Editorial: 22 Feb 2015

THE ELECTION OF SYRIZA IS NOT JUST A HUGE VICTORY FOR THE GREEK WORKING CLASS. By proclaiming a popular alternative to the austerity imposed
by the unelected institutions of the EU, it transforms at a stroke the political situation in Europe.

Greece2The security barriers have been removed from outside the Greek Parliament. The police can no longer use CS gas. The new minister for migration has announced that
children of migrants born in Greece will get citizenship and the detention camps will close. Same-sex couples will get legal recognition. These are real gains – even if the new government may have to row back on some of its economic policies, the details of which are still being negotiated, under the diktat of the European banks.

Despite Syriza’s massive democratic mandate, Europe’s finance institutions are determined to push on with the policies that have forced the Greek economy to contract by 25% in the last five years. Their intransigence is bolstered by unprecedented capital flight from Greek banks, which has put the new left wing government in an arm-lock.

As we go to press, the Greeks appear to have won a four month breathing space, but it has been made brutally clear that the EU institutions are simply the dictatorship of German-led capitalism which intends to impose austerity on the working class – including in Germany – until its problems are overcome. As with TTIP, the secretly
negotiated treaty enshrining corporate control for public services, national democracy in the EU is meaningless when it conflicts with the key priorities of big capital.

Greece’s struggle is ours. The whole European labour movement must come to the support of Greece in its attempts to stand up to the banks, which dare not allow the threat of an alternative to flourish that could be copied elsewhere. Already the anti-austerity Podemos is leading the opinion polls in Spain in this election year.
And in France, the Valls government had to force through its economic reforms, including easier sackings and more “flexible” working, using a rare form of decree, because it feared losing a parliamentary vote.

Here too, people see there is an alternative to austerity, as shown by the growth in support for the parties that have committed to an anti-austerity alliance – the Greens and SNP especially. Voters have shown repeatedly that they are to the left of Labour on key economic issues. Labour’s ratings were boosted by Ed Miliband’s willingness to name names and promise an investigation into the misdeeds of HSBC, practices which the Coalition was happy to help conceal. Most voters want tougher
punishments for tax dodgers than benefit cheats, polls showed.

More tellingly, over half of swing voters want a Labour government that spends more on public services and does not make the deficit a priority; that does more to support ordinary people against powerful corporations; and that is less subservient to the US and does not get involved in American wars. The percentage of Labour voters wanting these things is even higher.

But if Labour is most liked when it’s boldest, the opposite is also true: when it emulates the Tories, it’s totally ineffectual. Look at the open goals the Front Bench
should be scoring on education, welfare and, above all, the economy. Yet instead of hammering the Coalition, our leadership often offers a pale imitation of it, promising to be even tougher on welfare and sticking to Coalition spending limits for at least a year. The danger is that without a genuinely alternative narrative on these core issues, May’s election will be reduced to a popularity contest – which is exactly the terms on which the Tories want to fight it.

There is an alternative to the failed, discredited policies of the last five years – and across Europe, it’s increasingly popular. Labour should sign up to the anti-austerity
alliance and give a voice to all those who have been made to pay for a crisis, caused not by them, but by the HSBCs of this world. There’s no better time.

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