Stealing and Saving in Greece

Bhaskar Sunkara

There’s an interesting new article in Reuters today. Not interesting for what it says, a dry report on the progress of European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund-delivered austerity in Greece, but for the way it’s said.

Political leaders in Greece have agreed on most of the austerity measures demanded by its creditors and are now eyeing pension and wage cuts to find the final 1.5 billion euros of savings still needed.” […] Greece must find savings worth 11.5 billion euros for 2013 and 2014.”

Savings” sounds innocuous, like the type of belt-tightening that every household has to submit themselves to in order to get by.

The framing is self-consciously pragmatic in a way that makes it appear apolitical. We can’t go on the way we’ve been going on, so we all need to make sacrifices and find savings.” The truth beyond European fiscal responsibility” is more political than that.

Greek media have reported that the country’s leaders are discussing possible layoffs of contractors in the public sector, a cap on pensions, cuts in welfare benefits, reductions in tax exemptions, and lower salaries for public employees as well as raising the retirement age by a year to make up the shortfall in savings.”

Savings” is once again invoked, but notice where the entirety of it is coming from – the Greek working class. No wonder SYRIZA is rising.

It may seem pedantic to focus on rhetoric and language choices like this, but these seemingly meaningless set of choices reflect a neoliberal hegemony that makes the political technocratic. In this framework, anti-austerity — defensive struggles to retain wage and social benefit levels — becomes not only obstinate, but utopian. Rather than take on elites, the easier political choice is the rob the 99 percent and preserve a favorable investment climate.

This points to the weakness of current anti-cuts actions. If working class movements were large and militant enough the opposite would be happening. Concessions would have to be offered to labor to restore order and resume accumulation. Easy to say, hard to do. A crisis, counterintuitively, is not an easy time to mobilize and radicalize people. Simply, more work needs to be done, even in Greece, the vanguard of struggle in the West.

Bhaskar Sunkara is the founding editor of Jacobin magazine. Follow him on Twitter: @sunraysunray.
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