Greece’s new coalition government was under fire from all sides last week.
Prime minister Antonis Samaras had nothing to show for his visits to Berlin and Paris on Friday and Saturday. He had hoped to get more time for Greece to conform to its bailout terms.
And on Friday evening 15,000 demonstrators took to the streets in central Athens against racist attacks on immigrants.
The conservative New Democracy party topped the polls less than three months ago. It promised to “renegotiate” the memorandum that imposes austerity on Greece in return for loans from the “troika”—the International Monetary Fund, European Union and European Central Bank.
But instead the coalition government—New Democracy together with centre left parties Pasok and Dimar—has offered an “elongation”. This is a new package of €11.6 billion cuts spread over four rather than two years.
To win over the troika, Samaras is mixing in a strong dose of privatisations along with the cuts. His argument seems to be that if the government can raise money by selling off public assets it won’t need any new loans.
But Berlin and Paris remain unconvinced. “We have had words before,” said German chancellor Angela Merkel, “now we need action.” So the government is again under pressure to show it can impose austerity against the bitter resistance of workers.
Nikos Dendias, the minister for public order, has tried to disorient that resistance with an attack on immigrants. “The country is perishing,” he claimed on television. “This is the biggest invasion since the Dorians entered Greece 4,000 years ago.”
During the first three weeks of August police rounded up 7,500 black and Asian people and detained 2,000 for deportation. This gave the signal for a series of attacks by Nazis, some in police stations.
A young Pakistani worker in the oil refineries of Aspropyrgos had his nails squeezed with a pincer by police. Nazi thugs carried out other attacks on the streets. A young Iraqi was killed on 12 August in a knife attack near Omonoia in Athens.
The Pakistani Community of Greece, the Movement Against Racism and the Fascist Threat, and the Union of Immigrant Workers called a demonstration in Omonoia for Friday of last week. The response was fantastic.
Dendias must be wondering how his plan to sweep the streets “clean” has ended up filling them with demonstrating immigrants. Rather than striking fear into people with the ferocity of its attacks, this government is provoking anger.
The first privatisation also began in the holiday season. The government gave the Agricultural Bank of Greece (ATE) to Pireaus Bank for a tiny fraction of the private bank’s bailout money.
Workers at ATE responded with a strike that lasted for two weeks before trade union officials managed to call it off. They promised that there will be no redundancies and no worsening of conditions.
Unfortunately, officials from the radical left party Syriza went along with this, promising that Syriza will reverse the sell-off if they win the next election.
Not everybody is in the mood to adopt such tactics. Samaras is scheduled to deliver a major speech in Salonica on Saturday of next week. And around Greece thousands are preparing to go there and demonstrate.
Panos Garganas is editor of Workers Solidarity, Socialist Worker’s sister paper in Greece