A cut of more than twenty percent from the minimum wage. The layoff of fifteen thousand public sector employees (one in every five). Immediate ends to collective bargaining and rent subsidization. Mass privatization of public interests.
When over 100,000 Greek citizens took to the streets yesterday, launching Molotov cocktails at police and engulfing buildings in flames, many Americans (and indeed, the whole of the American media empire) portrayed the event as out-of-control citizens destroying their country. They did, in fact, set ablaze some quite historic buildings, so a case could be made that they were doing just that.
However, let’s take a step back and remove the emotion from the argument. These battles consisted of the people versus the police in the streets and the people versus the government in matters of policy. When you think about who the police and the government are and what they’re intended to do, you may realize that the police are there to protect the people and the government is there to represent the people. (While many Americans think that only the United States has a representative government, this is typically the furthest from the truth due to our “first past the pole” and Electoral College systems, but I digress.) The point is it’s the people, not the police or the government, that are really supposed to run society.
When the people are in the streets battling the police and fighting against government policy decisions, the police and the government have two choices. They can stand down and do the will of the people or they can become an enemy combatant, abandoning the will of the people and attempting to flip the power structure so that the people work for them instead of the other way around. When the government of Greece passed austerity measures yesterday, people were already in the streets making their voices heard, so the government did indeed turn on the people. As the police beat, detained and arrested protesters, they became an enemy of the people, requiring the people to defend their power. It’s unfortunate that officers were injured, but each one had the ability to stand down and join the people as is part of their duty.
Today, in response, the president of Greece has announced elections in less than two months, despite the mandate he has for keeping the current administration in power for two more years. This is a step in the right direction. It is unfortunate that the administration signed these awful papers prior to leaving office, but it is now up to the people to elect a government that will maintain their will, including a fair living wage and nationalized public services. The people know that, as Communist Party spokesman Thanassis Pafilis said, “You are not trying to save Greece, but a handful of industrialists.”
Pafilis went on to say, “You disgracefully blame the struggling people who created the wealth we have. You are trying to send them back to the Middle Ages. We will not allow it.”
With elections mere weeks away and the Greek people clearly ready to stand up for their rights, we’ll soon know who the workers trust. The small but growing handful of Americans who see the same neoliberal pro-austerity slant in the Republican-heavy Congress will have to wait a bit longer.