda characterizing Syriza as laughable and “incompetent” is flowing like a river from the financial citadels of the European Union and the International Monetary Fund (to a lesser degree), and the whole universe of austerity-loving billionaires and their putrid retinue of ideological jackals – including the entire U.S. Republican presidential field – are joining in. Starving a whole nation, turning one of the world’s oldest civilizations into a failed state, is trivial to the banking class compared with Greece defaulting on the loans the bankers issued – issued, by the way, without any “due diligence” at all.

On July 5, in a national referendum, the Greek people voted resoundingly, by a 60+ percent margin, “No” (“Oxi” in Greek), to reject the EU bailout terms.

Gary Bono has an excellent review of the buildup to the referendum. To add additional pressure and terror before the vote EU banks dried up liquidity (cash) for Greek banks, seeking to create panic. There was a run on the banks as people tried to protect their savings.

The usual “super-patriotic” suspects among the rich, and their hangers on among the doctoring and lawyering classes, have been desperately trying to leave their country with their money. Faux critics of austerity, like the  ones that threw the big party that got the country into its current mess, voted “Yes” to the EU terms.

The outright fascists – called Golden Dawn – said “No.” But unlike Syriza, and most Greeks, the fascists do want to leave the EU, and the euro, return to a near worthless drachma (the original Greek currency), and abolish democracy and unions under the cover of terrorizing immigrants.

The Greek Communist Party, a declining but still significant force in Greek politics, said, “Neither yes nor no.” Maybe that meant, “Don’t vote.” Even from afar, that seems like a feet-planted-in-mid-air position, or maybe head-up-your-behind position.

EU bankers and their “political shop stewards”, Angela Merkel of Germany, Francois Hollande of France, David Cameron of the UK, aggressively, openly and covertly, intervened in Greek politics to assert that a “No” vote means Greece will leave both the euro (EU common currency) and the European Union. But Syriza has repeatedly said Greece will NOT leave either the euro or the EU regardless of the vote.

The IMF and EU creditors say they have been “flexible and generous.” Christine LaGarde herself, managing director of the IMF, called the EU creditor demands “impossible to meet.” However, since the IMF’s stance on Greece omits any relenting on taxes, wages, pensions or collective bargaining rights (“cut them all”), one wonders what she really means.  And, of course, not a word, please, about the reckless EU lending practices to the previous right-wing Greek government, and their own obligations to write off a substantial part of the Greek debt.

Syriza is strongly recommended a “No” to unsustainable austerity. All the enemies on the right in Greece, and among phony liberals – and some phony socialists – all over Europe are caving and showing their true class colors and lining up behind the austerians.

Of course, it’s not over. The pressures on Greek working families are immense. To widen its mandate, the Greek leadership is winning more participation by centrist (less “socialist-Marxist” etc) forces. If Greek banks fail, and only EU banks have any money, Greek exports will suffer very high credit costs or no credit at all. The bargaining position of the Greek leadership is the most complex and difficult I can imagine. Its majority is thin. None of the options are easy or certain. But the people have spoken in clear voice above the noise: “NO” to unsustainable austerity.

If the working class even just shrugs its shoulders in unison, mountains can move and kings can fall. Since Greece cannot legally be expelled from the EU, the already demonstrated power or ability to pay, or not pay, debts (that Greece has not renounced, by the way) while refusing to leave the EU probably gives it the best long-term leverage to compel better terms from the EU, although any success will require a sustained and disciplined struggle.

One thing seems certain to me: If you go to the banking class with your hat in your hand, they will fill it with excrement before forgiving a debt. On the other hand – if you can threaten their money, or in Chuck Colson terms, “have them by the testicles,” then their laughing and sneering will become decidedly more respectful. Who knows? Their hearts and minds may then follow!

The U.S. is not in the same shape as Greece, and our politics are far different. Unlike Greece, our economy received about 30% of the bailout needed. Plus we can print our own money, giving us lots more flexibility. But here, like there, the issue is also austerity: regressive taxation (i.e. tax the workers, not the rich), wage-cutting, exporting jobs, killing unions and the very right to collectively bargain; cutting unemployment benefits, health care, education, affordable housing, and infrastructure; accelerating inequality and its racist, sexist, discriminatory reactionary consequences for fairness and democracy. Can’t you just SEE the Koch brothers chortling in their joy to see everyone scrambling for crumbs while they rake it in? We see all the components of the austerity ripoff and robbery here in the U.S.  

The EU financial elite’s refusal to back off the lie of  economic growth from “kick the working class in the ass” policies – policies that abundant evidence demonstrate are frauds  –  shows that these people cannot be reformed by reason and evidence. Indeed, they must be isolated and defeated and removed from power in every social and political arena  If we don’t get that done, “failed-state-ism” – with all the terrors that implies – will spread worldwide and put a knife in the back of democracy and progress, for ourselves, and for the Greeks.

All the workers of the world, I hope, hear the Greek voice, as in ages past they did. Solidarity. Its time is now.

Photo: Two days before the national referendum, Greeks rally for a “No” (“Oxi”) vote to reject the European bankers’ austerity demand, in Syntagma Square in the heart of Athens, July 3, 2015.  |  linmtheu Creative Commons


John Case
John Case

John Case is a former electronics worker and union organizer with the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers (UE), also formerly a software developer, now host of the WSHC "Winners and Losers" radio program in Shepherdstown, W.Va.