Tag Archives: Austerity Measures

Ukrainians Dispossessed. Western Financial Elites Impose “Free Markets” and Mass Poverty

Americans are next

By Dr. Paul Craig Roberts
June 6, 2015
PaulCraigRoberts.org

 

drapeau-de-lukraineOver the last 15 months Ukrainians have paid for Washington’s overthrow of their elected government in deaths, dismemberment of their country, and broken economic and political relationships with Russia that cost Ukraine its subsidized energy. Now Ukrainians are losing their pensions and traditional support payments. The Ukrainian population is headed for the graveyard.

On June 1 the TASS news agency reported that Ukraine has stopped payments to pensioners, World War II veterans, people with disabilities, and victims of Chernobyl. According to the report, Kiev has also “eliminated transport, healthcare, utilities and financial benefits for former prisoners of Nazi concentration camps and recipients of some Soviet-era orders and titles. Compensations to families with children living in the areas contaminated by radiation from the Chernobyl accident will be no longer paid either. Ukraine’s parliamentary opposition believes that the Prosecutor General’s Office should launch an investigation against Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk who actively promoted the law on the abolition of privileges.”

Notice that this is a yank of the blanket from under the elderly in Ukraine. “Useless eaters,” they are assigned to the trash can. How do the deceived Maiden student protesters feel now that they are culpable in the destruction of their grandparents’ support systems? Do these gullible fools still believe in the Washington-orchestrated Maiden Revolution? The crimes in which these stupid students are complicit are horrific.

Yatsenyuk, or Yats as Victoria Nuland calls him, is the Washington stooge that the US State Department selected to run the puppet government established by Washington. Yats sounds like a right-wing Republican when he refers to pensions, compensations, and social services as “privileges.” This is the Republican view of Social Security and Medicare, programs paid for by the payroll tax over the working lives of Americans. The Republicans stole the payroll revenues and spent them on their wars that enrich Wall Street and the military/security complex, and now blame “welfare handouts” for America’s fiscal plight.

Is Monsanto’s right to turn Ukraine into GMO food production a privilege?

ls VP Biden’s son’s right to destroy Ukraine’s surface and underground water in fracking operations a privilege?

Are the external costs imposed on Ukrainians by these looting activities a privilege?

Of course not! These are not privileges.

This is the operation of free market economics creating the greatest good for the greatest number. (As many Americans will not realize that I am engaging in satire, I would like to affirm that I am.)

The news report does not say whether the abolished “privileges” are one part of a reform that will replace the terminated “privileges” with a new social support system. Possibly this is the case, but as the termination of pensions and payments was triggered by the coming into effect of Yat’s law to “stabilize the financial condition of Ukraine,” the purpose of the termination of Ukraine’s social welfare system might be to free up money to hand over to the IMF and Western banks. In Ukraine, as in Greece, the gullible and naive population that saw salvation in unity with the West will be driven into the ground.

Russia, of course, will be blamed. I can already write the New York Times and Washington Post editorials and the words that will come from Obama, CNN, and Fox “News.” In fact, so can my intelligent readers.

The same looting is underway in Great Britain, Italy, Spain, Portugal, and the United States. In Great Britain everything achieved by the Labour Party over many decades has been taken away, and not only by the Conservatives but by Labour leader Tony Blair himself.

Tony Blair sold out his constituents for money and is now among the One Percent. Bill Clinton did the same thing. Bill and Hillary were able to spend $3 million on their daughter’s wedding, almost a world record, dwarfing many Hollywood weddings. Obama is not even out of office and is already rich. America’s faithful vassals–Merkel, Hollande, and Cameron–can look forward to equal riches.

Karl Marx was correct when he said that money corrupts all. Everything becomes a commodity that is bought and sold for money.

When money becomes the measure of a person, people have become corrupted. And that is the plight of the Western world.

Where in the West is your wealth, small or large, safe? Nowhere. Washington has destroyed financial privacy everywhere in the West. Washington even forced Switzerland to violate its own laws in order to comply with Washington’s insistence on the absence of any financial privacy.

For decades Americans with foreign bank accounts have been required to report them on their income tax returns. Now if an American owns a gold coin in a vault overseas, this must be reported to Washington.

Once Washington knows the location of your assets, the assets can be confiscated at will. Washington only has to make some declaration or accusation or the other, and your wealth is gone.

As Washington has run the printing presses hard in order to serve a handful of banks that control the US Treasury and the Federal Reserve, unless China and Russia acquiesce to becoming Washington’s vassals, at some point the dollar’s value is going to slide downward. When that happens, the Federal Reserve cannot continue to create new money to meet Washington’s needs.

Where will the money come from? It will come from Americans’ pensions.

Pensions accumulate tax free, and this accumulation will be confiscated in whole or part to make up for the failure to tax, another “privilege.”

That confiscation works that year. But what happens the next year when the dollar is reeling on foreign exchange markets from over-supply?

The answer is that another chunk of American pensions, and I am speaking of private pensions, will be confiscated “in order to stabilize the financial system.” Social Security will be long gone by this time.

Alicia Munnel, who was my replacement as Assistant Secretary of the Treasury for Economic Policy in the Clinton regime, advocated many years ago a confiscation of private pensions, including your IRAs and 401Ks, in order to compensate the US government for their non-taxed status.

Alicia has a sinecure at an Eastern university where she continues to advocate against your pension. The joint attack by Clinton Democrats on private pensions and by Conservative Republicans on public pensions means that no American can look forward to having a pension. Americans are only one presidential election away from the loss of their pensions, and it doesn’t matter who they vote for.

Economic security is a thing of the past. Security was a product of the US being the only extant economy following World War II. In those days corporations believed, as did Washington, that companies had obligations not only to shareholders but to employees, customers, and the communities in which they were located.

This meant prosperity for all, not merely, as is the case today, for corporate management and shareholders.

Apologists for exploitation claim that the rich are richer because they are smarter. But the stupidity of the rich is everywhere visible. The greedy fools have destroyed their domestic US market. Really, how stupid can you be? How do Americans buy when they are forced by offshoring out of well paid manufacturing and software engineering jobs into being waitresses, bartenders, retail clerks and part-time Walmart workers in order that corporate bottom lines improve? Who buys the stuff that sustains the profits? Not Americans who no longer have the incomes to do so.

The belief spread by Wall Street and “shareholder advocates” that corporations only have responsibility to their owners and managers has destroyed the American economy.

By locating production offshore, corporations have destroyed the incomes that supported the American consumer market. For example, the incomes associated with the production of Apple computers, I-Pads, and I-Phones are in China. Apple’s American customers do not have the incomes associated with the production of the products that Apple markets to them.

Americans are already dispossessed of their livelihoods and careers and their pensions are next. Wherever we look, the fate of populations under Western influence are the same. The Ukrainians are exploited, the Greeks, the British, the Americans.

Wherever the West has an imprint, the populations are exploited. Exploitation of the many for the few is the Hallmark of the West, a decrepit, corrupt, and collapsing entity.

Canada hikes military spending

By Keith Jones
May 2, 2015
World Socialist Web Site

 

Canada’s Conservative government announced a major increase in military spending in last week’s federal budget.

Starting in 2017, base military spending will be increased by three percent, rather than the current two percent. This will result in an additional $11.8 billion in Canadian Armed Forces’ expenditures over a decade. As the increases are compounded, the military budget in 2026 will be a whopping $2.3 billion higher than hitherto budgeted.

Last week’s budget also announced $390 million in additional military spending in the current fiscal year, which began April 1. This is above and beyond the $18.941 billion in expenditures outlined in the spending estimates the Conservative government presented to parliament in early March.

Of this $390 million, fully $360 million is to fund the extension and expansion of Canada’s role in the new US-led war in the Middle East. At the end of March, Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced the Canadian Armed Forces’ intervention in Iraq is being extended for a further 12 months, till April 2016, and that Canadian war planes will now bomb targets in Syria as well as Iraq.

According to Defence Minister Jason Kenney, by April 2016, Canada will have spent $520 million on waging war in Iraq and Syria.

The budget also gave the Canadian Armed Forces $7.1 million in additional money to fund the deployment of 200 military trainers to the Ukraine, where they will train forces loyal to the pro-western government that was installed in Kiev as a result of the US-engineered, fascist-spearheaded February 2014 coup.

The Conservatives’ latest military spending increases have elicited little comment from the corporate media. But significantly, what comment there has been has taken the government to task for doing too little, too late—that is for not dramatically raising spending so as to quickly reach NATO’s target of military expenditure equivalent to at least two percent of GDP.

The Ottawa Citizen, for example, published an article titled “Federal budget: Despite annual funding boost, defence faces uncertain times.” It cited a series of military analysts complaining that the Conservative increases are back-loaded to 2017 and are insufficient to counteract the cuts the government imposed as part of its drive to balance the budget, while continuing to lower taxes on big business and the rich. What the article conveniently omits is that these cuts were only levelled after the Conservatives, continuing on the trajectory of the Martin Liberal government, had hiked Canada’s military spending to the point that, in 2011, it was in real—i.e. inflation adjusted terms—the highest it had been since the end of the Second World War.

There is little doubt the Harper government views the military spending increases announced in its recent budget as a mere down-payment. On its drawing boards are massive plans for rearmament, including the purchase of a new generation of jet-fighters, most likely the US F-35, and a whole fleet of war ships. But, with an election slated for this October, the government found itself boxed in by the combination of a rapidly deteriorating economic situation—which compelled it to resort to all sorts of accounting tricks and improvised one-time measures to fulfill its long-touted deficit elimination pledge—and popular opposition to the Canadian elite’s aggressive militarist agenda.

Last September, when Harper was questioned by reporters about the discrepancy between his push for NATO to ratchet up pressure on Russia and his soft-peddling of its call for member states to pledge two percent of GDP on military expenditures, the prime minister frankly admitted that the Canadian people would not “understand” such a dramatic hike in military spending.

The opposition parties have said even less than the media about the government’s plans to divert still more resources to the military, even as it ravages public and social services. This silence bespeaks their consent and support.

The entire political elite—from the Conservatives to the trade union-based NDP and the pro-Quebec independence Parti Quebecois and Bloc Quebecois—has supported the reorientation of Canada’s foreign policy since the turn of the century. This reorientation has seen Canada play a leading role in a series of US-led wars and military interventions, including the 1999 NATO war on Yugoslavia, the invasion and occupation of Afghanistan, the 2004 ouster of Haiti’s elected president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, and the 2011 NATO war “for regime” change in Libya.

The role of the NDP, which as late as 2003 still claimed to oppose Canada’s participation in NATO, has been especially significant. Time and again it has given its imprimatur to the attempts of the Canadian elite and its US partners to cloak their predatory actions in claims of humanitarian intervention and the “responsibility to protect.”

The claim that Canada, a major belligerent in both world wars of the last century, was a “peacekeeper” nation was always a fraud. It was part of an effort to promote a “left” Canadian nationalism during the 1950s and 1970s, the better to politically tame the working class. Throughout the Cold War, Canada was a staunch US military ally, a founder-member of NATO and its partner in NORAD. For close to half-a-century, Canada’s military resources were overwhelmingly devoted to planning for World War III with the Soviet Union. Such UN peace-keeping operations Canada led or joined were, it should be added, always mounted with Washington’s approval and support.

That said, Canada’s ruling class is eagerly participating in a resurgence of imperialism. Led by the US, the major capitalist powers have revived war as an instrument of policy, are rearming, and routinely trammel on international law and state sovereignty.

In keeping with Canada’s new aggressive foreign policy, the ruling elite has put paid to the notion of Canada as a “peacekeeper.” The media celebrates Canada’s military prowess in past and current combat, while Harper routinely proclaims Canada a “warrior nation.”

Whilst the Canadian Armed Forces did not wage war for four decades, stretching from the end of the Korean War till its participation in the 1991 Gulf War, it has been almost perpetually at war in this century, in Afghanistan (2001-2011), Libya (2011), and since last fall in Iraq and now Syria.

Furthermore, Canada is deeply involved in all three of the major military-strategic offensives the US is mounting on the world stage.

#It has joined the war against the Islamic State—a war that arises out of the series of wars the US has waged in the Middle East and has the same objective as they did, to secure US hegemony in the world’s most important oil-exporting region.

#Canada has long assisted the US in its effort to transform Ukraine into a western satellite and its drive to expand NATO to Russia’s borders. With the full support of the opposition parties, the Harper government has deployed Canadian warplanes to Eastern Europe and battleships to the Black Sea so as to bolster NATO’s threats against Russia.

#In 2013, Canada signed a secret military agreement with the US integrating Canada into the “Pivot to Asia,” Washington’s drive to strategically encircle and isolate China. It is also participating in the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), through which Washington aims to establish a vast US-led economic bloc at China’s expense.

Canada’s Communication Security Establishment (CSE), it should be added, is one of the key partners of the US National Security Agency. The CSE is an integral part of both components of the NSA’s global operations: spying on the world’s governments and citizens, and assisting the Pentagon and CIA in waging war and eliminating “security threats.”

Like the US ruling class, Canada’s is rattled by the decline in the relative economic power of the US, its long-time strategic and economic partner, and the rise of new powers. It calculates it can best defend and assert its own predatory and increasingly significant economic and strategic global interests by supporting US imperialism in its drive to shore up its world position through the deployment of its military might, the one area where the US continues to enjoy massive superiority over all its rivals.

Imperialist aggression abroad goes hand in hand with the Canadian bourgeoisie’s ever-widening assault on the democratic and social rights of the working class at home—the criminalization of strikes, the expansion of the national-security apparatus and the systematic dismantling of public and social services.

Only through the systematic mobilization of the international working class on a socialist program against war, social inequality and in defence of worker and democratic rights can this imperialist resurgence and social counter-revolution be countered, and crisis-ridden capitalism prevented from sucking humanity down the vortex of escalating military conflict leading ultimately to global conflagration.

This author also recommends:

Canada sending troops to Ukraine on two-year training mission
[18 April 2015]

NDP opposes Canada’s role in Mideast war on tactical grounds
[10 April 2015]

Canada deeply implicated in US anti-China “pivot”
[14 April 2015]

 

Greece’s Syriza government signals pension cuts

By Christoph Dreier
April 25, 2015
World Socialist Web Site

 

https://anticap.files.wordpress.com/2012/06/greece-austerity.jpg

image from: anticap.wordpress.com

At Friday’s meeting of European finance ministers in the Latvian capital of Riga, no agreement was reached with the Greek government on the repayment of loans. Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis made clear, however, that his government was ready to impose extensive pension cuts and labour market “reforms” in order to reach an agreement with the troika (European Union, International Monetary Fund, European Central Bank).

Even before the finance ministers’ meeting, Varoufakis published a comment on his blog in which he made far-reaching concessions to the troika. He assured it that negotiations since Syriza’s election victory in January had already brought “much convergence” between Greece and its “European partners.” The remaining differences, he said, were “not unbridgeable.”

He went on to assert that the Syriza-led government would promote entrepreneurialism, create an independent tax commission, continue the privatization of state property and “rationalize the pension system (for example, by limiting early retirement).”

The elimination of early retirement benefits is one of the central demands of the troika. The retirement age was already raised to 67 in 2012. Numerous exemptions, however, have allowed most workers to retire earlier. The “limiting” of exemptions means nothing less than the blanket enforcement of the higher retirement age.

Such a lengthening of the work life of Greek citizens amounts to a massive pension cut. And with the official jobless rate at 25 percent, few workers are able remain employed until they reach 67. Entire families already depend on a single pension to survive.

Syriza (Coalition of the Radical Left) previously declared pension cuts a “red line” that it would not cross. The fact that Varoufakis threw this line overboard in the run-up to the finance ministers’ meeting made clear that there were no limits to the attacks on the working class the supposedly “left” government was prepared to carry out in order to reach a deal with the troika.

Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, the leader of Syriza, added his own assurances that his government would adhere to the reactionary policies of the EU. At an EU summit on Thursday, he signed onto the so-called “ten-point plan” for immigration policy. The plan provides for the ramping up of police and military operations to block migrants from reaching European shores and lays the foundations for a large-scale military intervention in Africa.

At the meeting, Tsipras met with German Chancellor Angela Merkel for over an hour. The German newspaper Die Zeit reported that Merkel insisted Greece quickly implement the demanded reforms, while Tsipras protested that his country had already made “enough sacrifices.”

Tsipras expressed the hope that Greece and the EU could still come to an agreement by the end of April. Greece urgently needs an outstanding tranche of loans amounting to over 7.2 billion euros. In order to pay back wages and meet loan commitments, the Syriza-led government has already plundered the public treasury.

After the meeting in Riga, Varoufakis said it was necessary for a deal to be reached quickly. “We agreed that an agreement will be difficult,” he said, “but it will happen and it will happen quickly because that is the only option we have.”

Despite the groveling of Syriza, EU representatives showed little willingness to compromise. Eurogroup president Jeroen Dijsselbloem said after the meeting that there could be no paying out of loans if the Greek government did not submit a detailed “reform” program. Everyone was certain, he said, that the time for an agreement was running out. The responsibility for that lay with Greece.

Dijsselbloem added that “significant differences remain” between the EU ministers and Greece. Austrian Finance Minister Jörg Schelling reproached the Greek government for presenting no concrete proposals. He said, “I strongly urge that we now get something on the table that can be decided upon.”

Reuters reported that the Slovenian finance minister, Dusan Mramor, met with Varoufakis behind closed doors and suggested a “Plan B.” The Greek finance minister later called him “anti-European.”

According to those present, the finance ministers’ meeting became hostile. As Varoufakis, in a conference call, clarified the details of loan payments in the coming week, one of his interlocutors denounced him as a “time-waster, gambler and amateur.”

Tsipras was also rebuffed. French President François Hollande warned him to speed up the imposition of social cuts. After a short meeting with Tsipras, he said, “Greece must continue to provide the necessary information and show that it can make decisions about reforms.”

EU officials have made it more than clear that they are not prepared to make any concessions and intend to make an example of Greece. The social assault is to be carried out whatever the cost and serve as a model for the entire continent.

IMF head Christine Lagarde praises UK for austerity measures

By Richard Tyler
April 20, 2015
World Socialist Web Site

 

https://i0.wp.com/barnsleycsc.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/Austerity.jpg

photo credit: Barnsleycsc.com

International Monetary Fund (IMF) managing director Christine Lagarde has endorsed the outgoing Conservative-Liberal Democrat government for its handling of the British economy.

Speaking alongside Conservative chancellor George Osborne at the IMF and World Bank spring meetings, she said growth in the UK was “holding strongly”.

“It’s obvious that what happened in the UK has actually worked”, she said. The right balance of spending cuts and revenue raising was “clearly delivering results”.

Her praise was echoed by German finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble. “The UK has done a very good job in the last few years and Osborne has a very good plan for the future,” he said.

Such a political endorsement in the run-up to a General election on May 7 begs the question: What has “worked”? What “results” have been delivered?

The move was in part a response to the political embarrassment caused by an IMF survey issued last week that refuted election claims that a Tory government would produce a budget surplus of £7 billion over the course of the next parliament. According to the IMF’s twice-yearly World Economic Outlook, instead of eliminating a £90 billion deficit and moving into surplus by 2020, a shortfall of £7 billion would remain, a position £14 billion worse than being predicted by Tory Chancellor George Osborne.

The Tories stated that they based their figures on estimates made by the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) for growth of up to 2.5 percent in the UK economy over the next five years. However, the IMF saw this as too optimistic: “Given uncertainties pertaining to the May elections, a slower pace of consolidation than that in the Budget is assumed for 2016-17 and beyond.”

The IMF document points out that lower oil prices will have a more significant economic impact on countries like the UK with deep-water production. Britain’s North Sea oil costs $40 a barrel to produce, compared with under $5 in the Gulf state of Kuwait, or about $12 in the US where widespread extraction of shale oil and gas have depressed prices.

The fall in world oil prices has already lead to major UK layoffs, with some experts saying that the North Sea industry is “close to collapse”. The negative impact on the UK exchequer is enormous; tax revenues from North Sea oil for 2016-17 are now estimated at £1.25 billion instead of £6.9 billion when prices were higher.

The IMF warnings also undermine the claims of the Labour Party that it would achieve a balanced budget by 2020 should it win power on May 7.

It demonstrates that even meagre election promises of additional spending on the National Health Service of £6-8 billion, supposedly funded by the growth in the economy, are lies. The reality, whoever is elected, will be increased austerity measures on top of the cuts in the tens of billions both parties admit to.

The remarks of Lagarde and Schäuble are an endorsement of an endless austerity agenda.

On entering office in 2010, the Conservative/Liberal Democrat government set out to eliminate a budget deficit of about £135 billion by the end of its term. However, in 2015, a deficit of £90 billion still remains.

This has been carried out at the expense of working people including the destruction of hundreds of thousands of public sector jobs, and cuts in benefits and welfare provisions.

As the Socialist Equality Party election manifesto points out, “More than 13 million people live in poverty, including almost one-third of all children. The working poor make up the largest number of those in poverty, with millions eking out an existence on low-pay and often zero-hour contracts.”

A recent report by the British Medical Journal (BMJ) highlighted the correlation between the depth of the austerity measures, the rise in benefit sanctions and the growth of food banks in the UK. The Trussel Trust, a charity providing emergency food and support to those in crisis, reported that it was operating in 29 local authorities in 2009. By 2014, this had increased to 251, covering almost the entire country.

Whereas it had provided a three-day emergency food package to 25,899 people in 2009, in 2014 over 900,000 individuals sought its help.

At the other end of the social spectrum, Britain’s wealthy have not only recovered everything they may have lost in the immediate aftermath of the 2008 banking crisis, but gone on to see their fortunes soar to greater heights.

According to the Sunday Times “Rich List”, there are now some 104 billionaires based in the UK, three times the figure from a decade ago. These super-rich individuals collectively own more than £301 billion, a 50 percent increase on the £201 billion possessed by the 75 billionaires in 2008.

In other words, some 100 people in the UK could put an end to the entire UK budget deficit by sacrificing just a third of their wealth.

Following the May election, whichever party, or combination of parties, enters office will make no difference. As the SEP election manifesto notes, “All are bought-and-paid-for tools of the super-rich, whose primary purpose is to ensure that the voice of working people is silenced. Every major decision will continue to be made on behalf of the only constituency that really counts—the corporate and financial elite.”

Their various pledges to “balance the books”, whatever time frame they speak of, means that austerity measures will be stepped up again and again. Indeed, the brutal measures imposed so far have only met a third of the target set by the Tories—indicating the scale of the social misery that is still to come.

For further details visit: http://socialequality.org.uk/

EU, Syriza prepare to suppress popular opposition to austerity in Greece

By Kumaran Ira
April 20, 2015
World Socialist Web Site

 

https://ianweir20.files.wordpress.com/2013/09/color-greece-austerity-web.jpg

Photo credit: anticap.wordpress.com

This weekend’s meeting of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank in Washington focused on the Greek debt crisis, amid fears in financial circles of a Greek default or exit from the euro, and of rising working class opposition in Greece. The “Troika” of the European Commission (EC), European Central Bank (ECB), and IMF are seeking to create the political conditions for Syriza to continue imposing austerity.

After the meeting, ECB president Mario Draghi called for resuming talks with Syriza to avoid a Greek default. He said, “The short-term danger of contagion is difficult to assess, but we have enough buffers in place. And even though they were designed for different circumstances, they are sufficient. But we are entering uncharted waters.”

His uncertain and pessimistic appraisal of the situation notwithstanding, Draghi praised Syriza and his informal talks with Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis in Washington. He said there had been progress in “formulating a well-functioning policy dialogue” in talks with Syriza.

Draghi was praising Syriza’s capitulation to the EU’s austerity agenda and its coordination with the EU to impose new attacks on the working class. As Syriza negotiates the next tranche of €7.2bn in loans from Greece’s Eurozone partners, the Troika is pressing Syriza to present detailed plans for labor market reforms and cuts to pensions.

Behind the scenes, collaboration is developing between Syriza and the EU, designed to massively escalate attacks on the working class.

Dutch Finance Minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem, the president of the euro group who has distinguished himself by his aggressive threats against Greece, said: “Let’s not go into a game of chicken to see who can stick it out longer. We have a joint interest to reach an agreement quickly,” he said.

“We have been worried about previous payments they were to make and yet they managed it, so I don’t know when it becomes really dangerous. But I think it is in our joint interest to stay away from that point,” he added.

As Greece teeters on the edge of bankruptcy, Syriza and ruling circles internationally are preparing for a brutal confrontation with the working class.

Already on Thursday, around 4,000 mine workers employed by Canadian-owned Eldorado Gold mine in northern Greece staged a demonstration in Athens, protesting Syriza’s decision to revoke the company’s licence. Workers fear a shutdown of the mine and the loss of all their jobs. The march was the first major labor protest since Syriza came to power. The miners waved banners reading “Yes to mines, yes to growth,” and chanted slogans, forcing police to shut down major roads.

“The honeymoon is over. We’re done with the period when Greek public opinion would agree with everything that the government does,” said Nikos Marantzidis, a professor at the University of Macedonia.

Syriza is now preparing to take the explosive step of cutting off pensions as well as wages for Greek public-sector workers. After repaying almost €2 billion in loans to the IMF in March and April, it needs to pay IMF €950 million euros by May 12, and plans to tap the Greek public sector’s remaining cash reserves, for a total of €2 billion.

This is reportedly not enough for Athens to meet both its debts to the IMF and its wage and pension bill. According to Reuters, “Without a political agreement with the euro zone next week, Athens is likely to have to choose between making wages and pension payments to its people or reimbursing the IMF.”

Whatever the short-term outcome of the financial crisis—whether it be a Greek default or exit from the euro (“Grexit”)—Syriza and its EU partners are preparing for savage repression against the workers. They are discussing the imposition of de facto military dictatorship in Greece.

Syriza has made clear that it wants to strengthen the police and that the false, pseudo-left rhetoric on which it was elected will not prevent it from mounting police crackdowns. Last week, after Public Order Minister Yiannis Panousis issued a call for law and order, Syriza ordered police to smash an occupation of university buildings in Athens by a handful of anarchist protesters.

Yesterday, Financial Times columnist Wolfgang Münchau wrote a comment titled, “Greek default necessary but Grexit is not,” warning that he had “never seen European financial officials so much at a loss.” While advocating deeper social cuts, Münchau was deeply concerned about the implications of a Greek default or exit from the euro zone: “Grexit would bring incalculable economic risk to the country itself, and would harm the EU’s geopolitical ambitions and its global reputation.”

He continued, “My understanding is that some eurozone officials are at least contemplating the possibility of a Greek default but without Grexit [Greek exit from the euro]. The complexity is severe, and they may not have had the time to work it out. But it may be the only way to avert utter disaster.” He warned that a decision not to pay pensions and public sector wages will be “politically suicidal for the Syriza-led government.”

Whatever happened, Munchau wrote, Athens needs time to prepare military-style measures: “Both Grexit and the option of a default inside the euro zone would stretch the resources of even the most organised government. It would require military-style preparation: exchange controls, temporary closure of land borders and airports, overnight bank recapitalisation, and logistical planning to convey money from A to B on D-Day. Is the Greek government really so smart it can just wait until the fateful moment arrives, and then manage this whole process in real time with no script?”

In fact, Syriza has been preparing for scenarios of Greek default or Grexit since Tsipras began touring international capitals and financial centres, two years ago, as he was groomed to be an acceptable Greek prime minister to Washington and the EU. Discussions of such a scenario appeared in the right-wing Greek daily Kathemerini, which said that if Athens decided to default or exit the euro, it would seek to do so over a weekend, when global stock markets are closed. It wrote that Greece would “deploy its military as soon as early morning Saturday and close its borders, preparing to stamp euros as drachma as an interim solution once a public announcement has been made.”

Outgoing Greek Finance Minister Filippos Sachinidis said he doubted whether, under these conditions, “we will be able to continue functioning as a modern democracy.”

Asked about such events by Time magazine, Tsipras replied: “We have a plan. There is a team of economists who lay out the plans, update and communicate them … I would not like to talk about them.” He added, “We are fully aware of the consequences. We are fully aware of the consequences that it will have on the country and Europe in general.” That is, while the bourgeois media and political circles were aware of the plans, Syriza’s voters and workers in Greece and internationally were to be kept in the dark.

The comments now circulating in the financial press are a warning to the working class. Those who doubt that a pseudo-left party such as Syriza is capable of brutal repression against the working class are deluding themselves.

A historic attack on Medicare

By Kate Randall
April 17, 2015
World Socialist Web Site

 

Barack-Obama-US President Barack Obama signed into law on Thursday the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2015, marking a new stage in the bipartisan assault on the government health insurance program for 53 million American seniors and the disabled.

The bill, HR 2, was passed this week by the Senate, following approval by the House last month—in both cases by overwhelming bipartisan majorities.

Obama praised the bill as a “milestone,” after the Senate vote Tuesday. On Thursday, he praised the “bipartisan achievement,” saying that it would “be good for people who use Medicare, it’s going to be good for our seniors.”

In fact, the bill expands means testing for Medicare and establishes a new payment system in which doctors will be rewarded for cutting costs while being punished for the volume and frequency of the health care services they provide.

The press has depicted the bill as a miracle of bipartisanship, demonstrating that Democrats and Republicans can work together to end Washington “gridlock” in the interest of the public good. The reality is that the bill is ultimately aimed at gutting health care services for the millions of seniors who rely upon it.

News reports have focused on the “doc fix” contained in the legislation, which establishes a new payment schedule for doctors in place of a formula that since 1997 has tied doctor payments to economic growth, the sustainable growth rate, or SGR. The bill’s passage averts a 21 percent payment cut that would have gone into effect April 1, and provides modest increases in doctor payments through 2019.

Beginning in 2019, however, doctors will qualify for bigger reimbursements if they participate in one of two programs in which they will be paid, according to Obama, based on a “payment model that rewards quality of care instead of quantity of care.” Reference to “quality of care” is a political fraud. Doctors will have a financial incentive to withhold more expensive tests and services, and will be rewarded for rationing care and cutting costs.

The bipartisan backing for the Medicare bill is based on common agreement on one basic issue: Medicare spending must be slashed and a radical shift needs to be instituted in the program—away from the “lavish” fee-for-service system, while transforming Medicare into a poverty program in which the vast majority of beneficiaries receive barebones coverage.

An examination of the bill’s backers provides insight into its reactionary nature. Its chief House sponsor was Representative Michael Burgess, a right-wing Tea Party politician from Texas. Republican House speaker John Boehner, who crafted the bill alongside Democratic House leader Nancy Pelosi, described HR 2 as “The first real entitlement reform we’ve seen in nearly two decades”—a reference to Welfare “reform” passed in 1996 under the Clinton administration.

Representative Paul Ryan (Republican of Wisconsin), a presidential hopeful who has called for privatizing Medicare by replacing it with a voucher system, wrote in an op-ed piece calling for passage of the bill, “Medicare is going broke… that’s why we need these structural reforms.”

And in an article in the right-wing National Review headlined “A Medicare Bill Conservatives Need to Embrace,” Ryan Ellis wrote, “We can very reasonably anticipate a future where my daughter—who will turn 65 in November of 2078—will be a then-typical senior who pays for most of her own Medicare benefit. That will be largely thanks to HR 2…”

The current Medicare “reform” is in line with Obama’s signature domestic initiative, the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Under the ACA’s “individual mandate,” individuals and families without health coverage from their employer or a government program such as Medicare or Medicaid are required to purchase coverage from private insurance companies. There is minimal oversight on what these insurers can charge their captive pool of customers, and many policies carry deductibles and out-of-pocket costs upwards of $5,000 annually.

Obamacare was presented as legislation that would provide near-universal, high-quality health care to millions of Americans. Since its passage into law in 2010, the ACA has been exposed as a boondoggle for the health care industry that has forced millions of people to sign up for overpriced, substandard coverage. Those who remain uninsured have been slapped with tax penalties, while others who did sign up have faced rising premiums and collection calls from the government to pay up.

The New York Times, a fervent supporter of the legislation popularly known as Obamacare, has also campaigned relentlessly for reining in spending on “unnecessary” tests and procedures, particularly for Medicare recipients. Services targeted by the Times include mammograms and breast exams, heart stents, cholesterol drugs and prostate screenings, to name just a few.

Stated simply, the Obama administration and its “liberal” supporters, along with the overwhelming majority of the politicians in the two big-business parties, feel that drastic measures are required to counteract what they perceive as an unpleasant reality: seniors are living too long into retirement and sucking up health care resources.

To reverse this trend, measures being instituted through Obamacare and the new Medicare bill will result in reduced medical care, needless suffering and untimely deaths.

The new Medicare bill has been largely hatched as a conspiracy behind the backs of the American people. There were no Congressional hearings or public debate on the sweeping measures contained in the legislation.

The White House and politicians in Congress are well aware that Medicare and Social Security, the government retirement program, are widely popular and that moves to attack or privatize them will be met with suspicion and opposition. Hence their duplicity in pushing through their “reforms.”

The gutting of Medicare is part of an assault on health care that affects the working class and considerable sections of middle-income families. Obamacare is also having the effect of dismantling employer-provided health care for active workers and retirees, the system that for seven decades has traditionally provided health coverage for most US workers.

The drive to slash Medicare spending and ultimately dismantle it is part of a broader strategy of the ruling elite, which seeks to boost its wealth and profits by clawing back the living standards and gains won by the working class in decades of struggle. These include not only Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, but public education, the right to decent and affordable housing, and the right to culture.

A solution to the health care crisis cannot be left in the hands of the ruling elite and its political representatives. Medical care must be taken out of the hands of the for-profit health care industry and placed on socialist foundations, guaranteeing free, high-quality health care for all through the establishment of a democratically run, publicly owned socialized health care system.

 

 

Quebec government criminalizes student strike

By Laurent Lafrance
April 17, 2015
World Socialist Web Site

 

Capitalism1The Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM) was the target of a massive intervention by riot police April 8 that was aimed at intimidating, beating up, and arresting students who were exercising their democratic right to strike on the university campus. The police repression is well documented in videos posted on YouTube by amateur journalists and strike supporters.

According to press reports, Quebec Liberal Premier Philippe Couillard personally contacted the rector of UQAM to demand the police crackdown.

The police invasion of a public educational institution is virtually without precedent in Quebec. It is part of an escalating campaign of state repression mounted by the Liberal government with the full support of Quebec’s big-business elite. The government is determined to break the student protest movement against its sweeping austerity program and to put an end to Quebec’s longstanding democratic tradition of political protest through student strikes.

This authoritarian drive is above all directed against the working class—at demonstrating that the government will mobilize the apparatus of state repression to criminalize any challenge to its program of brutal social spending cuts, user fee hikes, and wage and pension cuts for public sector workers.

The April 8 confrontation began when security guards, recently hired by UQAM, accosted and jostled a group of thirty students who were enforcing the strike mandate democratically decided by their officially recognized student association by seeking to prevent the holding of classes. With the security guards threatening further repression, the students complied with the guards’ demand that they vacate the premises.

A few hours later, however, police intervened massively and provocatively against a second group of striking students who were demonstrating on the UQAM campus. Fearing the police would seize on this as the occasion to mount a violent crackdown, a group of professors attempted to position themselves between the police and the students. In the end, the police arrested 21 people, aged 18 to 36, who have been charged with misdemeanors and unlawful assembly.

Later that evening, some 200 students decided to occupy the J.-A.-DeSève building to protest the police intervention on the campus and the subsequent arrests. They barricaded the building entrance with tables and chairs in a festive atmosphere. During the ensuing four hours, a handful of students committed acts of petty vandalism, leading to tensions with the vast majority of the students who were occupying the building peacefully.

Shortly after midnight and with the express approval of the UQAM administration, police forcibly ended the occupation. Montreal riot police broke down a glass door with axes and charged into the building. The students escaped out a rear exit, but were then chased for several hours by police who fired tear gas at them. Five people were arrested.

The police interventions at UQAM, including the brutal manner in which they ended the occupation, were emphatically supported by Premier Couillard. The corporate media and the entire political establishment, including the Parti Québécois, were quick to echo Couillard’s remarks, denouncing the students as “violent.” Turning reality on its head, they depicted the state repression as the consequence of the striking students’ “unacceptable behavior.ˮ In the face of this slander campaign, the supposedly left-wing Québec Solidaire simply called for dialogue so as to “prevent an undesirable escalationˮ of the situation.

Nothing was said in all of this about the government’s antidemocratic campaign to criminalize the strike and even more importantly about its brutal austerity measures, which target essential public services on which millions of Quebecers depend and the social rights that workers won through bitter struggles over several generations. If truth be told, the real authors of violence and intimidation are sitting in the Quebec National Assembly and in the editorial offices of the big-business media.

Throughout the strike, which was launched March 23 with the goal of pressuring the Liberals to backtrack on their austerity measures, UQAM Rector Robert Proulx has stoked the flames. At the government’s urging, he obtained a Superior Court injunction that makes it illegal for students to block access to classes. He also announced the unprecedented expulsion of nine students involved in student walkouts and other protest actions over the last two years. On April 7, he sent out an e-mail announcing that the academic calendar would not be changed and ordering all professors and contract teachers to continue teaching their courses even if their classrooms were empty. Despite many requests from the striking students, the rector has consistently refused all dialogue with them.

Whilst the media has made much of the fact that some striking UQAM students have donned masks, this was in response to the administration’s installation of numerous additional CTCT cameras and its hiring, at a cost of $500,000, of a large number of additional security guards from the private firm Gardium so as to surveille and police students.

The few acts of vandalism carried out on April 8 were likely the actions of a handful of anarchists—possibly linked to the Black Bloc—whose sole aim was to bring about a confrontation with the police. There is a long history of police infiltration of these anarchist groups and numerous cases of agent s provocateurs inciting young people to commit illegal acts. On the evening of the occupation, vehicles belonging to the Montreal police (SPVM) were left unsupervised near the entrance to the university, where they could be readily vandalized.

The Parti Québécois, the federation that represents the CEGEPS (pre-university and technical colleges) and several student associations and trade unions have responded to the events at UQAM by calling for a law “framing” students’ right to strike. Such legislation would be utterly reactionary. As its proponents suggest, it would be based on the Quebec labor code, which ties state recognition of the unions to sweeping limitations on workers’ right to strike, in some cases barring it altogether. The purpose of any law “framing” students’ right to strike would be to introduce a whole series of legal obstacles to prevent it from being exercised and to justify the repression of student protests.

The Liberals however want nothing to do with this proposal. Throughout the conflict, they have aggressively asserted that there is no such thing as a student right to strike, underscoring that their objective is to change the rules of the game and repudiate student strikes as an accepted form of political protest. Indeed, Education Minister François Blais has publicly deplored that student strikes have been accepted as a legitimate form of democratic action in Quebec since the 1960s. He has repeatedly avowed that the only “right” the government is constitutionally bound to uphold is students’ “right” to attend classes in defiance of a democratically decided class boycott.

The hard line taken by the government is a serious warning for the working class. The repressive measures directed at the students are only a foretaste of what the government is preparing to suppress worker opposition to its austerity program, including from the half-million public sector workers whose contracts expired March 31 and from whom the government is demanding sweeping concessions.

In the face of this threat, the trade unions are doing nothing to mobilize their members and prepare a counteroffensive. Just as they did during the 2012 student strike, the unions have refused to support the students, facilitating the government repression. At a major conference on March 31, the public sector union leaders insisted that their preoccupation is “good-faith” bargaining with the government and that not before the fall will they even begin to seriously consider resorting to the “ultimate” measure—by which they mean a legal strike.

Despite the fact that the student “anti-austerity” strike has drawn into its ranks tens of thousands of students across Quebec over the course of the past month—and at the beginning of this week as many as 20,000 students remained on strike—it is clearly petering out.

There is still broad opposition to the ruling class’s austerity agenda among the students, and even more so in the working class. However, none of the factions of ASSÉ (Association for Student-Union Solidarity), which as in 2012 is leading the student strike, has presented a viable perspective for social struggle.

The more “conservativeˮ faction, which includes many Quebec Solidaire supporters, continues to subordinate itself completely to the trade unions and after the union officialdom spelled out their forthright opposition to any mobilization of the working class called for a “strategic retreat”—i.e. the strike’s end. The other faction, apparently more “radical,ˮ has pressed for the continuation of the strike, but is making no effort to mobilize workers in the fight against austerity, limiting themselves to futile appeals to the ruling elite.

Like the unions, both wings of the ASSÉ leadership claim the draconian measures of the Couillard government are an “ideological choice,” not the consequence of a systemic crisis of capitalism that the ruling elite in Canada, as around the world, is seeking to resolve at the expense of the working class.

The only viable option to counter austerity is a turn to the international working class, the only social force with the power to break the stranglehold of big business over socioeconomic life, overthrow the profit system, and transform society on the basis of human need. The development of an independent political movement of the working class requires an intransigent struggle against the pro-capitalist union bureaucracy, which subordinates workers to the political representatives of the ruling class and binds them to capitalism.

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European Union, banks ramp up pressure on Greece’s Syriza government

By Stéphane Hugues
April 17, 2015
Worls Socialist Web Site

 

240a4-6a00d8341d417153ef017ee3f50e8c970d-800wiGreece’s Syriza government is responding to increasing pressure from the European Union (EU) and the banks by looting Greece’s financial reserves and preparing further austerity measures against the working class.

On Wednesday, the US credit rating agency Standard and Poor’s again downgraded the Greek government’s credit rating to junk status, from B- to CCC+, citing the government’s “unsustainable commitments.” The only ways Athens could meet its commitments was by “deep economic reform or further relief,” it said.

Greece’s statistical authority said the 2014 deficit was 3.5 percent of Greece’s GDP, considerably higher than the 0.8 percent forecast. This deficit was due to the cost of servicing Greece’s crippling public debt, without which it would have had a budget surplus of 0.4 percent of GDP.

Standard and Poor’s said Greece’s economic outlook depended on it reaching a political settlement with its creditors: “In our view, these conditions have worsened due to the uncertainty stemming from the prolonged negotiations between the almost three-month-old Greek government and its official creditors.”

Syriza’s response is to intensify its attacks on the working class to pay off the EU and the banks. In recent weeks, it has been forcing state organizations and companies to lend it money to pay the debt installments. It has forced state pension funds to lend pension money and taken funds from hospitals earmarked to pay for patients’ medication, effectively turning itself into a collection agency for the EU at the expense of the Greek population.

Now, it has found a new way to open up all of the cash reserves of all state organizations. According to a 1951 law, the government can oblige all state institutions with cash reserves to place them in the Bank of Greece, the country’s central bank—giving the government access to funds of up to €3 billion to pay off its creditors. With Athens facing over €300 billion in debts that it has to repay, however, this is clearly only a stopgap measure.

Greek Minister of State Alekos Flambouraris said Wednesday that Athens can now afford delays of “a week or ten days” in reaching an agreement, so long as an agreement is eventually struck.

Syriza’s reactionary policies are exposing the illusions it promoted in the run-up to the January elections that it would be able to negotiate an end to austerity with the EU. Only a few weeks after taking office, however, Syriza’s leader, Greek Prime Minister Tsipras, totally betrayed its electoral program, accepting EU demands not only to continue to pay back the debt but to deepen attacks on the population.

However, the EU led by Germany were not content with a statement from Syriza indicating its general agreement with EU austerity policy. They are demanding detailed plans for more austerity measures, specifying exactly what Syriza intends to cut and how many hundreds of billions of euros it will extract from the Greek workers. Since then, negotiations have dragged on behind closed doors, as Syriza and the EU attempt to resolve their differences and attack the workers.

EU officials are also pushing for an agreement on deeper austerity, though German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble specified a longer time line for a deal than Flambouraris. He told Bloomberg News, “Greece has until the end of June to come to an agreement.”

He poured cold water on expectations that the EU will reach a settlement with Syriza when all 19 finance ministers of the euro zone countries, including Greece’s Yanis Varoufakis, meet on April 24 in the Latvian capital, Riga.

Schaeuble, who has been leading the EU offensive, is touring the United States amid what are evidently high-level talks in foreign policy circles over Greece, the euro zone, and the NATO military alliance. “No one has a clue how we can reach agreement on an ambitious program,” Schaeuble told the Council on Foreign Relations in New York. He added that the new Greek government had “destroyed” all the economic achievements of the last years.

He said a deal was not only unlikely in Riga but also in the coming weeks and suggested that the euro zone could handle a Greek default, even though it would prefer to avoid it, noting that the markets had “priced in” all possible outcomes to the Greek drama. He blithely asserted that there is no risk of financial panic spreading to other euro zone states from a Greek default.

In a further sign that German authorities are considering the possibility of a Greek default, the German weekly Die Zeit reported that Berlin is working on a plan allowing Greece to receive financing from the European Central Bank even if it missed payments to creditors.

“The plan under discussion is aimed at allowing the ECB to continue financing of Greece in the event of bankruptcy,” the Zeit article said. “In addition, Greek banks would be restructured, allowing them to continue to take part in central bank operations even after a state bankruptcy.”

The divergences between the different EU governments are all, in the final analysis, about how the working class is to be looted. Were the Greek state to be placed in bankruptcy, its creditors would insist on new, savage cuts to Greek social spending and state budgets, beyond even what six years of austerity since 2009 has inflicted on the Greek working class.

As Syriza carries out more and more new austerity cuts, these will produce social explosions in a working class that has already suffered so many privations.

Yesterday, 4,000 gold miners demonstrated against losing their jobs in front of the Ministry of Productive Reconstruction, Environment and Energy in Athens. The Greek government’s expressed intention is to stop work at the Hellas Gold mining operation in Skouries in northern Greece, over environmental concerns.

Syriza is stepping up pledges and threats to use police action in face of social protests. It is currently threatening to forcibly smash an occupation of the Athens University rectorate by an anarchist group. Deputy Citizen Protection Minister Yiannis Panousis has already stated: “We are in the last hours of the seizure of the Senate.” He claimed he had got the “green light” from Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras to send in the riot police.

EU, demanding deeper cuts, rejects Syriza’s austerity list

By Robert Stevens
March 31, 2015
World Socialist Web Site

 

240a4-6a00d8341d417153ef017ee3f50e8c970d-800wiGreek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras addressed the parliament last night, once again making clear his readiness to implement austerity measures dictated by the country’s international creditors.

Tsipras told parliament that the debt Syriza inherited from the New Democracy/PASOK government was larger than had been presented. It was now time to face the truth, he declared.

Syriza, he said, was ready to make an “honest compromise” with creditors, without acting simply as their “mouthpiece.”

Tsipras’s bluster notwithstanding, he could not say anything of substance about the state of negotiations with Greece’s creditors from the European Union (EU), European Central Bank (ECB) and International Monetary Fund (IMF) earlier that day—the ostensible purpose of the parliamentary session. To do so would be to make clear not only the attacks on the working class he had offered to carry out, but also the even deeper attacks being demanded of him by Europe’s rulers.

New Democracy leader Antonis Samaras mocked Tsipras, saying he had imagined he’d get money without terms and instead had obtained terms without money.

On Friday, Syriza submitted a further list of austerity proposals, as stipulated in its February 20 agreement to extend by four months the austerity programme of the previous governing coalition. On Sunday evening, the cabinet approved the list.

Athens needs the measures to be accepted by what is now known as the Brussels Group in order to access any of the €7 billion of outstanding loans being withheld. Without access to these funds, it will be unable to repay any more of its €315 billion debt.

However, despite intensive negotiations over the weekend, including a ten-hour session on Saturday, no agreement was reached.

Among the main austerity measures being demanded of Syriza by the Brussels Group are changes to Greece’s labour laws to make it easier for employers to fire workers, as well as further cuts to pensions. The Financial Times reported that these are “two areas that monitors have insisted are essential to finalising the bailout programme.”

However, Tsipras said in an interview with the RealNews Sunday newspaper, “There’s no prospect of taking any recessionary measures, whether it’s cutting wages and pensions or liberalising regulations on mass dismissals.”

According to a Bloomberg News report, Greece submitted a 15-page list that “relies on taxing capital transfers and fighting tax evasion.” The document states that privatisations currently in place would raise €1.5 billion this year, down from €2.2 billion projected in the 2015 budget prepared by the previous government. It forecasts a primary budget surplus of at least 1.2 percent of gross domestic product.

But such proposals are of little interest to the European ruling elite, who are demanding that Syriza go much further and specify cuts that will further decimate the living standards of the working class and poor.

Reuters cited a senior euro zone official who said, “Greece did not submit a reform list on Friday.” The official added that Syriza’s proposals “lack detail, and much more technical work will be needed for them to flesh them out into something sufficiently comprehensive and credible to be put to the Eurogroup.”

An unnamed EU diplomat said, “The list is much too vague, not credible and not verifiable.”

On Monday, the German Finance Ministry said the government would not sign off on further loans to Greece unless the Greek parliament passed concrete austerity measures. Spokesman Martin Jaeger said, “We need to wait for the Greek side to present us with a comprehensive list of reform measures that is suitable for discussion with the institutions, and then later in the Eurogroup.” He cautioned that any progress “depends on the quality of the Greek list and how far they cover the elements that are already mentioned in the [extended austerity] memorandum.”

A Greek newspaper report said Syriza included specific privatisations in the proposals. Deputy Prime Minister Yannis Dragasakis, who has just returned from a trip to China, stated on his return that the sale of a 67 percent stake in the Piraeus Port Authority would be completed in a matter of weeks, raising around €500 million. China’s Cosco Group, which already controls two piers at the strategic port, is among five preferred bidders. Also set for completion is the sale of 14 regional airports.

The Brussels group meeting ended with no agreement. According to sources, there are no plans to meet again this week—leaving Syriza to draw up yet another austerity list for sometime in April, while Greece’s financial crisis intensifies. German Chancellor Angela Merkel told the media that Greece’s proposals must “add up.”

Syriza has made a concerted effort to deepen its ties with China and Russia, both of which have geostrategic interests in the region. Senior Syriza representatives, as well as Defence Minister Panos Kammenos of Syriza’s right-wing coalition partner, the Independent Greeks, have warned that one or both countries could be approached as alternative sources of funding for Greece. The leader of Syriza’s “Left Platform”, Energy Minister Panagiotis Lafazanis, is in Moscow. On April 9, Tsipras will visit for talks with Russian leader Vladimir Putin.

On Friday, the rating agency Fitch downgraded Greece’s unsecured currency bonds. Fitch said progress since February’s agreement “has been slow” and it remained “unclear when the earliest disbursement could take place and what will be required for this to happen.”

Fitch added that it was “likely that the Eurogroup will want the Greek government to demonstrate they have implemented some part of this list before funds are disbursed. This pushes back the probable disbursement date well into April at the earliest.”

Since it was elected on an anti-austerity ticket, Syriza and the country’s banks have been systematically cut off from normal funding streams by the ECB. When bank and company debt is factored in, total debt levels are now at around half a trillion euros.

With Greece’s banks all but insolvent, the Syriza government’s projection of a budget surplus has been dismissed as fantasy. Holger Schmieding, chief economist at London-based Berenberg Bank, said, “After capital flight of €50 billion within three months, it is difficult to see how Greece could muster any growth at all this year. And after the plunge in tax revenues in January and February, Greece is on track for a primary deficit, not a surplus.”

Since 2010, Greece has been used as the test case for imposing mass austerity throughout Europe. The continent’s ruling elite now insists that the pauperisation of Greece’s population be stepped up. Syriza’s perspective, based on the interests of sections of the Greek ruling elite and the affluent upper-middle class, of an amicable restructuring of Greece’s debt within the EU is in tatters.

Australian government welfare report prepares brutal assault against disabled, unemployed

By Patrick Kelly
March 24, 2015
World Socialist Web Site

 

money-greedy1Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s Liberal-National government last month released a report into the Australian welfare system that outlined measures aimed at slashing billions of dollars in public spending by denying welfare payments to hundreds of thousands of disabled, unemployed and other vulnerable people.

The report’s chief author, Patrick McClure, has been chief executive officer for both large charity organisations Mission Australia and St Vincent de Paul. He authored an earlier report in 2000 into the welfare system that paved the way for the further privatisation of social services and extension of punitive “mutual obligation” responsibilities for unemployed workers and others receiving welfare payments.

McClure’s latest document, titled “New System for Better Employment and Social Outcomes,” is a carefully concocted fraud. Like the government’s “Intergenerational Report,” it is aimed at bolstering efforts to justify a permanent austerity regime on the basis that current public spending is “unsustainable.” McClure declared that a “fiscally sustainable” system was being challenged by an “ageing population,” combined with a [deteriorating] fiscal environment, uncertain world economic outlook and longer term challenges.”

Social Services Minister Scott Morrison amplified these bogus claims in a speech to the National Press Club. Morrison insisted that “unless there is major structural change that is made to our welfare system over the next decade and beyond, over a generation, our social services expenditure will swallow the budget.”

In reality, there are ample resources to ensure that every citizen has a living income and access to high quality social services. Vast wealth is controlled by the ultra-wealthy at the top of society. Australia’s richest 200 people are worth almost $200 billion between them, while two and half million Australian residents are already impoverished, because of sub-poverty line welfare benefits and low wages. The purpose of “welfare reform” is to transfer even more wealth to the wealthiest 1 percent through a social counter-revolution eliminating every social concession granted to the working class in the post-World War II period.

The assault on welfare aims to give many recipients no choice but to accept low-wage employment in insecure and super-exploitative conditions. It dovetails with the drive by the corporate elite to reduce the minimum wage, abolish penalty wage rates and cut pay levels across the board.

Morrison gave short shrift to the McClure report recommendation that no current welfare recipient be made worse off under the “reforms.” He contemptuously declared: “If we’re going to take an ‘are you better off or worse off in the next five minutes’ approach to every single policy announcement, I’m not sure what people think that does to improve the quality of debates and policy reforms that are important over a generation.”

Under the guise of simplifying the welfare system, the report advised that existing entitlements be amalgamated into five payments: age pension, carer payment, child and youth payment, supported living pension (replacing the disability support pension), and a tiered working age payment covering everything else, including Newstart (unemployment), Austudy, and parenting payments.

The McClure report was premised on another lie that there are enough jobs for those who want to work. Under the subheading, “Where are the Jobs,” it referred to the Abbott government’s “commitment” to create one million new jobs within five years. The worsening crisis of the global capitalist system is in fact producing an accelerating onslaught against jobs, especially affecting manufacturing-dependent working class areas where many welfare recipients are concentrated. Nearly 800,000 workers are currently jobless and hunting for work, even according to the vastly understated official statistics.

To boost “workforce participation,” the welfare report proposes a series of draconian measures, including:

* All welfare payments will be denied to adults under 22 years. This will leave thousands of young people at the mercy of family and charity assistance.

* Public housing residents will no longer have rents set as a proportion of income, as this supposedly creates a “disincentive to work.” This measure would hike living costs for those in public housing, now overwhelmingly comprised of the most vulnerable layers such as refugees, women escaping domestic violence and those with serious mental health problems and drug and alcohol addictions.

* Income “quarantining”–a measure restricting the expenditure of welfare payments to approved items, which was first trialled on Aboriginal welfare recipients–is to be more widely imposed.

* The new “supported living pension” is to be accessible only to those people who are assessed to have a disability that prevents them working for eight or more hours a week—and where this situation is expected to last for at least five years. “Permanent disability” is to be re-defined in relation to “how long an individual is limited in their capacity to work, not the permanence of the impairment itself.” In other words, people with serious mental and physical health problems will be denied the disability pension if it is alleged that they will be capable of working a few hours a week at some point in the next five years.

The entire report is in line with what Treasurer Joe Hockey described as the “end of the age of entitlement.” Far from being a social right, income payments will be provided only to those judged unable to be pushed into low-paid work. McClure declared that “engaging with employers” was a major “pillar” of his proposed measures, with government subsidies boosted for corporations that hire disabled and long-term unemployed people.

Mindful of the wide opposition in the working class to this agenda, Morrison appealed to the Labor Party for support. In his National Press Club address, the minister admitted that “my concern is that right now there seems to be no appetite [in the community] for the change that is necessary.”

Morrison called for an “upgrade [to] the political debate when it comes to areas of important change for the country” and pointed to the Liberal Party’s support for several of the previous Labor government’s policies that undermined the welfare system, including on aged care and the disability insurance scheme. In office from 2007 to 2013, Labor began the dismantling of welfare by cutting off sole parent benefits to all those with school-age children and raising the retirement pension age from 65 to 67.

Labor Party leader Bill Shorten two-facedly declared he did not want to see a “blame the victim debate” on welfare, while eagerly accepting the offer to work with the government: “[W]e always need to be making sure it’s sustainable,” he said. “We’ll work on welfare reform with the government if that’s what they want to do.”