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Opinion: Greece has turned the page – it's up to all of us to write the next chapter

This election was vital – not just for Greeks, but for working class people throughout Europe.

Paul Murphy

“HOPE IS COMING” was the central slogan of Syriza in the elections. At 7pm in Greece last night, it arrived.

As the exit poll results appeared on a large screen in the Syriza election centre in Klafthmonos Square, chanting erupted. “Syriza, Podemos, venceremos!” – Syriza, Podemos (the new anti-austerity force in Spain that is topping opinion polls), we will win!

It was a decisive and historic victory for Syriza. We were going to have a Left government in Europe, committed to breaking with austerity – increasing the minimum wage, reversing the attacks on workers’ rights and ending privatisations. As counting continued throughout the night, the likely final result will see Syriza with 149 out of 300 seats in the Parliament, and a government formed with the Independent Greeks.

An emotional night 

Tears streamed down faces around me. For those activists who had seen Greece descend into a nightmare of poverty and deprivation over six years of austerity, this day was a long time coming. For older Greek socialists, who suffered under and fought against the dictatorship up to 1974, it was even longer.

After the initial excitement of the exit polls, people milled around the square, waving Syriza and other flags. The over two hundred Italians who had come to help Syriza in the elections belted out the verses of the anti-fascist song “Bella Ciao”, while the rest joined in with the chorus. Left-wing activists from Spain, Portugal, France, Germany and many other countries in Europe flew their flags and banners.

Their presence was testament to the fact that this election was vital – not just for Greeks, but for working class people throughout Europe. It was also in recognition of the fact that we need a Europe-wide movement to scrap the Europe of millionaires represented by Angela Merkel, Jean-Claude Juncker and Mario Draghi and to fight for a socialist Europe of the millions.

Around 10.30pm, Alexis Tsipras, the leader of Syriza arrived for his victory speech. To rapturous applause, he declared that:

Greece has turned a page. Greece is leaving behind the destructive austerity, fear and authoritarianism… The verdict of the Greek people ends, beyond any doubt, the vicious circle of austerity in our country.

The hard-won lessons from Latin America will be invaluable for us

As Tsipras finished and the crowd of around 5,000 began to disperse, one piece of graffiti at the square caught my eye – “Cut the debt, IMF go home”. It sums up the demands of millions in Europe and yet would not have been out of place in Latin America in the last decades. The parallels are striking. The IMF and their Chicago school of neo-liberal right-wing economists destroyed societies across Latin America. The result was major anti-austerity movements, the discrediting of the establishment parties in many countries and the rise of new forces of the Left.

The same process is underway in this continent. The hard-won lessons from Latin America will be invaluable for us. What stands out most sharply and relevantly now is the lack of respect by the ruling classes of democratic decisions of people. From the murderous overthrow of the socialist Allende government by Pinochet in 1973 to the attempted coup against Hugo Chavez in 2002, they stop at nothing to maintain their power.

Respect for democracy amongst the capitalist elites in Europe is also strictly circumscribed to those democratic decisions that are ‘responsible’ in their eyes. In the recent past, we have seen unelected governments of bankers imposed in both Greece and Italy. The Troika and Angela Merkel represent the bondholders and rich and will defend their interests against the wishes expressed so clearly yesterday.

This is only the beginning of major mobilisations 

That means that the struggle does not end with yesterday’s vote, in a sense it is only beginning. An aspect of that will be the new government’s negotiations with the Troika, but more skilful negotiations will not be sufficient when facing people who represent the 1%. Major mobilisations from below and a movement for a break with capitalism will be essential to ensure that the aspirations of people are met.

Immediately after the elections, rumours circulated that the workers from ERT were planning to occupy their old building. This was the public TV channel and radio station equivalent to RTE or BBC that was shut down by the right-wing Samaras government. In the end, it didn’t happen last night – but it captures an important sentiment and illustrates how those movements from below can develop. People have hopes that Syriza will deliver on its promises, but for those active in social and workers’ movements, they will not simply passively wait.

Yesterday at the ballot box, the page was turned. The rest of the chapter still has to be written. Those who write it will be the heroic workers, poor and young of Greece who have participated in over 30 general strikes and massive protest movements against austerity. It will be those who occupied the squares as part of the indignados movement in Spain. It will be those who have gone to protests, meetings and built the anti-water charges movement in Ireland.

Paul Murphy, writing from Athens. 

Paul Murphy is the Anti-Austerity Alliance TD for Dublin South West. 

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