Tuesday, February 14, 2012

greece - the argentina way

In Greece protests continue against government austerity measures. The latest austerity measures include: 15,000 more public-sector job cuts, liberalisation of labour laws and lowering the minimum wage by 20%. Many Greeks feel they are already squeezed almost to breaking point and cannot take any more cuts

Should ordinary Greeks be punished for the sins their ruling class and business elite? Some now argue that Greece should leave the Eurozone to be able to devalue its former currency, the drachma, and default on the debt.

Experience in Argentina that both devalued and defaulted on debts suggest that the economic shock is relatively short lived. Argentina abandoned pegging the peso to the dollar, froze bank accounts and defaulted on $100 billion in mostly foreign debt. When the default was declared in 2002, foreign investment fled the country, and capital flow towards Argentina ceased almost completely. The Argentinian state had little money with the central bank's foreign currency reserves almost depleted. Eventually the Argentina government finally got a deal in 2005 by which 76% of the defaulted bonds were exchanged by others, of a much lower nominal value (25–35% of the original) and at longer terms.

During the economic collapse, many business owners and foreign investors drew all of their money out of the Argentine economy and sent it overseas. As a result, many small and medium enterprises closed due to lack of capital, thereby exacerbating unemployment. Many workers at these enterprises, faced with a sudden loss of employment and no source of income, decided to re-open businesses on their own, without the presence of the owners and their capital, as self-managed cooperatives. Some businesses have now been legally purchased by the workers for nominal fees, others remain 'occupied' by workers who have no legal standing with the state (and in some cases reject negotiation with the state on the grounds that working productively is its own justification). But most barter networks, viable as devices to ameliorate the shortage of cash during the recession, collapsed as large numbers of people turned to them, desperate to save as many pesos as they could to exchange for hard currency as a palliative for uncertainty.

A survey found that around 1/3 of the population had participated in general assemblies. The assemblies used to take place in street corners and public spaces, and generally gathered to discuss ways of helping each other in the face of eviction, or organizing around issues like health care, collective food buying, or conducting free food distribution programs. Some assemblies started to create new structures of health care and schooling, to replace the old ones that were not working. Neighborhood assemblies met once a week in a large assembly to discuss issues affecting the larger community.

Some saw all this as the beginning of a social revolution in which the workers take over the factories and organise production without the bosses. A more sober assessment was that this was workers reacting in a pragmatic fashion to try to ensure that they had some source of income to maintain themselves and their families. But it does show, to any who might not still have realised it, that workers can organise production without bosses. Evicting the bosses and organising production without them is one thing; escaping from the economic laws of the market is quite another. The fact is that there is no way out for workers within the capitalist system. Not cooperatives, not reforms, not trade unions. At most these can only make their situation a little less unbearable.

The class struggle is ultimately about control over the means of production. If, as happened in Argentina after the economic melt-down, capitalists abandon their factories then the workers more or less spontaneously take over their workplaces and keep production going. Workers are not going to let themselves starve: if the means of production are there, and there's no state to stop them using them, they'll go ahead and use them, even if they have no revolutionary pretensions.

The Greek workers will determine their own means and methods to defend and stave off the attacks upon their living standards and working conditions but they need not fatalistically accept the capitalist government "cure". They can choose alternative strategies and tactics.

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