Another round of austerity measures has been approved in Greece. Before, during and after the vote people went on strike and took to the streets. And there are signs of resistance stiffening.
There are grounds for both pessimism and optimism when looking at last week in Greece. On the one hand another batch of austerity measures passed through parliament and whilst the mobilisations were big they were also nothing new. On the other hand for a more optimistic view we could point to some moments from the struggles of last week which suggest resistance is shifting and not weakening.
On Wednesday night the Greek government forced a new wave of austerity measures through parliament. Once again pensions were cut, the retirement age raised, fees for hospitals introduced and more workers will be sacked(more details). All this is to insure that the Greek state receives the next part of a loan from the Troika(EU-ECB-IMF) which whilst likely isn't guaranteed. These cuts have been referred to as the third memorandum. Since we've had three memoranda already who is to say there won't be a forth or fifth down the line as the politicians tell us just a few more cuts and then we will be OK. So clear grounds for pessimism here.
Throughout the week there was continuous strike action in Athens and across Greece. Public transport was patchy if anything at all, journalists, doctors and lawyers didn't work and rubbish is still piling up as the collectors are on strike also. The demonstrations for the 48hr general strike on Tuesday and Wednesday had fewer participants than previous days. The first march in Athens on Tuesday was very quiet. The demonstration on Wednesday was bigger and more active and was only removed by a combination of torrential rain, tear-gas and a water cannon.
The austerity measures only just managed to pass through parliament. Out of the 300 MPs only 153 voted for the measures. The vote came after a ten hour debate which was interrupted when the constitutionality of the measures was questioned. MPs only received the 500 page document a few days before the vote itself.Serious questions about whether the measures went against the Greek constitution were swept aside and the debate continued. Another disruption came when the staff of the parliament(those recording and taking minutes) threatened to go on strike as they realised their wages and pensions would be cut too. These significant problems didn't slow down the debate as ten hours was deemed enough time to decide on the future of a whole country.
With 'debates' such as this a mark of all the austerity votes the institutions of parliamentary democracy are looking weaker with each memorandum. A recent opinion poll states that no political leader has an approval rating above 50%. What's more when asked for their opinions on the state of democracy in the country 81% said they were disappointed and 8% don't even consider Greece to be a democracy. People turning away from traditional party politics could be a positive development. A feeling only likely to grow as governments and parliament bow to the wishes of the Troika.
When we look at the strikes and protests we have to say that they were hardly anything new and a pessimist would say we are just witnessing a repeating and ineffectual pattern. Whilst this is certainly one view when we look at some details there are signs of hope. Firstly the strike action was not just 48hrs. As mentioned before some people, in particular transport workers, were carrying out strike action before Tuesday and Wednesday and also extended the strike. On the island of Crete a popular assembly decided to prolong the strike and put out a call to create blockades and build a continuous strike. Tentative no doubt but progress none the less. Whilst still a long way from happening the idea of moving beyond symbolic 24 and 48hr strikes is present.
Another point of hope came from the actions of some of the demonstrators on Wednesday evening. There can sometimes be tension between those in the crowd who favour taking action to defend themselves from repeated police attacks(lets call them 'resisters') and those who don't. The media often plays up this tension using labels such as 'self-styled anarchist' vs ' peaceful protester'. Although these media categories aren't accurate some groups at demonstrations have been hostile to those who physically resist police assaults. Reports state that on Wednesday evening things were different. Groups such as PAME and the Communist party(KKE) who normally keep a distance from 'resisters' this time allowed them within their ranks and generally backed them up during the clashes. It's not known if this was a political decision or the action of those in the square. So perhaps we are seeing a shift away from simple A to B protest marches.
It's easy to look at the last weeks events and despair. Another round of austerity is coming bringing with it further devastation. Another 'general strike' has come and gone. The water cannon has been tested. But if we look beyond the repeated pattern we can see changes happening. The idea of a continuous strike is gaining ground albeit slowly. Perhaps also the change in attitude of some of the Syntagma protesters also marks the beginning of a shift out of the familiar pattern. Only time will tell whether this week is to be just another date in the crisis timeline or a more significant event. As each round of austerity only deepens and prolongs the crisis this vote does certainly not mark the end of anything. In fact everything continues...