Despite its stated poliical intentions, which we reported about in this blog, every time push came to shove, Syriza did not support commons solutions, shows Theodoros Karyotis in ROAR magazine (which is now a print publication as well), highlighting different case studies:
“Let us look into some examples where the SYRIZA government, instead of ratifying what the popular struggles have conquered, has—by action or by inaction—sided with the old regime against those who have nominally been its “allies” in the previous years.
* THE ERT BROADCASTER:
Until it was shut down by the previous government in 2013, ERT was Greece’s national broadcaster. Many of the workers became unemployed and some found work at NERIT, the new public broadcaster set up exclusively on partisan criteria. A great number of militant media workers, however, occupied the ERT buildings and kept broadcasting in a self-managed way, with all decisions taken in a horizontal manner, and with the citizens playing a protagonistic role in shaping the broadcaster’s programming.
The workers thus set the blueprint for a new kind of public—or common, in this case—radio and television. They repeatedly described their vision in detailed proposals for the operation of ERT. SYRIZA was involved in the struggle and promised the broadcaster’s reinstatement and a victory for the proposals of the workers.
The government ignored society’s proposal to create a new model of broadcasting as a commons. However, the new law passed by the SYRIZA-led government in May totally disregards the period of self-management. It reinstates the workers under the same top-down structure and imposes a CEO of questionable intentions, with no provision for society’s involvement in content creation. The new management went as far as cancelling the shows of the media workers who heroically kept ERT open for two years as “too radical.” All in all, the government ignored society’s proposal to create a new model of broadcasting as a commons, and it reinstated the pre-crisis model of corporatized public television.
* THE VIO.ME FACTORY:
Vio.Me was a building materials factory in Thessaloniki. As so many other companies in Greece, the owners abandoned the workplace leaving millions in unpaid wages. The workers of the factory, with the support of a vibrant solidarity movement, seized the means of production, and have been manufacturing and distributing ecological detergents out of the recuperated workplace through horizontal and collective procedures.
However, the state-appointed trustee, in collusion with the ex-owners and powerful business interests, are trying to liquidate the premises, and thus create the legal ground to evict the Vio.Me cooperative. Through militant action and continuous struggle, the workers demanded a political solution to the conflict: that the state activates legal mechanisms of expropriation (since the state is one of the main creditors of bankrupt Vio.Me) to ensure the continuation of production.
The nominally “left-wing” government lacked in political will to side with the workers against capital. This mechanism, which has been used with significant success in Argentina, presupposes that employment, the continuation of production and society’s efforts to reactivate the ailing economy are valued higher than the private interests of those who want to see through the destruction of this experiment in popular industrial self-management. That is, it presupposes the political will to put the interests of the many over the interests of the few.
However, despite the initial commitment of the government to push forward a political solution and create an adequate legal framework, the corresponding ministers kept silent, and the promises to use governmental power against economic power remained unfulfilled. All the while, the trustee is stepping up the legal battle against the recuperated factory to anticipate any political solutions to the conflict. Despite the imminent threat of liquidation, the nominally “left-wing” government lacked in political will to side with the workers against capital.
* THESSALONIKI WATER COMPANY:
In 2011, the government announced the privatization of the water and sewerage company of Thessaloniki. Democracy activists who were at the moment deliberating in the squares united with the water workers to propose an innovative model of water self-management as a commons. They created Initiative 136, with the aim of participating in the public tender to claim the water company in the name of the citizens, and bring it under social control through local non-profit cooperatives, inspired by the Bolivian water committees—briefly discussed in this issue by Oscar Olivera.
Syriza_WaterPoliticians linked to the SYRIZA party upheld the state management of the company and, totally unfamiliar with the vocabulary of the commons, tried to marginalize the plan of Initiative 136 and defame it as “popular capitalism”, despite the obvious absence of a profit motive.
Notwithstanding the internal divisions, Thessaloniki’s water movement organized to confront the common enemy, in the face of the transnational water company Suez. After a non-binding grassroots referendum that demonstrated the overwhelming opposition of Thessaloniki’s inhabitants, as well as a decision by the constitutional court that upheld the public character of water, the privatization process was paralyzed.
It is ironic that the party that claimed hegemony within Thessaloniki’s water movement will now oversee the partial privatization of the company: according to the terms of the new memorandum, a considerable part of the water company’s shares is up for grabs. Although the majority has to remain state-owned, in line with the court ruling, this partial privatization of the water company is only a preamble to capital’s assault on this vital element. The water movement now has to rise up against its former ally and today’s administrator of neoliberal policies.
* SKOURIES GOLD MINE:
In Skouries, Halkidiki, a gold mine is in development by the Canadian company Eldorado Gold in collaboration with AKTOR S.A., Greece’s “national contractor”, owned by Giorgos Bobolas, the personification of Greek oligarchic power. The local population has waged a long and radical struggle against the environmentally disastrous mine, which is built among the region’s old-growth forests, and which will poison the aquifers that provide irrigation and drinking water to an area of 500km2, endangering the local flora and fauna and putting on the line thousands of jobs in agriculture, bee-keeping and low-intensity tourism.
All the while, the mining company, despite having acquired the mining rights in a scandalous deal with corrupt politicians that was condemned by the European courts, uses the language of “progress” and “investment”, utilizing the miners as a human shield, effectively promoting a civil war climate in the area.
While in government, SYRIZA proved incapable of opposing the plans of the Eldorado mining company for the gold mine in Skouries. SYRIZA took a central role in the struggle while it was in opposition, but it always pushed for a “political” solution and it opposed the more radical actions of the movement and its efforts to coordinate and mobilize outside of formal institutions. While in government, it proved incapable of opposing the plans of the mining company. Instead of delivering on its electoral promise to cancel the mine, it engaged in a small-scale “bureaucratic war” with the mining company, revoking and re-examining permits, all the while reassuring the miners that their jobs are not in danger.
Even the halting of Eldorado’s activity in August 2015 — perfectly timed with the announcement of national elections—does not seem to be aimed at stopping the mine, but rather at obliging the company to “adhere to environmental regulations”—seriously degraded by five years of structural adjustment. Prime Minister Tsipras declared that he cannot “destroy 5,000 jobs” by shutting down the mine—a gross overestimation of Eldorado’s real number of staff. This stance has already sparked mass resignations of party members in the area.
The anti-mining movement is now well aware that the strategy of the government is to gain political time, without planning to confront national and transnational capital in the area. Trusting SYRIZA’s “political solution” now looks like a lot of wasted time, while the police keep violently repressing all protest and the judicial powers go on criminalizing the struggle and prosecuting local residents in the hundreds.”