Thursday, January 29, 2015

Notes on Greece

It is imperative to get this right.  Syriza's election is the first real event on the European radical left for decades.  I do not mind being over-excited about this fact.  I am well aware of the limits of this success, and of the ways in which left governments can be domesticated.  Yet I would sooner get ahead of myself with enthusiasm than submit to the wised-up cynicism according to which every gain is an accident, and every betrayal was pre-ordained.  And this breakthrough does demand some careful research and theoretical work.  

To that end, I'm going to try to post links to good, scholarly articles offering background on Greek social formation, its working class movements and the political variations therein.  This post is a start in that direction.

"The study of the Greek class structure is necessary for approaching and understanding the forms and structures of the labour and social movement in Greece. The class structure and the specific characteristics of the Greek social formation present special features compared to other developed capitalist countries of Europe. These features have historically resulted to the appearance of broader petty-bourgeois strata, in parallel to (and not competitively to) capitalist development. The tendency in the last twenty years (during the restructuring process) has been the expansion of capital into new areas and sectors of capitalist circulation, leading to the establishment of a range of services as capitalist commodities, and an expansion of unproductive, but necessary for the realisation of the surplus-value, activities (expanded reproduction of capitalism). Further, during the current crisis, we are witnessing a massive "ob destruction, along with a significant tendency of class polarisation and violent proletarianisation of the petty-bourgeois strata. Massive unemployment and precarious work are largely expanded, whilst the stable work model is eroded. This reality affects both the emergence and the forms of organisation of the labor and social movement. The working class is highly fragmented and heterogeneous, and the trade union movement has several weaknesses and peculiarities. $t the same time, large sections of the working strata cannot be expressed through the traditional trade unionism, because of conjunctural and structural reasons. Thus, there appear various forms of organisation that are beyond the scope of the traditional labor movement. The aim of this paper is to explore this landscape and the various possibilities open to collective action, its forms and manifestations at the political level."

"The global financial crisis which began in 2007 has greatly impacted on Greece, a Southern European country of high debt. Since early 2010 the country witnessed dramatic transformations in labor, public policies, and social services, with grave consequences for its population. Since 2010, defensive protests against unprecedented austerity measures vividly reflect the effects of economic globalization across national borders as well as the swift changes imposed by powerful political and economic actors on labor organization, rights and movements in Greece.

"Within a relational approach, the paper aims to shed light on the swift reforms affecting labor unions since the crisis erupted, and the role of unions in the Greek campaign against troika Memoranda and austerity policies. Specifically, it focuses on, a) problems of representation and trust, b) the impacts of budget cuts on labor unions, c) the general strikes in the context of the Greek anti-austerity campaign, d) the related claims making and action repertoires, e) the related labor union alliances with political parties and civil society groups, as well as, f) future paths of labor unions in Greece. In order to approach the above issues, we will first present the major characteristics of Greek industrial relations until 2010 and discuss the new economic data that have emerged following the troika memoranda and austerity policies since 2010."

"The Communist Party of Greece (KKE) and the Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA) made remarkable ‘turns towards civil society’ over the last decade. It is argued that this was primarily a response aimed at strengthening their social legitimacy, which had reached its lowest point in the early 1990s. Differences in the way the two parties attempted to stabilise and engage their membership and re-establish links to trade unions and new social movements can be attributed to their distinct ideological and organisational legacies. Despite those differences, their respective linkage strategies were both successful until the game-changing 2012 Greek national elections, which brought about the remarkable rise of SYRIZA and the electoral demise of the KKE."

"This article draws on empirical evidence from a trade union in the centre of Athens to explore the impact of a politically active membership and its dialectical relationship with union renewal. The examined union is considered as an exemplar for the Greek accounts of unionism in the sense that it has achieved considerable collective bargaining gains and it has organized successful membership mobilization stories. It is argued in the analysis that the success of this union stems from a strategy of making rank-and-file activists the very fabric of union's organizing and mobilization activities. Further, trust issues between leaders, activists and ordinary members are significant in the increase of the likelihood of collective action."

"The first part of this paper briefly examines the merits of neo-classical arguments regarding the causes of the recent upsurge in Greek unemployment. It shows that the view according to which high unemployment in Greece is caused by high wages rests on a weak empirical foundation. Moreover, by examining features of the Greek labour market (especially the large and eminently ‘flexible’ informal sector) it  suggests that the experience of Greece casts doubt on the view that labour-market  flexibility can serve as a cure to unemployment. The second, and major part,examines trade union decline. Unlike the situation in most European countries, rising unemployment has not affected the mobilizing capacity of the Greek labour movement. More than a century after its emergence, however, this movement has yet to overcome its historically embedded low trade-union density. This does not prevent the outbreak of militant strikes, but hampers their effectiveness. In recent years union leaders have attempted to address this problem by trying to curb the movement’s traditional penchant for confrontational action, in favour of a co-operative model of industrial relations. In the background of a weak and retrenching welfare state,however, this has led to concession bargaining which, instead of improving, has further worsened the problem of declining union credibility and density. The paper ends with some tentative suggestions on how to reverse this process."

"This article explores citizens’ initiatives in setting up groups in order to provide relief on a solidarity basis in Greece. It aims at understanding some of the processes involved by which the current organisation of social relations gradually undergoes paradigmatic change."

"This interview with Aristides Baltas, the eminent Greek philosopher who was one of the founders of Syriza and is currently a coordinator of its policy planning committee, was conducted by Leo Panitch with the help of Michalis Spourdalakis in Athens on 29 May 2012, three weeks after Syriza came a close second in the first Greek election of 6 May, and just three days before the party’s platform was to be revealed for the second election of 17 June."

"Jan­u­ary 25th marks a his­toric turn­ing point in recent Greek his­tory. After five years of dev­as­tat­ing aus­ter­ity, a social cri­sis with­out prece­dent in Europe, and a series of strug­gles that at some points, espe­cially in 2010-2012, took an almost insur­rec­tionary form, there has been a major polit­i­cal break. The par­ties that were respon­si­ble for putting Greek soci­ety under the dis­ci­pli­nary super­vi­sion of the so-called Troika (EU-ECB-IMF) suf­fered a humil­i­at­ing defeat. PASOK, which in 2009 won almost 44% of the vote, now received only 4.68%; and the splin­ter party of Gior­gos Papan­dreou, the PASOK Prime Min­is­ter who ini­ti­ated the aus­ter­ity pro­grams, got 2.46%. New Democ­racy came in at 27.81%, almost 9% below SYRIZA. The elec­toral rise of the fas­cists of Golden Dawn has been halted, although they still main­tain a wor­ry­ing 6% of the vote. Another pro-austerity party, the RIVER, rep­re­sent­ing the neolib­eral agenda (although nom­i­nally com­ing from the center-left) took only 6.05%, despite inten­sive media hype."