Necessary Sacrifice?: The European Union - appropriately portrayed as a vengeful harradin - shatters the Greek nation in an attempt to cement what remains of Europe's arranged financial marriage. Workers the world over must understand that Greece is but the first of many sacrifices that will be offered up to appease the gods of global finance.
IS THERE ANYTHING WORSE than the braying of the upper classes? That awful, asinine, he-haw-ing expelled from the noses of the privileged whenever the lower orders are suspected of enjoying benefits above their station.
That braying was clearly audible on Thursday morning’s Nine To Noon programme. Dame Anne Leslie: oil company executive’s daughter; raised in the twilight of the British Raj; famed foreign correspondent for The Daily Mail; was supposed to be talking to Radio New Zealand’s Kathryn Ryan about events in the UK, but she simply couldn’t forbear putting the boot into the unfortunate Greeks.
What really got her agitated was the idea of Greek pastry-chefs and hairdressers enjoying early retirement, on generous pensions, in recognition of the arduous and/or dangerous nature of their jobs.
Honoured for her services to journalism, and hailed for her “common touch” with “ordinary people”, Dame Anne nevertheless found the whole idea of recognising the contribution of hairdressers and pastry-chefs absurd.
Never mind the hazardous chemicals hairdressers and their staff handle every working-day. Never mind the pastry-chef’s never-ending wrestling-match with fifty different varieties of dough. Early retirement on generous pensions isn’t for the likes of them; it’s for lawyers, doctors, business tycoons: real people who’ve earned it.
This is why the Greeks have to be punished – don’t you know? For voting themselves a living way beyond their means. For demanding an undeserved tribute from the hard-working peoples of the European Union so that they can lounge like Lotus Eaters in the Mediterranean sun.
I wonder if Dame Anne recalls who it was that, by arming the Greek Right against the left-wing resistance fighters who’d fought so heroically against the Nazis, plunged the Greek nation into bloody civil strife at the end of the Second World War?
Who it was that, when the Greek Left showed signs of electoral recovery in the late-1960s, stood back and refused to intervene as a junta of fascist colonels imprisoned Greek democracy without trial?
Who it was that bank-rolled the expansion of the Greek state-sector as the only viable guarantor of civil peace in a land from which it has been conspicuously absent since the same Germans who now pour scorn on the Greek people came a-calling with their tanks and dive-bombers in 1940?
Dame Anne may bray in ignorance against the “absurd” generosity of the Greek welfare state and take vicarious pleasure at the sight of the Greek riot police dishing out an EU, ECB and IMF-endorsed lesson in neo-liberal economic orthodoxy on the streets of Athens, but I suspect that even she might recoil in alarm from the deadly hissing of the Bank of International Settlements.
The BIS, sometimes known as “the central bankers’ bank”, is responsible for keeping the global financial system in good working order. For these, the High Priests of Capitalism, nothing – not even the genocidal destruction of World War II – has ever been permitted to divert the BIS from its oversight and management of the world’s money.
But now, from its lofty Swiss eerie, the BIS finds itself looking down upon a global financial system teetering on the brink of collapse. Not since the darkest days of the Great Depression have the world’s banks confronted such an all-encompassing and potentially devastating economic crisis.
“We should make no mistake here:”, intones the BIS’s Annual Report, “the market turbulence surrounding the fiscal crises in Greece, Ireland and Portugal would pale beside the devastation that would follow a loss of investor confidence in the sovereign debt of a major economy.”
As the left-wing journalist, Nick Beams, writing for the World Socialist Web Site on 28 June, puts it:
“The BIS has called on governments to take ‘swift and credible action’ to bring down debt levels. But this does not mean a return to the pre-crisis situation. So-called ‘structural tasks’ have to be addressed. ‘In many countries … [this] involves facing up to the fact that, with their populations ageing, promised pension schemes and social benefits are simply too costly to sustain.’
“That is, large portions of the social welfare measures enacted in the post-war period must be wiped out to pay off the government debts incurred as a result of the bailout of the banks.”
And it gets worse. According to the BIS Report, the global financial system is so fragile that simply paying off government debt will not be sufficient to restore stability. To underwrite the security of international financial transactions, governments will be required to build up large fiscal surpluses “as buffers that can be used for stabilisation in the future.”
“In other words,” says Beams, “the working class must be made to pay not only for the past crises created by the banks but for future ones as well.”
The bitter struggles taking place on the streets of Athens are, therefore, just the beginning of “a [global] counter-revolution to return social conditions to the level of the 1930s.”
The braying of a ruling class determined to strip hairdressers and pastry-chefs (along with every other kind of worker) of benefits and protections they don’t “deserve” is about to grow much louder.
And how should we respond? Let the poet, Shelly, be our guide:
Rise like Lions after slumber
In unvanquishable number,
Shake your chains to earth like dew
Which in sleep had fallen on you-
Ye are many — they are few.
This essay is exclusive to the Bowalley Road blog site.