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Column: What Ireland can learn from the left-wing party set to win victory in Greece tomorrow

Greece’s Syriza party has an impressive to-do list if it gets into office.

John Douglas

ON SUNDAY THE Greek people will vote in an election that has ramifications not just for Ireland but for Europe as a whole. In the ballot box two radically different visions will compete for a place in our future.

On one side stand the Troika, described by ICTU General Secretary David Begg as “an uncaring brutal technocracy who have no regard for the sufferings of the ordinary people of Ireland or any of the other countries in Europe”.

The Troika’s party in this election is New Democracy. It promises more austerity for a country ravaged by unemployment and poverty, collapsing social services and falling wages, widespread desperation and an emboldened far-right movement. It intends to further marginalise Greek trade unions that have seen collective bargaining rights attacked as the government organised sell-offs, closures and cuts to living standards.

An alternative path is provided by Syriza, the largest left-wing party, who pledge to tackle Greece’s humanitarian crisis and provide progressive solutions to Europe’s stagnating economy. They commit to restoring pensions and salaries to workers, combating the race-to-the-bottom and rebuilding the social safety net.

Syriza’s plans

Their programme promises to provide free electricity to the poor, meal subsidies to those without income and a housing guarantee to all citizens. Their economic policy focuses on growth rather than deficit reduction, putting forward plans for public investment, job creation and proper taxation on the wealthiest in society.

Syriza will also challenge the corruption which has been a blight on Greek society, much as it has our own, by tackling those at the top who fix the system in their favour. If elected, they will put an end to impunity for politicians by changing the rules on parliamentary privileges and prosecutions. Reforms they propose would deepen democracy – introducing people’s vetoes, referendums and legislative initiatives, as well as empowering local government.

Most importantly for Ireland, they are campaigning for a European conference to write-down unsustainable debt. This idea, based on the 1953 deal which wrote off half of post-war Germany’s debt, has been endorsed by figures as diverse as economists Thomas Piketty and Paul Krugman, Financial Times columnist Wolfgang Münchau, Irish Times deputy editor Denis Staunton and TUC secretary Frances O’Grady in the UK.

In 2015 Ireland stands to pay €8.5 billion servicing our national debt, or almost half what we will receive in income tax. Economist Michael Taft estimates that under Syriza’s plan that burden would be reduced by €3.7 billion annually. This would allow us to address urgent social needs in a society where over a million people are struggling for basics on a daily basis. We could tackle homelessness by building social housing, over-crowding by properly staffing our hospitals, the high cost of living by providing state-funded childcare and financial hardship by abolishing the water charges.

The nightmare of austerity

In February 2013 ICTU mobilised tens of thousands of people to demand a write-down of Ireland’s debt. We understand that our debt burden saps the economy, damaging the prospect of a recovery for ordinary people. But debt is also an instrument of control, undermining popular sovereignty and accountable democracy. Given this context Fintan O’Toole was correct: “There is only one place for Ireland to be at this moment of truth and it’s not on the fence. It’s with Syriza.”

The Irish trade union movement expresses its solidarity with those suffering the effects of austerity in Greece. It is unacceptable in twenty-first century Europe that we have a society where children are doing their homework by candlelight, where half of young people are unemployed, where there are elderly citizens going to bed cold at night, where more than five hundred suicides are directly attributable to government policies and where people who just a few years ago had jobs or owned small businesses are now sleeping rough on the streets.

Not just in Greece but in Ireland and right across Europe we need change and political alternatives. We in Ireland’s trade unions endorse Syriza’s proposal for a write-down of unsustainable debt and call on the Irish government, opposition parties and community organisations to stand with Greece tomorrow as it votes for a break with the failed policies of recent years.

It is time to put an end to the nightmare of austerity and build a Europe of democracy, solidarity and dignity.

John Douglas is the president of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions.

Read: One TD is travelling to Greece for a possible Syriza victory party > 

Explainer: Why a ‘Grexit’ would be bad news for Ireland… but probably won’t happen > 

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John Douglas

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