Tag Archives: austerity

A left vision for basic income

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Today Swiss people are voting in a referendum that will determine whether to include a universal basic income in the federal constitution. The constitutional amendment proposes the institution of a basic income to be given for life to the whole population unconditionally, that is, without any specific requirement like income assessment or job status. The basic income should be set at a level that guarantees human dignity and meaningful participation in public life.

Whatever the outcome of the referendum, it is a major achievement that the discussion has gone so far in a country like Switzerland that is at the centre of global capitalism.

It is also time however to reflect more critically about the wave of interest basic income has spurred around the world. We need to avoid the misuse of basic income as a tool to dismantle the welfare state in the global North, and legitimise the advance of austerity and free market capitalism. In the global South, the danger is that previous pilots have set basic income at very low levels, reinforcing double standards about what a decent livelihood should be for Southern citizens vis-a-vis people in the North. Here too, the danger is that a low payment that does not cover the basics would be used as a way to avoid building strong states that deliver decent public services to their citizens.

These risks are real. We need more engagement from the left, to make sure that we push for a basic income that complements a strong welfare state. This also means that we can’t uncritically endorse any move towards basic income just on the basis that “it is good for the movement”. Let’s keep our critical minds switched on, and contribute constructively to make sure that basic income works for people, and not against them.

The original vision of the concept stresses the need for a safety net that guarantees a decent living to all. Pushing for a modest cash check as a substitute for welfare provisions and labour rights would work in the opposite direction.

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IMF plots “credit event” to push Greece to the brink of default

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Even though other international events have largely pushed it in the background, the Greek debt drama continues. The IMF and the EU institutions cannot agree on the terms of the next stage of the bailout. The IMF wants debt relief, while Germany is opposed to it; the IMF also disagrees with the numbers given both by Greece and the Eurogroup to achieve savings and repayments.

The differences from the perspective of Greek people and the state’s bondage to creditors are rather cosmetic, but the discussion of “debt relief” and repayment terms is central to how the Greek crisis has been managed by technocrats and politicians in northern European countries.

A leaked transcript of a recent IMF teleconference suggests that the IMF technocrats have considered creating a “credit event” that would force Greece and Europe to accept their terms – something that would push the Greek state to the brink of default, so as to leave them no choice but capitulate to the IMF demands.

Paul Mason explains what the IMF technocrats mean by “credit event” and what is at stake:

“So let me decode. An ‘event’ is a financial crisis bringing Greece close to default. Just like last year, when the banks closed, millions of people faced economic and psychological catastrophe.

Only this time, the IMF wants to inflict that catastrophe on a nation holding tens of thousands of refugees and tasked with one of the most complex and legally dubious international border policing missions in modern history.”

Let’s not forget that the Greek government and the new incarnation of Syriza still led by Tsipras share responsibility for the devastation brought about on Greeks, and are not mere “victims” of IMF and EU plots. Tsipras betrayed Greek citizens when in July last year he signed the bailout, disregarding overwhelming support against it in the referendum and Syriza’s original mandate.

More recently, he also betrayed migrants and refugees by accepting the EU-Turkey deal which will see new arrivals in Greece being sent back to Turkey, if they do not apply for asylum or if their claim is rejected.

New Labour leader Corbyn goes back to basic principles

Jeremy Corbyn has just been pronounced leader of the Labour party. He won the leadership race with 251.417 votes (59.5%). His first speech as Labour leader following the announcement was perhaps one of the best political speeches I have heard in years – remember Obama in his early days?

He sounded confident, sober and reassuring, he was able to bring together passion and reason and restated his grounded agenda for change in a way that appeals to a wider audience well beyond narrow ideological confines. No insider talk, but rather a clear and straightforward call for the essential things that need to change in UK, in Europe and the rest of the world.

Unlike so many other left politicians who have been struggling lately to provide a humane and sensible response to the refugee crisis, Corbyn sensitively brought together the plight of refugees, the suffering caused by inequalities, poverty and climate change around the world, and the need to support those who are experiencing the harsh effects of austerity in the UK. You will struggle to find any other politician at the moment in Europe who can do all this, and sound sincere.

It is also clear that Blair’s New Labour agenda, as far as Corbyn is concerned, is a thing of the past. He is calling for Labour to strongly oppose the wholesale attack by Cameron and the Tories on workers and the welfare state – including opposing the upcoming parliamentary vote for the Trade Union Rights Bill. There is no ambiguity there.

Perhaps most strikingly, Corbyn did not play the card of ‘innovation’ in the way many younger movements like Syriza in Greece and Podemos in Spain have been doing. In welcoming new Labour members, he also remarked that this is an occasion for all those who believe in Labour values but lost hope in the last years to come back to the party and make sure that it sticks to its core values. His message was one of hope and change building on healthy strong principles which have a long history. Fighting for democracy, justice, equality and humanity are not ‘new’ things. Perhaps what Corbyn is teaching us is a return to the core values of a broad-based left vision that doesn’t require much ‘innovation’ to work, but rather needs to go back to the common sense of its founding principles.

A new left project against the bailout in Greece: if not now, when?

A piece published today by Stathis Kouvelakis, one of the most vocal Syriza’s dissenters and a leading figure of Left Platform, spurs some reflections in the aftermath of Syriza’s central committee meeting last week which saw Tsipras emerge victorious – at least for now. It should be noted that the article is based on a speech that was given a few days before the central committee meeting.

Kouvelakis clearly articulates the failures of Syriza’s ‘majority’ line, highlighting the main factors that led to the capitulation – among them, a rather distressing accommodation of established Greek media and banking powers by Syriza-Anel government, which casts further doubt on Tsipras’ ability of turning this debacle into anything useful for Greeks in the following months.

The final part of the piece focuses on what’s next, with Kouvelakis’ call for a new political movement building on the Oxi mobilisation. This would be a progressive alternative and a pan-European alliance that moves beyond the eurozone and ‘left-Europeanism’ as he calls it. The movement would work from its very inception against the bailout and against the continuation of troika’s rule.

Now, Kouvelakis develops some pretty good points here showing a complexity of reasoning and arguments that is welcome and useful. But we still need to know in practice how we make sense of last week’s Left Platform stance in the central committee. Why was Tsipras’ call for a party conference after the bailout talks accepted? Where was the internal majority often invoked by Left Platform ready to question the bailout from this very moment? Is Left Platform serious about overturning this bailout or will it all just end up in another collective internal reflection without any practical action to resist the new agreement?

If Syriza dissenters don’t come up with a practical plan in the short-term to show that they are serious about this alternative agenda, the new project Kouvelakis advocates will rapidly collapse – for the very reasons Kouvelakis clearly points out when analysing the failure of Tsipras’ line. Credibility is a major issue here. If Left Platform does not move beyond statements and announcements and towards tangible action, the left alternative to Tsipras will dissolve just as quickly. Certainly, waiting for the bailout talks to be over to discuss what’s gone wrong within Syriza is not a credible answer, as members of Left Platform have already highlighted.

Syriza’s internal divisions and the future of the left

As the debate around Syriza’s internal divisions and its future (and that of the left in Greece and Europe more generally) continues, it is perhaps surprising to hear old arguments being rehashed in favour of ‘tactical’ unity around Tsipras, a leader who betrayed his electoral mandate and is unwilling to face the consequences. In a piece in Jacobin Magazine, for instance, Sam Gindin and Leo Panitch argue that:
     “Those who — like ourselves — believe that leaving the eurozone will eventually be necessary must acknowledge that this cannot be done immediately. A base for leaving must be developed, and this means taking the time to prepare for exit.
     The continuing support for Tsipras suggests that there is time to deal with creating the necessary transformations within the state, and the creative plans that both maintain confidence in the government and allow people to organically learn why they need to move beyond the limits of integration within a neoliberal Europe.”
     The problem is that once in power, people’s representatives easily forget who they represent and talk about the future of a country as something a few dozens intellectuals can plan and implement at will, sitting around a table – “of course the masses out there will understand”, “if we can just buy a bit more time to get the real revolution going”…
     Meanwhile, the real alternatives for positive change are washed away by an unprincipled betrayal of all those who supported the Syriza project in January – it is unlikely that most of them are interested in or approve of erudite Marxist tactics, especially in a situation of deep crisis where their livelihoods are at stake.
     Syriza’s dissenting leaders are no doubt under a lot of pressure to make the ‘right’ decision – should they break away or not? If they decide to remain in an uncomfortable ‘tactical’ alliance with Tsipras, they will also be held accountable for this debacle. The fear of a return of the old political classes might be enough to keep Syriza together for now, but in the long-term it would be a colossal mistake. It would burn the already diminishing credibility of the new left in people’s eyes, and open the way for neo-nazis and other chauvinist movements to steal the show and act as the only mass opposition to austerity and the memoranda.
     Tsipras’ high personal ratings are a sign that he has rapidly adapted to the political arena, showing in fact many of the skills of seasoned politicians. He has been able to spin a successful narrative out of a spectacular defeat, but there is no substance or vision in this move – only the well-known trademarks of a professional politician who knows how to tell a good story to get out of trouble.
     When more people will wake up to the reality of what the government has signed up for, the ratings will rapidly collapse, just like old parties like New Democracy and PASOK dissolved into thin air in a matter of months. Those who are interested in a progressive alternative to austerity need to think beyond polls and short-term power politics.
     Nor are these issues confined to Greece. Italy has already seen the defeat of a corrupt and colluded left. A progressive alternative to European technocracy simply has no grassroots consensus, and the anti-austerity agenda has been hijacked by right-wing xenophobes and national chauvinists. In Spain, Podemos might end up in the same trap, especially if they follow in Tsipras’ footsteps and settle for a gradualist approach.

Another eurobond for Zambia, is it sustainable?

Yesterday, Zambia borrowed another US$1.25bn at 9.375% interest rate, much higher than the previous two eurobonds in 2012 and 2014 – which are now also facing higher interest rate repayments, over market doubts about the sustainability of Zambian public debt.

The problem is not so much the debt per se, but the lack of clear plans for repayments, and what the borrowed money is spent on. There is no doubt that previous eurobonds have had some positive redistributive effects in the economy and that significant infrastructure development (especially roads) has been achieved. But there are still concerns about how much of the money has been spent to finance personal and party interests, diverted from much needed public service improvements for the benefit of all Zambians. The danger with this latest payment is that is simply going to fuel an unstable government intent on distributing money for short-term electoral purposes – general elections for parliament and a new president will be held in little more than a year.

If Zambia doesn’t make a plan, this amount of exposure makes it vulnerable to painful restructuring, austerity and resource grabbing by creditors in the near future – as the structural adjustment programmes of the 1980s and 1990s, and more recently, the Greek crisis remind us. Full repayment for the first eurobond is scheduled for 2022. Peter Sinkamba, presidential candidate for the Green Party, does well by opening up the discussion on his Facebook page today. Other presidential candidates and parties should follow suit.

Greeks say no to austerity – it is just the beginning

“No” wins by a landslide in the Greek referendum on the EU bailout proposals. This can be a real game changer, for Greece, for Europe and for anti-austerity movements worldwide.

Greeks have gone through huge suffering because of austerity, African and Latin American societies had already been broken by the same policies through the 1980s and 1990s. In lesser degrees and not to the same extremes, most of us have suffered the effects of the 2008 financial crisis and the irresponsible policies of technocrats and pro-austerity governments – I can just think of close friends and family in UK, Spain, Italy, Swaziland, Zambia, South Africa, and US, for instance. From the hospitality industry to academia, from manufacturing to journalism, it’s been a true disaster, across most classes and age groups.

For young people who are trying to fulfil their aspirations and do something meaningful and dignified with their lives, it’s been harsh – I talk about this specifically because I am one of them. The hope springing from this victory is priceless – it’s a new lease of life in our daily struggles for individual and collective fulfilment and happiness.

It is primarily Greeks’ victory, but it is also in a smaller way “our” victory. All of us – except those whose interests are so entrenched with the status quo that all they can do is come up with justifications and explanations for what cannot be justified and cannot be accepted.

There will be turbulent days ahead, and Greeks are the most likely to bear the brunt once again of any degenerate response from technocrats and bankers. Yet, this is one of the most important victories in the fight against austerity since the rise of Thatcher and Reagan. Optimism and excitement can go a long way in the tough times ahead. Tomorrow we wake up with a different consciousness. We now know that our concerns, our criticisms, our demands, are not only just: they also have legs ‘out there’, they can become  the majority consensus.

No to austerity and inequality; yes to a new deal for Greece, Europe, Africa and the rest of the world.