In central Athens the Syriza organising hub is packed with activists, campaigners and journalists. Jonathan Shafi spoke to some of the people who have been campaigning hard for a Syriza victory
Georgia Santas first became involved in politics in 1972 as part of the Communist Youth of Greece to oppose the military junta. Now, she is a member of the department of European policy in Syriza.
JS: Can you put Syriza in a historic context in relation to Greek politics?
Georgia Santa: For us this is hugely important. During WW2 Greece had one of the largest anti-Nazi resistance movements, but after 1945 the force of the left were wiped out and we had right wing governments from 1950 to 1981. PASOK took power in 1981 and ruled for 25 years. PASOK of course shifted to the right and has been separated from its social base. The response to the economic crisis spelled the end for PASOK. This is the political context in which the radical left has risen. Syriza is providing hope. So, the attitude is not to say that we are a protest vote, but that we are a positive vote to take power. After 70 years, a door has been opened for the people and workers of Greece.
JS: What are the immediate goals of a Syriza government?
GS: We have a plan for the first 100 days of government which will focus on increasing and securing pensions, re-employing tens of thousands of illegally sacked public sector workers, increasing the minimum wage to 751 Euros a month - almost double the current wage - and ensuring that immigration is tied to dignity and human rights, rather than division utilised by the right. 300,000 people do not have electricity: we will bring electricity to all as part of a programme encompassing all aspects of humanitarian solidarity.
JS: Syriza will come under attack from international finance, and austerity Europe will want to make an example of Syriza to try to derail opposition that could spread beyond Greece. What can the international movement do to provide solidarity?
GS: The best solidarity you can give Syriza is to resist your own austerity and raise a radical left challenge. Organise public events and provide practical support such as funds and food supplies. We know Syriza cannot solve every consequence of austerity overnight. We need support, and a revived left across Europe.
JS: After a Syriza victory how important are the social movements as part of developing social renewal?
GS: The people have to continue to push for change from below. This is well understood by Syriza. Just because there is a left government does not mean we collapse our activity and when the people strike the police will not be permitted to attack as has happened in the past. We aim to be a people’s government. We know we have huge challenges but we will never betray the people or the principles upon which we are elected. We must fight until the end, and ensure that Syriza and the people are one.
Gennadios Georgios is a coordinator of the META syndicate and general secretary of the teaching union covering Andros, Kea, Kythyos and Sezifos.
JS: What is the experience of teachers during the crisis?
Gennadios Georgios: Since 1981 every piece of legislation relating to education has been going in the wrong direction. Today in Greece the aim is to privatise education. They are trying to pass a law to judge how the teachers are working, but there is an imposed quota to be met for so called ‘unfit teachers’. Working conditions are in decline and the pay is low. I have been working for 17 years and my salary is just over 1000 Euros a month.
JS: What sort of actions have teachers been involved in to oppose austerity, and are you positive about the future?
GG: Teachers have had many strikes and take part in the big anti austerity demonstrations. Since Syriza is a new party we are working hard to build tight links between the unions and the party. I am very positive, and I have never been so politically engaged and excited. The election of Syriza will change the psychology in our society and provide a source of confidence and hope. My family were New Democracy voters but since 2012 they have been with Syriza because the right wing has been so obviously a disaster for the people.
JS: Do you have a message for Scotland?
GG: Yes. Never accept declining living standards are just a political and economic reality. People need to unite for a common cause. We have done it here and it can happen anywhere because neoliberal society is built purely for the market while the people suffer cuts and privatisation.
Pedro Markopolous is an activist in a variety of campaigns and social movements, and is on the board of the Syriza Youth.
JS: How have the youth been impacted by the crisis and austerity?
Pedro Markopolous: The youth have been severely impacted by austerity. They face massive unemployment, insecure work and low pay as well as the privatisation of their education. They feel alienated and isolated meaning that many are forced to leave Greece in order to find work, leading to an atomisation of families and social relationships, as well as a drain of skills from the Greek economy.
JS: How engaged in politics are young people?
PM: Young people participate massively in the social movements and in the resistance in general. They are however very suspicious of political parties. The Syriza youth are trying to reconnect young people with the idea of collective political organisation. The social movements are of all ages but it is important that we have campaigns specifically designed for young people. Different generations have different conceptions of social life, politics and the state and this must be brought into consideration. The youth, for example, are less likely to vote, and Syriza must rise to this challenge.
JS: What is the importance of building a European wide youth movement?
PM: There is no hope of succeeding if the resistance to austerity is not international. Without cooperation and a massive wave of solidarity we will not be able to turn the tide. We should organise common campaigns band work on our coordination. The quality of life and the prospects for young people across Europe are disintegrating fast. We need to exchange ideas in terms of both organisation and solutions.
JS: How did Syriza develop its programme?
PM: The programme was designed by sub-teams of volunteers, Syriza members and indeed non-members, who focussed on specific areas of policy. We think in terms of a) immediate policy b) medium term goals c) our overall vision. The overall vision helps to make the first two steps, in our case fundamental social transformation. We are left wing not just to ease the humanitarian crisis, but because we have an entirely different vision for society, one that goes beyond profit accumulation. That means political consciousness needs to change, and the programme has to reflect that.
JS: Have you anything to say to our readers in Scotland?
PM: Scotland has a great history, and I wish the Yes vote had won last year. Things are shifting across Europe as people move away from the establishment. Developments like Podemos are important. The real issue is this: we must act now. This is a historic opportunity for the left, and each country must seize it.
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Jonathon Shafi is organiser of the International Socialist Group (ISG) Scotland. He has played a long-standing role in anti-cuts and anti-war in Glasgow and a founder member of the Radical Independence Campaign.