The vote in the Greek parliament on July 15 to accept a new round of austerity measures from European authorities has set in motion a sharp debate in the ruling SYRIZA party. Some led 39 of the party’s members refused to vote for the agreement. A majority of the SYRIZA Central Committee—108 out of 201—signed a statement opposing the deal, which is the a third in a series of Memorandums with creditors that have imposed cuts in living standards, even as the economy has shrunk 25 percent in the last five year
At a stormy Central Committee meeting July 30, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras squared off against the party’s Left Platform, which is demanding that that the government address workers’ needs and confront the Europeans and Greek capitalists. The left also called for a special congress of the party to discuss the measures before a complete austerity package comes to a parliamentary vote around August 20.
Tsipras responded by threatening to call for an immediate party referendum on the deal, but later shifted to a call for a special party congress with new delegates sometime in September and October, possibly in conjunction with new parliamentary elections.
Sotiris Martalis is an activist of Internationalist Workers Left (DEA) and the Red Network within the broader Left Platform. Martalis spoke with Lee Sustar about the shape of the battle ahead in Greece.
What’s the social impact of the new austerity measures?
These measures are very hard for the people. They have increased the value added [sales] tax, or VAT, from 13 percent to 23 percent for most food items. It is exceptional.
A second measure was a cut in pensions by withholding more taxes from pension checks, and deducting 6 percent for health care. It used to be 4 percent on one part of the pension and zero on another.
They also kept in place all the privatization measures in the first and second Memorandums—including the sale of the two big ports in Piraeus and Thessaloniki, all the airports and the state power company.
The also kept ENFIA—a special tax on every property. If you have a house, you must pay money to the Greek state—not the money you pay to the municipality for garbage collection, but money you give to the state. This is was a tax that SYRIZA said was bad for poor people, and yet they keep it.
Also, the government will not agree to a law to protect labor rights and collective-bargaining agreements.
All this is against the DNA of SYRIZA, and also is against its promises and program. And we have seen the impact of this in three votes in parliament.
In the first vote, the parliament gave the government authorization to negotiate concessions. In the first vote, two members of the Red Network in SYRIZA voted “no.” In the second vote, to accept the main lines of the third Memorandum, 32 members of SYRIZA voted “no,” six voted “present,” and one was absent. In the third vote on the measures, 29 voted “no,” six “present,” and one was absent.
The next vote, on the details of the Memorandum, will come between August 18 and August 20.
At the same time, 108 members of they SYRIZA Central Committee—it was 109, but one took his signature back—signed a statement opposing the agreement and demanding a meeting of the Central Committee. That’s out of 201 members.
That’s why the Central Committee meeting July 30 was a crucial meeting. It had to discuss how SYRIZA would deal with the new austerity Memorandum. The Left Platform called for a continuous congress—that is, a congress of the same delegates who attended the last congress. That way, the party could meet before the government signed any further austerity agreement.
But Tsipras said that the party should have a special congress in September or October—after a new agreement is signed. He also said that he will ask for a referendum for all the members of the party as to support his policy or not.
At the Central Committee meeting, 17 members of the Communist Organization of Greece (KOE) resigned from the Central Committee, accusing the leadership of transforming SYRIZA from being a party against the memorandums to a party that supports the memorandums.
Why does Tsipras want a new vote for a SYRIZA party congress?
He said that he can’t be prime minister and head the government with a minority in parliament—passing agreements only with the support of the opposition conservatives in the New Democracy party and social democrats in the PASOK party. Today there are 149 members of SYRIZA in parliament, and 13 from the Independent Greeks (ANEL), out of 300. So Tsipras may go to new parliamentary elections.
Also, Tsipras talks about a split between what he calls the “party SYRIZA” and the “social SYRIZA.” By this he means the fact that he has 38 or 40 percent support in opinion polls, compared to 20 percent for New Democracy.
But in the party, the picture is different. In the Central Committee meeting before the most recent one, the left had 44 percent support. Even with the resignation of KOE, there will still be 38 percent or so for the left.
In the rest of the party, it is not so simple. In almost every area, the left has something more than 60 percent of the party in its leading committees. They have taken votes against the austerity measures. The majority of the militants of the party are against the agreement.
For this reason, it is possible that a special congress—with new delegates—is the hope for the government and the leadership of SYRIZA to change the situation.
Is Tsipras confident he can prevail in the party?
What you hear people say now is, “Okay, they tried their best. Tsipras was blackmailed by the Europeans, so he did the best he could do.” But people will not see the result of the austerity measures until September.
But now, the media, after Tsipras for making the agreement, is attacking him for having had a “secret plan” for a Greek exit, or Grexit, from the Eurozone. The are for setting up plans to issue IOUs and accessing taxpayer records.
This is crazy. The EU told banks to prepare for a Grexit in case things broke down. It is only logical that the Greek finance ministry would do the same thing. After all, the private banks can have taxpayer numbers. The independent authority for banks controlled by the Europeans and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) can have those numbers—everybody except for the minister of finance?
The mass media are making a huge issue about this because they now have to pay taxes to access the airwaves. And they continue to call for a government of national unity that involves PASOK and New Democracy.
Speaking of the Europeans, the Financial Times reported that the IMF staff and board now wants to pull out of the latest bailout agreement for Greece. But the German parliament, the Bundestag, agreed to the bailout on the condition that the IMF remains involved.
All that depends on the international lenders. Even after Tsipras made the agreement, they continue to push for a government of national unity with PASOK and Potami, a creation of the mass media. The Europeans and the Greek ruling class prefer this solution.
The next crucial moment will be when the full agreement will come before the Greek parliament around August 18-20. We will see which members of parliament will not vote for a third memorandum and austerity measures. After that, there will be big decisions—for both the SYRIZA majority and the opposition—over what will come next.
How is the left preparing for this?
The left outside SYRIZA—the KKE [Communist Party] and the ANTARYSA coalition—are saying, “We said SYRIZA will betray the working class, so everything is normal.” But in reality they are waiting to see what will happen in the left opposition in SYRIZA. Because the hope for the next step in the struggle will be in this opposition.