Video and transcript of speech by former NATFHE General Secretary Paul Mackney who argues The TUC should be working with all those who oppose the cuts on a coalition of resistance.
Hello friends and comrades. It’s encouraging to see such a packed turnout.
I’d like to start by talking about 21 April which enables me to make a few historical points. It’s not because The Queen was born on that day in 1926. It’s not because it’s my daughter’s birthday. Nor is it because it follows Hitler’s birthday on the 20 April 1889 and is the day before Lenin’s on 22 April 1870. (I did suggest to my partner that, having got past Hitler’s birthday, she hold on for another 24 hours, but she wasn’t too keen.)
In Greece 21 April has different associations.
It was on 21 April 1923 that the Turkish delegation arrived at the Lausanne Conference which led to the population exchange of almost 2 million Greeks and Turks following the Greco-Turkish war after WW1 - an act of international ethnic cleansing (based on religion) at the end of a century of struggle to free Greece from the Ottoman Empire, and which has affected both countries ever since. It led to many thousand deaths and was copied in the Panjab and elsewhere with similar consequences.
It was on 21 April 1941 that the invading German army took the port of Volos, and the Commonwealth forces began to evacuate mainland Greece though it took the Nazis a few more days to reach Athens. This led to one of the biggest resistance movements in Europe.
Most significantly in recent times, on 21 April 1967, there was a US-sanctioned military coup in Greece just before the scheduled elections were expected to produce a left-wing majority. I was in Greece for a six week holiday shortly after and the lessons of the Greek dictatorship until its popular overthrow in 1974 have affected me ever since.
So when on April 21 2010 the IMF, European Union and European Central bank arrived in Athens to be greeted by a mass public sector strike, it was like the Greek poet Cavafy’s poem ‘Waiting for the Barbarians’: “What are we waiting for assembled in the forum? The barbarians are due here today.”
Supposedly the IMF were there to arrange an ‘aid package’.
When is an aid package not an aid package? When it comes from the IMF. It’s an imposed act of self- inflicted injuries.
Now Richard Nixon didn’t often speak the truth but he was being disarmingly honest when he said: “The main purpose of aid is not to help other nations but to help ourselves”!
It’s not surprising that IMF are known as International Mother-fuckers - more like a foreign occupation by international capital.
But I think they picked on the wrong country. Manolis Glezos, who is famous for snatching Hitler’s swastika from the acropolis, says: “This has gone beyond economic matters to a battle for national independence.’
And the Greeks have generations of experience of struggle for national independence - from the Independence movement, to the mass exchange of populations in the 1920s, to the resistance in World War 2, to throwing out the Colonels.
So when people Say: “Everyone’s facing a crisis, why are you holding a solidarity meeting on Greece? What’s so special about them?”
The answer is simple: the Greeks are fighting back.
They are fighting back with strikes and demonstrations. There have been 4 General Strikes. The May Day demonstrations were the biggest for decades. And Greek Demonstrations require twice the effort because their banners are so enormous! (I remember trying to steer the Greek ESF contingent through the underground with their banners.) Now the banners are saying ‘Den plhrwnw’ (I’m not paying) or ‘den qa plhrwsoume’ (we won’t pay).
The British press is now whipping up a myth that the Greeks have brought it on themselves, that Greek workers are feckless ouzo-swigging wastrels who’ve never done an honest day’s work in their lives - a bit like the BA cabin crews!
Greek debt is European debt is world debt. But, rather than depicting Greek workers being a victim of the international crisis of Capital, the media is suggesting it’s their own fault - their Mediterranean lifestyle which makes them fiscally undisciplined and financially incontinent. We’re told
- They fritter money on state expenditure - actually public expenditure in the UK is proportionatel y greater than that of Greece (45% of GDP as opposed to 40%)
- They don’t do much work. Actually Greeks put in about the longest working hours in Europe - with an average of 2052 hours per year.
- They take any chance they can for a day off. Actually there is little absenteeism (Gr 1.5%; UK 2% Germany 2.6%; and Poland 5.9%! - which just goes to show how stereotypes can be just so much bollocks!)
- They’re overpaid when they are amongst the lowest paid in Europe - one in five Greeks live in poverty - and their average income is down 1/5th this year.
- They enjoy ‘bonuses’ in their Christmas and Easter pay packets. Actually, the so-called 13th and 14th pay packets, whilst culturally important, in financial terms are just a ruse whereby employers hold on to your pay and make interest on it.
- There are moves to get rid of these so-called ‘bonus’ payments
- There is a public sector pay freeze till 2014 and 3 years of draconian austerity measures
- There are moves to abolish national bargaining - the UK ConDems will do that too
- Unemployment of over 10% with youth unemployment of 30%
- Massive cuts - 36 billion Euros - 11% of GDP
- While no doubt that layer of exceptionally wealthy Greek business owners will be left untouched.
We have to start seeing Europe, indeed the world, as one country and not fall for this xenophobic nonsense. Why should ordinary people in Greece, some not even born yet, be saddled with debt which is the result of a rotten economic system, not any imagined failings on their part. There’s a cartoon in a Greek paper of a tiny baby in a cot saying: “Tell me Daddy, how much do I owe today?”
We’ve only just begun to see what they are going to do here on wages and pensions
The problems are caused by the greed of the Goldman Sachs of the world not the workers in the Greek civil service. The villains are Lehman brothers, not dock workers in Piraeus.
What is being planned is a social catastrophe of mega-proportions.
One Euro politician said: Greece is the canary in the coalmine. And in a series of dreadful metaphors went on to say how Greece must take its medicine. Well the canary is singing and escaping its cage. It was so heartening to see the banners by the Acropolis saying ‘Peoples of Europe Rise Up’.
I don’t know or remember much Lord Byron but one line calling for a national independence struggle went something like: ‘Out of these hundreds create but three to make a new Thermopylae’, where 300 held the pass against the foreign invader.
The Greek working class is holding the pass now. But this time they must not be left to stand alone. A victory for Greek workers will be a victory for us all. Spanish workers are ready, Portuguese workers are getting ready. Romanian workers are preparing. We have to be ready too.
One small step would be to twin Greek and British trade union branches - a bit like adopt a pit in the Miners’ Strike.
We greeted Thatcher with a massive year of strikes. This govt is weaker and you can sense the resentment amongst Civil Servants, BA workers, train workers, Lecturers …
The TUC has sent a message of support to Greeks for General Strike, saying cuts won’t create growth. That’s great.
It has also established a useful ‘Cuts Watch’ section of the website. But we need a bit more of the Athens spirit: we need a ‘cuts resistance’ section and a Resistance Coalition to oppose them.
The TUC should be working - with trade unionists, students, people who benefit from public services, Labour voters, even the betrayed tactical LibDem voters - on how to oppose the draconian measures being prepared for us here, on plans for Councils of Resistance.
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