The purpose of this blog is to provide analytical commentary on formal and informal labour organisations and their attempts to resist ever more brutal forms of exploitation in today’s neo-liberal, global capitalism.

Friday, 23 January 2015

Greece at the ballot box – How should the European left show solidarity?

On Sunday, 25 January the Greek people are voting for a new parliament. According to opinion polls, this time the left party Syriza may win the elections (BBC, 22 January 2015). In view of the heavy pressure put on Greece by financial markets, the European Commission as well as European Central Bank, people of the European left are calling for solidarity. Support is needed especially should Syriza form the next government and demand from the European Union (EU) a re-negotiation of the terms of its bailout package. In this blog post, I will reflect on what form these solidarity actions may take.

An increasingly prominent way of engaging in politics is online petitions. And the Greek elections are no exception in this respect. The campaign Change Greece – Change Europe – Change4all asks people from across Europe to sign a petition in support of Syriza and the Greek people. ‘Throughout Europe, we will defend the right of the Greek people to make their decisions freely; to break with austerity; to say ‘no’ to the humanitarian crisis which has plagued the country; to pave the way for a real alternative for Greece – for a social and democratic reorientation,’ it is stated. Other suggestions of solidarity actions include demonstrations. For example, a demonstration is scheduled for Saturday, 24 January in Nottingham/UK, my own hometown. People are asked to assemble to Stand with the people of Greece in a Pre-election solidarity rally. All these initiatives are, of course, important. They connect political events across borders and encourage people to engage on a broader dimension. And yet, I am left feeling uneasy about the lack of concrete impact these solidarity actions have on the developments in Greece. 

Photo by Adolfo Lujan

When we analyse the key problems for Greece, we can identify the relentless pressure resulting from austerity. Unemployment and here especially youth unemployment has increased drastically, the health system broken down and education is under severe pressure. Poverty and social deprivation is dramatically on the rise. Nevertheless, while the situation in Greece is dramatic and, of course, more severe than in the UK, the differences at a general level are not so big. In the UK too, austerity has been increasingly threatening the post-war achievements of the welfare state, and the proliferation of food banks is a grim reminder of rising poverty levels. If we really want to support Greece, do we not have to fight austerity here in the UK itself or the Italians in Italy and the French in France? If austerity is such a problem in Greece, then also because it is such an omnipresent force across Europe. In turn, any victory against austerity whether it is in the UK, in Germany, or elsewhere, is a victory against the logic of austerity itself and thus may help to ease the pressure on Greece. Of course, fighting our own battles against austerity is difficult, much more difficult than signing an online petition or participating in a solidarity demonstration. 

Photo by thierry ehrmann
My own trade union the University and College Union (UCU) is an example of this difficulty. Many of my colleagues on the National Executive Committee are committed to left politics. They strongly speak out against the currently negotiated Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). The union itself passed a position statement demanding to stop negotiations. Equally, UCU has been actively participating in the Columbia solidarity campaign in support of trade unionists under the threat of state repression and assassination. Nevertheless, the very same colleagues, when faced with the biggest attack on pensions in Higher Education since Autumn 2014, have suddenly lost all their left-wing radicalism. ‘We need to live in the real work and accept that final salary pensions could not be upheld’, they argue. ‘Further industrial action would be useless under current conditions’. Instead of resisting employers, they call for further talks and accommodation.  

In short, the argument is not that solidarity actions of petitions, public statements and demonstrations should not be engaged with. Rather, unless they are combined with concrete struggles against neo-liberal austerity, as it is reflected in the attack on pensions, for example, they are hardly more than token activities. Real support for Greece, to conclude, demands the struggle against, and defeat of, austerity in our own national and local context. Only this will help easing the pressure of austerity imposed on the Greeks.

Prof. Andreas Bieler
Professor of Political Economy
University of Nottingham/UK
Personal website:

23 January 2015

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