Tuesday, 10 March 2009

Part 2: Protagonists of an old game: Political Processes behind Greece’s troubles

By George Lambrinidis

Picking up the story behind the recent riots described in the last post, it is helpful to delve deeper into the relations between the working class and capitalists in Greece by way of a few key observations.

First, we have to observe that Greek financial capital is bank-based, rather than market-based. Banking was until recently under state control, privatization was forced by industrial capitalists which partly explains the strong links between industrial and financial capital.

Second, Greece is a small place. Over 99% of firms employ less than 50 employees and the Greek bourgeoisie is made up of only ~300 families – not that this limits their prosperity; Greek capital is found amongst the first positions of OECD countries in terms of profitability. The Greek commercial fleet is the largest in the world with around 19.5% of world capacity. Moreover, a (very) small group of capitalists control most forms of media. The political influence of the bourgeoisie is indisputable e.g. the minister of mercantile marine (a crucial post given Greece’s concentration) is assigned directly, or must be approved by the ship owners.

Finally, Greek-oriented capital has a strong regional presence, especially in the Balkans and SE Europe, with what might be labeled minor imperialistic tendencies. Of major significance are the contracts signed for the building of a couple of oil pipes that will provide Europe through Turkey, Greece and Italy with Russian oil and gas.

Leaving financialisation aside until the third post in the series we can see how this economic, political and ideological power was built by focusing on the Greek working class. There were two major evolutions in the condition of the working class. The first, common to many nations is the pressure on real wages, volatile working practices, extension of retirement age etc., which is in somehow related to the subversion of the USSR. The second more specifically Greek process is a weakening of the unity of the working class during the rule of the Social Democrats from the early 1980s’ until 2004. An ideological split emerged between a model where worker’s leaders moved into government and one of unified struggle. It can be argued that many were led or even forced to see the Unions as a road to personal advancement by political cooperation with the ruling party e.g. it became natural that the president of the workers confederation became Minister of Labour. Increasing disillusionment with this approach led to falling union numbers. Meanwhile the Communist party enjoyed deep roots in Greek society and it managed to slow this process and stabilize the situation in the unions from the early 2000s. From mid 1990s onwards protests were often marked by two separate demonstrations (a class frontier of unions of all levels and individual workers backed primarily by the CP, and one by the compromised leadership of the unions and their political allies), with different content, demands and direction, reflecting the two conflicting views of consent and conflict.

In our next post, we will see how these political processes link with financialisation in Greece, review December’s events in this light and finally attempt to look into the future.

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