Last month I attended a Syriza solidarity meeting hosted by the recently formed Left Unity. Guest speakers at the event included Joana Ramiro, journalist at the Morning Star and Kevin Ovenden, journalist and political activist and member of the Respect Party’s leadership. Both Ramiro and Ovenden covered the recent general election in Greece. Syriza are of course the left wing political party that gained 36.3% of the vote in January, despite only being founded in 2012, and who now govern Greece in coalition with ANEL.
The pre-election context in Greece which was described by Ovenden at the solidarity meeting was eerily reminiscent of the type of economic depression last seen in the western world during the 1930s. There has been a 30% reduction in the Greek economy, 60% youth unemployment and 200,000 Greeks are said to have left Greece during the financial crisis. Ovenden described how it had been common place in Greece, as has been the case in majority world countries for the past 50 years, for Greek families to get together and select the eldest son to emigrate to Australia, the US or UK and remit their wages back to their families who have stayed behind. It is in this context of course that Steady State Manchester stands in solidarity with emigrants, like the people from Greece, who are forced to move thousands of miles in order to sustain themselves and their families.
What also became apparent during the course of the meeting was that the stunning election victory by Syriza would not have been possible without the mass mobilisation of the working poor preceding and during Syriza’s election campaign. There had been 35 general strikes in Greece during the last 5 years. One example of this truly heroic action which particularly stayed with me was that of the nearly 600 women cleaners who camped out at the Ministry of Finance. These women were suspended in September 2013 and later dismissed as part of the public sector cuts demanded by Greece’s creditors. These women had camped outside the Ministry since May during their court case to become reinstated and became an emblem of the discontent with austerity which underpinned Syriza’s victory.
The point is that without this collective action Syriza’s stated renegotiating the terms of the bail out with the Troika of the IMF, ECB and European Commission would not have seemed plausible, that is, without a large portion of the Greek people fully participating in social mobilisation and defending public services. I suspect that a similar paradigm shift is needed in Manchester if we are to move towards a radically different economic model.
Of course Syriza is not without its problems and they should be acknowledged. The move to enter into coalition with ANEL, a far right party has caused controversy at the outset of Syriza’s tenure and perhaps already shows a certain sense of pragmatism. Syriza’s cabinet is also almost exclusively male and the party is, for now at least, committed to an increase in GDP growth (although as noted elsewhere, there are people at the centre of Syriza working with a de-growth perspective. Moreover, Syriza itself was nurtured by the development of the alternative, solidarity economy, under hyper-austerity in Greece). However despite these issues Syriza’s advocacy of an end to austerity, confronting the Greek humanitarian crisis and promoting tax justice should be fully supported by all those on the left of UK politics.