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SYRIZA in Greece: The First Week PDF Printable Version E-mail

 

SYRIZA in Greece: The First Week

Barry and Margaret Williamson
Monday, 2 February 2015 

 

Introduction 

 

Here is a summary of the new Greek Government's proposals and actions in its first week in power, 26 January to 1 February 2015, taken from English-language Greek media sources here. Since this is Europe's first democratically-elected truly socialist government since that of Clement Atlee in 1945-1951, we start with a summary of his achievement. The relevance of that to the pre-election debate that has already begun in the UK will not be lost on the politically aware.  

 

The Atlee Government in Britain 1945 - 1951

In 1945, Atlee inherited a country with massive problems. Nearly bankrupted by the war, heavily in debt, with massive bomb damage, it was deeply involved in the demobilisation of the armed forces. The Cold War was developing under the growing threat from the USSR and the advent of the atomic bomb. Britain was withdrawing from its Empire, beginning with independence for India and Pakistan in 1947 and Burma in 1948.

In the severe winter of 1947, thousands of people were cut off in their villages by snowdrifts up to seven metres (23 ft) deep; there were frozen rivers, lakes and blocks of ice at sea, with snow covering most of the land every day for more than two months. The thaw resulted in severe spring floods!

Despite taking over a country under these circumstances, Atlee installed major social and economic reforms, including the:

Education Act, which enabled both of us to benefit from an excellent free grammar school education, followed by free entry and financial support through university.

National Insurance linked to a free National Health Service, which also gave us the pension which enriches our travels.

introduction of Social Security, which provided welfare services and a wide-ranging benefits system.

nationalisation of the Bank of England, civil aviation, coal mining, railways, road haulage, canals, electricity and the steel industry.

establishment of New Towns.

compulsory purchase of land for building and infrastructure development.

introduction of family allowances.

extension of entitlement to sickness pay.

Shops Act, which regulated the working conditions of formerly exploited workers.

Dock Labour Scheme, which put an end to casual work.

abolishment of hard labour, penal servitude and whipping in prisons.

Throughout all this period, unemployment was below 3%!

The Tories are still in the process of dismantling these reforms, replacing them with the vagaries of market forces and the incentives of profit, the exploitation of labour (including immigrants) and the accumulation of capital.

The First Week of the SYRIZA Government in Greece, 26 January – 1 February 2015

Although Greece is not in the parlous state Britain was in 1945, nevertheless after 4 years of enforced super-austerity its debt is bigger than ever (estimated at 315 billion euros, or about 28,000 euros per head of population), youth unemployment exceeds 50%, overall unemployment is above 25% and the economy has contracted by 26%. In a population of some 11.4 million, as many as one million or more are immigrants, not including hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants.

In return for their loans, the enforced austerity has been closely supervised by sober-suited representatives of the IMF (International Monetary Fund), ECB (European Central Bank) and the EC (European Commission)  – known here in Greece as the 'Troika'. However, almost all the money loaned to Greece has been immediately returned to creditors, mainly foreign banks, to pay the interest and capital for pre-existing loans. It's a bit like borrowing on a credit card to pay the overdue mortgage while unemployed, with the bank manager visiting your house regularly to check that you are cutting down on spending while still trying to get a job. If the man from the bank doesn't like what he sees, he can take the credit card away!

In Greece, Alexis Tsipras and his SYRIZA party took over from ND (New Democracy), a Tory-look-alike party, a week ago today following the election on Sunday, 25 January 2015. Abruptly called after the Greek parliament failed to elect a new right-wing president (a largely ceremonial role), the election occurred after only 3 weeks of campaigning (compare the UK with 6 months of intrusive propaganda from up to nine parties!).

SYRIZA is an acronym standing for 'Coalition of the Radical Left'. Included are various shades of euro-communists, Maoists, left social democrats, ecologists and Trotskyites. By far the largest constituent party was a democratic socialist group Synaspismós, originally led by the current SYRIZA leader, 40-year-old Alexis Tsipras. Most of the strands of the party are united by a philosophical commitment to Marxism.

Two seats short of a parliamentary majority (149 out of 300), Alexis Tsipras  was expected to take several days to form a coalition government and even longer to name a cabinet before getting down to work. But the day after the election, he confounded sceptics by forming a government by midday, teaming with what appeared to be his party's antagonists, the conservative Independent Greeks.

Tsipras invariably wears an open-necked shirt, having vowed not to wear a tie until he has negotiated a new deal for Greece in Europe. He had a sparse civil swearing-in ceremony at the Presidential Mansion, eschewing the usual religious rites involving basil and holy water - unlike all his predecessors, who bowed and swore an oath on the Bible before Ieronymous, the Orthodox Archbishop of Athens.

Immediately after officially becoming prime minister, Tsipras visited the former rifle range at Kaisariani outside Athens, where he laid flowers at a monument to more than 200 of the many Greeks executed by Nazi (ie German) occupiers in World War Two.

Workers have dismantled the barricades that had protected the Parliament and its ceremonial guards from angry protesters for the past three years. The police riot bus stationed by the side of the parliament building in Syntagma Square is gone. The new Finance Minister, Yanis Varoufakis aged 53, shook off his new security detail and walked to his office at the ministry, shaking hands with well-wishers who recognized him on the street.

 

Alexis_Tsipras_and_his_partner_Peristera_'Betty'_Batziana.JPGGreek_FM.jpg 
Alexis Tsipras and partner Peristera 'Betty' BatzianaFinance Minister Yanis Varoufakis

 

The New Greek Government's Proposals and Actions in its First Week in Power

Below are listed some of the things that were achieved in the very first week of the new government. All of these are taken from English-language media sources in Greece. Some are symbolic but have a deep meaning within Greek society; some are among the socialist ideals promised to the electorate; some are simply overturning previous austerity measures; some are statements for the rest of Europe to consider, particularly the leaders of Germany.

In terms of policy and actions, the new government immediately said it would:

gradually cancel all implementation laws for Troika-mandated reforms.

refuse to deal with the Troika which it considers “shabbily constructed and anti-European.”

co-operate with the “legitimate institutions of the European Union and the International Monetary Fund.” That is, the Greeks want to talk as equals and not as supplicants.

not extend the current bailout deadline beyond the end of February.

end the bailout agreement with its creditors.

negotiate the details of a new deal with lenders.

propose its own “deep reforms” as part of negotiations.

call for a European debt conference.

reinstate pensions which were drastically cut by the previous government under the austerity measures.

reinstate the €751 monthly minimum wage. This minimum is about £3.50 an hour.

reinstate the 13th monthly salary bonus for those on the minimum wage. Having an extra month's pay, or even two months' pay, is a regular feature for some Greek workers and pensioners.

give priority to the immediate rehiring of 10,000 civil servants who were either fired or put into a mobility scheme.

change existing legislation relating to social justice in a bid to boost the rights of weaker social groups.

look to reform the country's penitentiary system, opposing plans for the creation of maximum-security prisons.

aim to partially disarm the police.

demand detailed reports from the heads of administrative units in the health sector, seeking “lots” of resignations.

consider abolishing the 5-euro visiting fee at hospitals.

aim to scrap fees for prescriptions.

restore collective work agreements.

grant citizenship to migrant children born and raised in Greece.

halt the privatisation of national assets.

put on hold the sale of the Public Power Corporation. The PPC supplies Greece with all its electrical power.

scrap plans to privatise Piraeus Port Authority. Near Athens, this is Greece's major port, with ferry services to all the Aegean Islands. The Chinese were in the process of buying it.

reinstate immediately the 595 cleaners who had been camped outside the Finance Ministry for 268 days to protest the loss of their jobs in 2012. Their much-copied symbol was the clenched fist in a rubber glove.

reintroduce regulations regarding collective wage bargaining.

ensure that no more than 20 to 30% of taxpayers' annual income would go toward repaying overdue taxes and social security contributions debts.

provide some 300,000 households living under the poverty threshold with free electricity.

reopen the public broadcaster ERT (equivalent to the BBC), which was shut down in June 2013.

investigate the circumstances that led to Greece being forced to sign its first Troika bailout in 2010, including how the country's debt spiralled.

Foreign Affairs:

The new Greek Defence Minister, Panos Kammenos, flew by helicopter over the disputed Imia islets in the eastern Aegean. Three Greek airmen died when their helicopter crashed over the islands in 1996, resulting in a continuing military standoff with Turkey.

The government is keen to agree on a better name with the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM).

The new Foreign Minister, Kotzias, delayed agreement on further EU sanctions against Russian over its actions in the Ukraine.

Russian President, Vladimir Putin, was among the world leaders to send the newly appointed premier Tsipras a congratulatory telegram on winning the election, offering to strengthen co-operation between the two countries.

Russian Ambassador, Andrey Maslov, was the first foreign envoy to meet with Tsipra

Tsipras's first overseas visit will be to Greece's closet ally, Cyprus.

However . . .

Under pressure from its right-wing coalition partner, SYRIZA has agreed to put on hold any plans for a separation between the Church and State.