Tag Archives: United Front Against Austerity

Syriza landslide as the Greeks say basta!

Victory for Syriza means the election of the first anti-austerity party in the western world. Our heartfelt congratulations and best wishes should go to everyone in Greece. The cradle of civilisation and birthplace of democracy have pointed the way forward once again.

Following the financial crisis (which was actually a banking crisis, as I have pointed out many times before), it was Greece that was unfortunate enough to be singled out and placed at the head of the queue for dose after dose of neo-liberal economic shock therapy. The so-called “Troika” of the IMF, ECB and EU being quick to impose a strict austerity programme, backed up with further ‘Washington Consensus’-style ‘conditionalities’ — the enforced privatisation of public services and other types of ‘deregulation’.

More than half a decade later, and instead of prosperity, “austerity” (i.e., savage cuts – I always apply apostrophes) has created a vicious spiral of debt, with mass unemployment and reduced incomes leading inexorably to reduced demand, stifled economic growth and, no less importantly, lost tax revenues that would otherwise have been available for government investment. Along the way, money has been deliberately siphoned from the poorest in society to the wealthiest. But then “austerity” provides a wonderful excuse for this theft and always did.

The main message to be taken from Sunday’s dramatic election result – a landslide victory for one of the newest parties in Europe – was perfectly loud and clear, though certainly not the one that the news media will want you to focus on. It is that ‘austerity’ simply does NOT work! (except for a tiny elite who, some twenty fours prior to the Greek election, were flying home to their mansions from that annual obscenity known as the World Economic Forum in Davos in about seven hundred separate private jets.)

Click here to see a full breakdown of the election results region by region.

Of course, and especially in light of the vapid insincerity of Barack Obama’s 2008 “Hope and Change” campaign, it is understandably difficult for many people to grasp that any kind of meaningful political change can be delivered through the ballot box (or achieved in any other way). Duped over and over again in election after election, we have all been conditioned to believe in our own helplessness. And Obama, more than perhaps anyone else, has been responsible for undermining hope, causing us to feel that to dream of a better future is forlorn and that whatever sociopolitical change comes, invariably turns out for the worst. But we must remind ourselves that Obama was an out-and-out phoney. An insider, Wall Street crony, who was astutely repackaged as a messianic saviour for a naive and race-divided American public. Alexis Tspiras and Syriza are a different kettle of fish altogether. They offer a genuine grassroots opposition which, unlike Obama, came into office despite the efforts of a hostile media, and still remain free from corporate strings. They also bring to the table a set of carefully deliberated economic and other policy demands – something else that was conspicuously absent from Obama’s intentionally vague “Hope and Change” campaign.

Whether or not Alexis Tsipras and Syriza will now deliver on all their promises we must wait and see. Meanwhile, the people of Greece and elsewhere might help if only by continuing to loudly voice support for those same demands. This is a time for everyone of goodwill to put aside lesser ideological differences – just as Syriza have already done by forming a coalition with a party of the right – to join the Greeks in solidarity, supporting their struggle for self-determination and basic democratic control against the oppressive outside forces of “the Troika”.

What the Greek people achieved on Sunday also presents us with a solid foundation for our own fight against “austerity”. They have opened up a window of opportunity (perhaps a narrow one) for establishing a movement that demands real change across the whole continent. For this victory was not about Syriza as such, but about a principle. That lives of ordinary people matter far more than a plethora of inanimate market indices and corporate balance sheets. The greater hope being that a spark from Syriza’s extraordinary election victory will be enough to ignite a chain reaction through Spain (with Podemos), Portugal, Italy and on and on, to ultimately force a total cessation of the callous insanity of the imposed “austerity” regime. And our hopes ought not to end with mere ‘change’ per se, which may of course be good or bad, but for a lasting improvement in our societies, beginning at the economic level, and bringing about a more prosperous future for all nations.

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Here in Britain, the closest group we have to Syriza is Left Unity, who have already formed a loose alliance with both Syriza and Podemos:

Somewhat belatedly (in my opinion), Left Unity recently launched their own election campaign. They are now asking for support:

Austerity has wrecked Britain. We are far worse off now than we were in 2010 – and all we are promised is more hard times. Today the richest 1% in Britain own as much wealth as the poorest half of the population put together.

The 2015 general election will be an opportunity for millions of people across the country to have their say over the austerity programme of the Con-Dem government. The propaganda machine has already sprung into action, with George Osborne claiming to be tackling the national debt and to have the economy back on track. In reality, real wages are falling, prices are soaring – and the deficit has actually grown under his austerity regime.

And yet the opposition from Labour has been appalling. They have given ground on almost every key issue. Labour has promised to keep to the Tory spending plans if they are elected in May. They won’t roll back any of the changes to education. They claim they will repeal the Health and Social Care Bill, but they won’t scrap PFI, which is bankrupting hospital trusts.

This is why we need Left Unity.

We will be standing candidates in different constituencies across the country. Our plan is not to stand hundreds of candidates, but to get organised in selected key seats to get Left Unity’s message out to potential voters.

We need your support now to help organise election campaigns on the ground. Left Unity’s national council has issued an appeal for £20,000 to fund this work.

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 Additional:

Yanis Varoufakis, who is professor of economic theory at the University of Athens, has been appointed as the new Greek Finance Minister. Here is an interview he gave that was broadcast on Russia Today’s “Boom Bust” back on January 12th (a fortnight prior to the election):

And this is Varoufakis speaking two years ago in an address that was presented to the founding assembly of the United Front Against Austerity (UFAA) on October 27, 2012 in New York City:

His writings can be found at http://yanisvaroufakis.edu

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Update:

On February 2nd, the Keiser Report was devoted to analysis of the Greece situation. Reminding us that Greece is insolvent in much the way the banks were and remain insolvent, Max Keiser and Stacy Herbert also highlighted the vital role that Goldman Sachs had played in an earlier deception to hide Greek debt. A scheme which enabled the Greek government of the time to meet the criteria necessary to join the Eurozone:

Click here to watch on the Russia Today website.

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Filed under analysis & opinion, austerity measures, Britain, Greece, Max Keiser

reflections after Saturday’s anti-cuts demonstration in London

Saturday’s anti-cuts march in London attracted more than 150,000 people, which makes it one of the bigger protests I’ve ever been part of and certainly worthy of greater media coverage. With the economic destruction of European nations like Greece, Spain and Portugal already so well advanced, the need for mass protest across the whole of Europe and the rest of the western world having never been more urgent. So these relatively large numbers are still disappointing. I had anticipated that perhaps a million or more might be marching along the streets of London at the weekend – as there had been ten years ago when we marched against the Iraq War – but sadly no.

My conclusion, therefore, is that the people of Britain either didn’t get sufficient notice that a major protest was taking place (and one of my friends told me that the event wasn’t particularly well publicised), or couldn’t be bothered, perhaps because they’ve given up all hope of ever changing anything, or, and most depressingly, are actually opposed to the objectives of the march itself. Those in the latter category remaining convinced that ‘we just need to take our medicine’ like good little boys and girls, whilst leaving everything to the clever men who understand the system better, trusting that as they inflict injury after injury, this process of deliberate evisceration might somehow, presumably as a side-effect, rescue us from the jaws of recession. Which is a manifestly deluded hope, of course, firstly because it mistakes depression for recession (and many have known since well before the crash of 2008 that the world was on the imminent brink of a global depression), but also because it is in contradiction to all the evidence provided by failures abroad. ‘Austerity’ having rescued no country from this worsening crisis, but only serving to sink them ever deeper into trouble.

Even the Nobel Prize winner and former chief economist at the World Bank, Joseph Stiglitz, came out with a statement last week pointing to the obvious failure of the current ‘austerity programme’ in Europe:

“Spain and Greece are in depression, not recession. That impact was brought about by austerity” with the countries now trapped in a vicious cycle of spending cuts and slumping growth, he said.

Stiglitz, who served as a senior advisor to former US president Bill Clinton, was speaking on the eve of a key two-day summit of EU leaders in Brussels that will seek to address the eurozone crisis.

“Austerity is bringing Europe down and diminishes chances of making things work — it is the wrong measure,” said the Nobel laureate, who is a professor at New York’s Columbia University.1

Unfortunately, however, there are many who will continue to fail to understand that the so-called ‘austerity’ now being imposed throughout our continent and beyond, is the major cause of our accelerating death spiral into the grinding teeth of a total global depression. ‘Austerity’ being a policy that those holding significant positions of power must already have known would be disastrous for the simple reason that such methods have failed so many times before, and in places as far afield as Chile, Argentina, South Korea, as well as in all corners of Africa. But then it all depends what one means by ‘failed’ I suppose. What fails for the ordinary people generally serves the finance oligarchs very nicely don’t you know.

What the small turnout showed then, is that sadly a great many in Britain (as elsewhere) are still bewitched by those guys in their pin-striped suits pulling their strange levers and twiddling their incomprehensible knobs on the top floor offices of the hedge funds and within such megabanks as Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan. Still ignorant, or else strangely oblivious, to the scale of the fraudulent means by which these same financial elites have saturated the world with their odious debt. Debts being used to hold us to ransom: menacing all of our nations with the threat that if ever their own well-deserved demise should actually occur, then the repercussions would be so serious as to result in the ruin of all of us. “Too big too fail”, no longer a slogan, but thanks to unquestioning media propagation, an inculcated factoid.

Again, I cannot believe that playing the suicide card has worked so well for the bankers, nor that remarkably few of the general public are yet to appreciate just how successfully these same financial giants have inveigled themselves into the highest positions of public office, placing their own puppets Lucas Papademos and Mario Monti directly into the governments of Greece and Italy, whilst former vice chairman of Goldman Sachs, Mario Draghi settled in as president at the European Central Bank. The self-proclaimed ‘masters of the universe’ more or less openly ruling the world these days, which is why the crisis goes on and on and gets ever worse.

And the money-changers who now swivel in and out of power via the revolving doors of their own convenience have no interest whatsoever in saving the folks at home. Their own funds are safely offshore in any case and when the paper currencies begin to collapse as they sooner, rather than later, inevitably must, they won’t be worrying about this either, because their own stash of wealth will have been converted into more solid and stable forms, by, primarily, turning their assets into gold and silver and real estate. At this moment they lie to you, of course (but then they always did and always will), continuing to pretend that gold and silver are poor investments and using every possible means at their considerable disposal to artificially hold the prices down. But only the foolish still listen to what these people say, the ones who speak for Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan, instead of wisely judging on the basis of what they actually do. And if you look, you will discover that the leading financial players are suddenly buying heavily into gold because they know what’s coming, and they also know that what’s coming is coming soon enough.

Here’s an example from an article entitled “Rothschild bullish on gold as central bankers get out of their depth”, which was published by Investment Europe in late July:

Equity markets cheered after Mario Draghi promised recently to do “whatever it takes” to save the euro, but Rothschild Wealth Management believes this was just another sign of central bankers “moving further into uncharted territory”, and that gold could benefit as a result.

Dirk Wiedmann (pictured), head of investments at RWM, said the precious metal could not be manipulated by central bankers, in contrast to paper currencies. He therefore called the environment “extremely positive for gold”, although he cautions investors in it should expect a volatile summer.2

And here’s another entitled “Billionaires Soros, Paulson Bet Big on Gold” taken from ABC news and published in August:

Once again John Paulson is choosing to heavily invest in gold and fellow billionaire George Soros is making a similar bet.

According to Bloomberg News, Paulson & Co. and Soros Fund Management bumped up exposure to SPDR Gold Trust to 21.8 million shares and 884,000 shares, respectively. Paulson & Co. now has 44 percent of its $24 billion fund exposed to bullion.3

So if you do not already feel the pinch of ‘austerity’ then please believe me that you soon will, and that when it comes, that pinch will tighten until it becomes a deathly hold. ‘Austerity’ not really being an intended remedy at all, but, and as it always has been, the underlying aim of the neoliberal ideology. The savaging of public services, the oppression of workers and the privatisation of whole states simply being the well tried and tested methods which the bankers have long used to build their empires, although in former times the use of these approaches being mostly restricted to places faraway. The imposition of ‘austerity’ making nations ripe for exploitation and ready to be enslaved.

Right now, those same financial elites have, and whether by accident or design, manufactured the perfect storm, and with it comes their greatest opportunity to consolidate what is already enormous power, and this time in order that they may wield it with the same nefarious intent much closer to home. Which is the real reason that this latest crisis will have no end, or at least no end until we are collectively prepared to stand tall and say very loudly that enough is enough. Some kind of organised programme for mass dissent being our last chance of averting the total destruction of society that will otherwise inexorably follow in the wake of further rounds of banker bailouts and imposed ‘austerity’.

I had therefore felt a very urgent need to go to London for Saturday’s protest, travelling down the M1 with four friends from Sheffield who had also decided that it was vitally important to publicly express their own dissent. We did this in good humour, and as it transpired, also in good time, arriving at Hyde Park to hear some of the speeches at the rally – something I’ve never managed on any previous marches, and an indication again that the turnout wasn’t as spectacular as at those earlier protests. But then, as one of my friends pointed out along the way, there were other reasons to doubt that our journey to London would achieve very much on this occasion. The police presence being so low profile and non-confrontational, she surmised, and in reply to my own musings, presumably because the protest itself was a more or less officially sanctioned affair.

And indeed, Saturday’s protest was so significantly endorsed that one of the speakers at the rally turned out to be none other than the right honourable leader of the opposition, Ed Miliband – and we had got there just in time to hear some of what he had to say. This is what we heard:

And you know [the government are] not just incompetent, their old answers don’t work any more. Trickle-down economics, cutting rights at work – David Cameron calls it ‘the sink or swim society’ – you don’t build a successful country with sink or swim, you do it by building one nation. And that is what a Labour government will do.

So far so good, I suppose, but unfortunately this was just a sweetener, his clever way to rally the traditional Labour ranks against the common Tory enemy. So here’s what Ed Miliband said next:

Now, of course, there will still be hard choices. And with borrowing rising not falling, I do not promise easy times.

You know, it’s right that we level with people, that there will still be hard choices. I’ve said that whoever was in government right now, there will be cuts, but this government are cutting too far and too fast.

Many in the park applauded, buoyed on by his words of condemnation for the incompetent incumbents in Whitehall, whilst wanting to show solidarity with the old party. Alongside the faithful, however, many hundreds of others booed and heckled.

I was one of those who booed Ed Miliband, and I am very proud to have done so. For these are nothing but weasel words. Polite but utterly insincere justification for further ‘austerity’ and all dressed up within that old Thatcherite garb of ‘there is no alternative’. Such words prove only how sold-out Ed Miliband and the Labour Party still remain, and as such deserve nothing but our outright contempt.

My friends and I had already left before Miliband went on to explain how his future Labour government would “end the privatisation experiment in the NHS and [we] repeal their NHS bills” and before his entirely hollow “pledge” to small businesses “that instead of a country that serves its banks, we will have once again banks that serve this country”. Even if we’d stayed longer, we would still not have heard him apologise, as he should, for New Labour’s important role in enabling the NHS to fall into private hands, whilst meanwhile permitting the banks to entirely run amok during more than a decade in government.

Our premature departure also meant that we hadn’t, at least, had to suffer his wretched and totally over-worked ‘one nation’ finale – and if you decide to listen to his speech on the embedded video below, then tell me if you don’t, like me, hear his voice audibly distort, almost as if in mimicry, to become indistinguishable from the bleating insincerity of Tony Blair – and I can almost hear the voice of Tony Blair as I read the transcript back again:

One nation is a country in which those with the greatest shoulders bear the broadest burden. One nation is a country where we give hope to our young people again. One nation is a country where we defend and improve institutions like our National Health Service. One nation is a country united not divided. A future that works. A future that Britain builds together.

He might just as well have included mention of the need to go “Back to Basics” and calls for “the Big Society”, before closing with “because you’re worth it”, or something else equally as vacuous. But the final straw for our own little party was when he told us all how he was so tremendously committed to “tax[ing] the bankers’ bonuses”. And not, as he should have proposed, to putting a significant but fair sales tax on the enormous volume of their market manipulating high frequency transactions. Nor to securing any of the unpaid taxes protected by the multitude of convenient offshore havens, the majority of which are, of course, British dependencies. Nor even to prosecuting any of those involved in what we now know – and with the revelations surrounding the fixing of Libor, know beyond all doubt – to be nothing less than a vast criminal racket. And finally, no mention whatsoever of any need for a cancellation of debts, something which must happen if only because the debts are simply unpaidable, as they always have been. In short, Miliband proffered no hope and made plain simply by omission that he has no real interest in bringing any kind of justice at all, social or otherwise.

Yet I remain glad that I made the effort to join in the demonstration, and if only because, as this entirely avoidable and still potentially reversible crisis deepens into greater chaos, and as the British people are slowly gripped by the same despair that those in Greece, Spain and Portugal are already feeling, it will help me again to salve my own conscience. For when all are wondering why we couldn’t have prevented our lemming-like march over the precipice, many will also turn to wonder why they themselves had not done more, or acted sooner, and if only by learning what’s actually going on, or by spreading the message, or more simply by standing firm and saying no. If only more had tried, they will realise too late, we might actually have saved ourselves…

And if you are wondering what kinds of remedies might truly be effective if we are to save ourselves from a fate worse than Greeks, Spanish, Portuguese and others are already suffering, then I refer you to my many earlier posts, and especially to those categorised under neoliberalism, debt cancellation and “austerity measures”. Perhaps the most succinct combination of analysis and suggested alternatives having been put together in this one.

Oh, and here is Ed Miliband selling himself as the new Benjamin Disraeli:

Click here to link to the official October 20th protest website.

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Additional:

The anti-cuts campaign continues on November 17th with a Unite the Resistance national conference in London. The list of speakers are as follows:

Mark Serwotka – PCS general secretary

Hind Adb-al-Gawad Ibrahim – Independent Union of Local Development Information Centre Workers Egypt

Karen Reissmann – Unison NEC

Mike Mansfield QC – campaigning barrister

John McDonnell – Labour MP

Matt Wrack – FBU general secretary

Ian Hodson – BFAWU president

Kevin Courtney – NUT deputy general secretary

Zita Holbourne – a PCS executive member and joint chair of BARAC (Black Activists Rising Against Cuts)

Owen Jones – author of “Chavs – the Demonisation of the Working Class

Karen Reissmann – Unison NEC member

They will also be joined by an unnamed South African miner who has been involved in the bitter struggle against British-owned mining firm Lonmin.

Click here for further details.

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Although I do not ordinarily publicise events taking place in other countries, I feel that it is worth making an exception in the case of the UFAA – United Front Against Austerity campaign which begins with its inaugural conference next weekend in New York. Here are more details:

When:

Saturday, October 27, 2012
12:00 pm — 6:00 pm

Where:

Walker Auditorium / INN World Report
56 Walker Street
New York, NY 10013
One and one half blocks south of Canal Street, between Church & Broadway

Purpose:

To organize an effective opposition to the impending austerity offensive; agitate to shift the burden of the economic depression onto Wall Street oligarchs; and to build momentum toward a genuine political revolution of, by and for the people.
Participants will hear proposals from distinguished speakers, engage in floor debate, and vote on vital strategic matters. The UFAA intends to build on Wisconsin and Occupy — with decisions, demands and action.

Speakers:

Cindy Sheehan — Antiwar Activist
Webster G. Tarpley — Author, historian and economist
Dr. W. Randy Short — SCLC, University of Virginia
Don DeBar — Founder, Community Progressive Radio
Anthony Monteiro — African-American Studies, Temple University
Dr. Jay Arena — Professor of Sociology, College of Staten Island, CUNY
Eric Lerner — Popular science writer and Occupy Wall Street activist
Rev. Edward Pinkney — Benton Harbor, Michigan activist (via Skype)
Murrell Brooks — Political Science, Virginia Wesleyan College
Eric Draitser — Independent journalist, StopImperialism.com
Bruce Marshall, moderator — former Congressional candidate, Green Party of Vermont

We will also play pre-recorded messages from:

Amelia Boynton Robinson — Civil rights leader
Yanis Varoufakis — Political economist, Greek SYRIZA coalition
Glen Ford — Radio host, Black Agenda Report
Stephen Lendman — Research Associate, Center for Research on Globalization
David Swanson — Activist, blogger and author

You can also find out more by visiting the official website at http://againstausterity.org/

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Update:

Click here to watch a recording of that small but very lively inaugural United Front Against Austerity meeting.

The proposed anti-cuts programme agreed upon was stated as follows [2:53 hours in]:

The United Front Against Austerity adopts a jobs for all resolution that specifies that we demand:

  • 30 million jobs at good union wages
  • the nationalisation of the Federal Reserve
  • a Wall Street sales tax
  • that the jobs programme be open to all including immigrants and persons formerly incarcerated.

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1 From an article entitled “Greece, Spain ‘in depression’: Nobel winner Stiglitz” published by France 24 on October 17, 2012. http://www.france24.com/en/20121017-greece-spain-depression-nobel-winner-stiglitz

2 From an article entitled “Rothschild bullish on gold as central bankers get out of their depth” written by David Walker, published by Investment Europe on July 31, 2012. http://www.investmenteurope.net/investment-europe/news/2195534/rothschild-bullish-on-gold-as-central-bankers-get-out-of-their-depth

3 From an article entitled “Billionaires Soros, Paulson Bet Big on Gold”, written by Lyneka Little, published by ABC news on August 16, 2012. http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/business/2012/08/billionaires-soros-paulson-bet-big-on-gold/

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Filed under analysis & opinion, austerity measures, Britain, campaigns & events