As Greece erupts, BBC’s Paul Mason on "The New Global Revolutions" over austerity, inequality
Greece is bracing for protests after eurozone finance ministers concluded a deal that will provide a $170 billion bailout in return for another round of deep austerity cuts. The bailout is opposed by several unions and left-wing groups in Greece over new cuts and layoffs imposed on public sector workers. We’re joined by Paul Mason, economics editor at BBC Newsnight and author of the new book, "Why It’s Kicking Off Everywhere: The New Global Revolutions." He has just returned from Greece. "What makes the headlines are, of course, the riots," Mason says. "What doesn’t make so many headlines is what is happening to real people... We are living in a time where the world has, in the last couple of years, erupted in a way that many people thought they would never see again since the 1960s... The underpinnings of this new global unrest are that...people are sick of seeing the rich get richer during a crisis." [includes rush transcript]
NERMEEN SHAIKH: We turn now to Greece, which is bracing for protests after eurozone finance ministers concluded a deal Tuesday that will provide Greece with $170 billion in funding it needs to avoid default next month. Greek Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos hailed the deal.
EVANGELOS VENIZELOS: [translated] Today’s decisions in Brussels are the result of a very complicated and painful negotiation, a negotiation I don’t want to compare to other historical negotiations. But regards to the political consequences, economic impact, and economic and social consequences, it is perhaps the most important of the postwar era.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: The $170 billion bailout for Greece will force Athens to commit to making another round of deep austerity cuts. As part of the deal, Greek workers are expected to suffer further wage cuts larger than the 15 percent already planned for the next three years. Under the agreement, Greece’s private creditors have agreed to take deeper losses on their Greek debts.
The bailout is being opposed by several unions and left-wing groups in Greece. Civil servants have been hard hit by the austerity measures which began in 2010. Wages and pensions have been reduced, benefits cut, and 10,000 people laid off in 2011. Under the new package, another 15,000 civil servants will be laid off this year. Additional pension cuts will affect both the private and public sector. The vice president of the Confederation of Civil Servants has been particularly critical of the deal.
ILIAS VRETTAKOS: [translated] The new loan agreement and, more significantly, the new measures that accompany it are catastrophic for Greek society and the prospects of the country. Not only will it drive people in the society to poverty, but will increase the recession and the state’s problems. In that way, there will be no prospects. We are fighting for different policies, a different policy mix that will take the country to growth.
AMY GOODMAN: For more on the Greek bailout and how people there will be affected by the austerity measures, as well as the financial crisis here in the United States, we’re joined by Paul Mason, economics editor at BBC Newsnight. He just returned from Greece. His latest book is Why It’s Kicking Off Everywhere: The New Global Revolutions.
Welcome to Democracy Now!
PAUL MASON: Hi, Amy.
AMY GOODMAN: You’re just back from Greece. It’s great to have you back here in our studios. Tell us what is happening here and the significance of this latest bailout and, in fact, who’s being bailed out.
PAUL MASON: Well, what makes the headlines are, of course, the riots. And the riots continue. I’ve been covering these events for the last two years. They get more and more intense.
What doesn’t make so many headlines is what is happening to real people. I was able to visit a clinic in the Piraeus port. It had been set up to deal with people who fall through the social security net, which is mainly undocumented migrants. So it was volunteer doctors and free healthcare and free food. That’s about as basic as it gets. In the last six months, they’ve been swamped by Greek citizens, because they—Greek citizens are falling through the safety net in a Europe that is supposed to be—well, what Americans think of it as quasi-socialist. It has a welfare state. And yet, we’re seeing those starving people and homeless people, huge numbers of drug addicts and homeless people on the streets. It looks and begins to look really almost borderline developing world, parts of Greece now.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Can you explain, though, Paul Mason, why is it that Greeks themselves are falling through the social safety net? I mean, healthcare, why is it that they no longer have access to healthcare?
PAUL MASON: Well, they have a system whereby you pay a little bit into the healthcare, and you pay a bit for your medicines, and you pay a little bit for your treatment. But what’s happened is, of course, the solutions imposed on Greece by the IMF and the European Union have involved raising taxes very dramatically. So they had an austerity tax that they collected through the electricity bill. Somebody showed me their electricity bill: 350 euros per month. Per month. So, what is that in dollars? Four hundred? But most of that is tax. And if you don’t pay it, your electricity stops. Now, this person earned 500 euros per month. So, the money you have to pay for your healthcare, it’s just no—well, it’s food first, then healthcare, and so people just can’t afford it.
AMY GOODMAN: Some analysts see a concerted campaign by eurozone countries to isolate Greece as much as possible in preparation for an eventual default and exit from the euro. But Greek Finance Minister Venizelos yesterday hailed the bailout package and said it demonstrates Greece will remain part of the eurozone regardless of what happens.
EVANGELOS VENIZELOS: [translated] We have the clear, official and explicit commitment from our partners that they will support us, even after the program—in other words, after January 1st, 2015, until Greece believes that it is possible to return to the markets. Thus, this is a long-term support, in other words, a clear political decision that Greece is and will continue to be a member of the eurozone, whatever happens.
AMY GOODMAN: Your response, Paul Mason?
PAUL MASON: Well, look, you would like to believe that they could win, they could beat all odds and stay in the euro and avoid default. But up to now, every one of the failed bailout packages was signed off by the IMF and the E.U., and they all involved meeting, you know, the Greek problem with austerity. So you cut spending, you raise taxes, you impoverish people. Leave aside the minimum wage, wages in general are going to have to fall 15 to 20 percent to meet—in the private sector. This is no longer just a public sector thing. Now, I think, and most analysts think, that they are on a route to default and that the last week’s—or this week’s deal has basically been about ringfencing the rest of the eurozone for if and when that happens. Having been there, I think it’s when.
And then there’s, on top of that, the whole question of political instability. You mentioned left-wing groups in your introduction. I think there’s a bit—in the mainstream media, there’s a bit of a "does not compute" going on. The combined vote, for the communists, Trotskyists and ecologists—so these are left-wing parties with hammer and sickle on their flags—is 43 percent right now in the polls. That dwarfs the equivalent of the GOP and the Democrats. And I think there’s an element of "We don’t want to see that." But that is what you get when people are told, you know, "Your life is—your future is over." There’s no way, I think, from any early election, that a stable government can emerge that can do this thing they have agreed to do.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: So what do you think the effect of that will be—I mean, this change in the political landscape vis-à-vis a couple of things? First of all—well, I mean, immediately, the Greek parliament has to apparently approve the bailout package.
PAUL MASON: Yeah.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: What’s the likelihood that that will happen? And then, in the future, because many, of course, say, including yourself, that this is by far—far from a solution to the problem, will the political landscape change in such a way? I mean, will left-wing parties actually come to power in such a way that whatever subsequent way is found to deal with this crisis, these negotiations will not continue in the same vein?
PAUL MASON: On the question of the parliament, I think, certainly, they’ll pass the measures. What’s happening, though, is the two parties—because these two parties are there from the last election three years ago, so they have a majority right now, even though their popularity is slumping. I think, as they pass them, more and more MPs are chipped off. And these two parties in power splitting is not great, if they then stand for elections, and their own members get to ask them, "Well, what are you going to do about this?" During an election, pressure goes on the mainstream parties as well as the ones at the extreme. And, of course, the right as well as the left are growing as a result of this crisis. And remember, this is a country that had a civil war between the right and left after World War II. So, I think that that’s that on that situation. I think it’s—they’re just not going to be able to make it work. The instability is going to bring down the plan. Or it’s 90 percent certain, in my mind, that the instability in Greece will just—you can’t push through this level of austerity with a weak government.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to go to the people of Greece, where you were, with your report from inside Greece. This is a clip from one of those recent reports, Paul Mason in Greece for Newsnight of BBC.
PAUL MASON: As the crisis deepens, the weakest and the poorest suffer, nowhere more so than those who are not supposed to be in Greece at all. This is Patras, the ferry port that links Greece to Western Europe. Right on the seafront, hundreds of illegal migrants live in this shattered factory. I am taken in by an activist from a local NGO. The migrants got here because government cutbacks have made the Greek border highly porous.
How easy is it to get into Greece?
WASSIM: How easy? It’s too easy.
PAUL MASON: It’s too easy.
WASSIM: Too easy.
PAUL MASON: Why?
WASSIM: Why? Because, you know, the borders are not closed; the borders are open.
PAUL MASON: They survive on charity. They receive no assistance at all from the Greek state. But as the economy has collapsed, so too has sympathy for the migrants.
WASSIM: You know, this is no Europe. Believe me. This no Europe.
PAUL MASON: It doesn’t feel like Europe.
WASSIM: No, no.
PAUL MASON: Why?
WASSIM: No, I used to live London. This no Europe. Believe me, this no look like Europe. The police can hit you. The people can swear you, for no reason. The people hit us like animal. What’s the life there?
PAUL MASON: This man, a graduate from Darfur, is headed for London. He can’t wait to see the back of Greece.
How long have you been in this factory place?
ABDUL AZEEM: In the factory here, I have six months, and three months in the train there.
PAUL MASON: Yeah, you lived in the train.
ABDUL AZEEM: Yeah, before we came here, because the police forced us to leave the train. Then we came here in the abandoned factory. I have six months here.
PAUL MASON: Do you think the economic crisis has made the situation for migrants worse?
ABDUL AZEEM: Yes.
PAUL MASON: Why? Tell me.
ABDUL AZEEM: We are going to the market, so I think that—
PAUL MASON: They give you some food at the end.
ABDUL AZEEM: Some food, some—also there’s some money, you know.
PAUL MASON: And less. There’s less now.
ABDUL AZEEM: Yeah. Now the situation is changing, because of the economic crisis.
PAUL MASON: They drink from a pipe in the ground. Some have died from fires lit to keep warm. It’s shocking to see this in a continent that once prided itself on a social model. But the crisis has turned so much of Greece upside-down.
For Greek youth, the situation too looks dire. Fifty percent of those under 24 are unemployed. And among them, the extremes of politics are growing.
In a bar run by one of the far-left groups, I meet the people who’ve got together to feed and clothe the migrants. None is actually a member of a left party; all intend to vote for one. And all have been participants in disorderly protests.
KATIA ZAGORITOU: There’s no future for us. Generally, there’s no future. We can’t dream. We can’t live. For us, this is a disaster.
PAUL MASON: But I’ve been hearing young Greek people say that to me for three years now. What do you do about it?
KATIA ZAGORITOU: We’re fighting. We’re trying to convince other people and to make them understand that all this crisis is a result of the capitalist system.
PAUL MASON: Do you seriously think there could be a left-wing government in Greece?
ANTONIS DIAMANTOPOULOS: I don’t think it’s going to be a nonviolent government from the left. It’s going to be a civil war.
PAUL MASON: The carpenter, the teacher, the engineer, the social worker—these are professional people. But the ideas they’re espousing have become commonplace. And what it’s about is work. There isn’t any.
EIRINI PAPADOPOULOU: If there’s no work, there is a revolution against the government.
AMY GOODMAN: A report from inside Greece by BBC Newsnight editor Paul Mason, who’s in the studio with us now, has just written the book, Why It’s Kicking Off Everywhere: The New Global Revolutions. Make this broader now, from Greece to Europe and what this also means to the United States.
PAUL MASON: Well, it’s Greece, it’s Europe, it’s North Africa. We are—you know, we are living in a time where the world has, in the last couple of years, erupted in a way that many people thought they would never see again since the 1960s. And I think the Greek events—I mean, Greece isn’t all riots. It’s Occupy camps. There you had one of the first ones, called the indignados camp, in their main square. In Europe, across southern Europe—you know, I think only me and Glenn Beck have been talking about this, in a way. I have seen the crossover, the potential crossover, from North Africa to southern Europe to the United States, and the similarities between what is happening. I take a more—a sort of more sort of standing above it standpoint than Glenn does.
But it’s—there are links. There are common factors. And the most important one, everywhere, is what you saw in that bar, what I call the graduate without a future. You find them on Tahrir Square. You find them in Syntagma Square, Greece. You’ll find them outside—you know, in Zuccotti Park, New York. Once the economic crisis switched off that narrative that things are going to get better, you’ll have a better life than your parents, I think people in the Middle East lost their fear, people in Europe and America have lost their apathy. And there’s a lot to be sort of angry about once you look at real life. In my book, I’ve—one of the chapters in it is where I drive from Oklahoma to L.A., following the route that Steinbeck’s Joad family took.
AMY GOODMAN: Let’s go. Let’s go to that trip. Tell us. Lay the context for us. We have a clip.
PAUL MASON: We’re in a economic crisis. There was a drought in Oklahoma last summer. I thought, well, let’s just drive along 66, or parallel to 66, and see what it’s like now. It’s stunning, what you find. I think much of the mainstream media misses this. One of the most amazing things was to find a homeless encampment in Albuquerque, which, of course, was set up—again, there’s always this parallel—for people who maybe had drug and alcohol problems. But now, what do the people running it say? The people coming in are the American middle class, people who have been running a branch of McDonald’s, holding down a decent managerial job, two weeks later, homeless, jobless and sleeping on the floor with 80-odd people they don’t know.
AMY GOODMAN: Let’s go to a clip of Paul Mason’s report as he traveled across the United States, retracing the steps of John Steinbeck’s Joad family from The Grapes of Wrath. Here, you’re reporting from Joy Junction, that homeless shelter in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
PAUL MASON: Normally, the families who come here are coping with drink, drugs, domestic violence. But now there’s a new kind of customer: the American middle class.
LARRY ANTISTA: I’m Larry Antista. This is my daughter Michelle. We’re here because of the economic times. My spouse took off on us, and that cut our income in half, and we lost our place. And here we are.
PAUL MASON: They’ve been living like this for three months. He’s a truck driver by trade, but he can’t find work. So he works for his welfare payments: $300 a month. Michelle, aged 14, is still at school.
Do the people at school know where you sleep every night?
MICHELLE ANTISTA: No, not really.
PAUL MASON: You don’t tell them?
MICHELLE ANTISTA: No.
PAUL MASON: Why?
MICHELLE ANTISTA: They didn’t ask, so I figure, don’t tell them.
PAUL MASON: So you don’t show up as homeless even in the school statistics?
LARRY ANTISTA: No.
MICHELLE ANTISTA: No.
PAUL MASON: Do the sort of rich of America, really—and the media, really understand that every night thousands of people are bedding down like this?
LARRY ANTISTA: No.
MICHELLE ANTISTA: No.
PAUL MASON: What would you say to them, if you could speak to them right now?
MICHELLE ANTISTA: If they could live just like one day of, like, our lives, they’d see how hard it is and, like, how good they have it. Because a lot of them complain about what they got, which is really dumb.
AMY GOODMAN: Voices of Albuquerque, New Mexico, a homeless shelter, captured by a British observer of the United States, Paul Mason, economics editor of BBC Newsnight, as he traveled across the United States and has just returned from Greece. His new book is called Why It’s Kicking Off Everywhere: The New Global Revolutions.
Paul, I wanted to read to you the Financial Times reporting, that U.S. taxpayers will subsidize part of the $26 billion settlement owed by five leading banks to resolve claims over faulty foreclosures and mortgage practices. A clause in the provisional agreement, which has not been made public, allows the banks to count future loan modifications made under a previous foreclosure-prevention initiative toward their restructuring obligations for the new settlement. This is quite something. So this is a big deal that was worked out with all the U.S. attorneys-general in the United States and the banks, supposedly penalizing them, a $25-$26 billion settlement, but in fact a bailout for them. Are we seeing all of this, these bailouts from Greece to the United States—are they again bailouts for the entities that are "too big to fail"?
PAUL MASON: It’s hard not to see the Greek bailout as a way of protecting the European banking system. It’s hard not to read that report as, yet again, a decision to bail out banks and bankrupt countries, because don’t forget this: the financial markets at the moment are focused on Greece and Europe. At the moment that is solved, they will focus on your country, because you are $14 trillion in debt, and there are—there is doubt about whether your institutions can one day deliver the austerity that those financial markets will demand to make that debt stable.
So I think, look, that the underpinnings of this new global unrest are that from Cairo to Greece to New York to Albuquerque, people are sick of seeing the rich get richer during a crisis. That’s what they’re sick of. And until we start hearing solutions, both at the grassroots level and at the top level in politics, that go beyond that, that explain to us what the new story is about capitalism, these unrests, these revolutions, the unrest, the protests, I think, will go on, because it is about a generation that doesn’t know what the story is anymore. What is the story about how my life is going to get better? Once you do that, and then you add in networking and technology and the ability to express oneself and move around the mainstream media, you’re in for years, I think, of discontent.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Before we conclude, Paul Mason, I wanted to ask you about a report, a confidential report that was leaked by the Financial Times, which showed that Greece’s debt projections, even under the most optimistic scenario, the austerity measures now being imposed on Athens, risk a recession that’s even deeper—
PAUL MASON: Yeah.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: —than what Greece is in now.
PAUL MASON: They do. And nobody believes the most optimistic scenario. I mean, look, they’re in what economists call a death spiral. So, the economy is shrinking, and the debt is getting bigger. Of course, Greece has had a big debt write-off, and that is tangible. That’s real and material, and it will be welcome. But as they try to implement the austerity, I think most observers think they can’t do it. And if they did, it will produce a deep recession that will make the lives of the people I saw on those streets very angry, very dislocated from politics, even more harsh, and they will get even angrier, if not despairing. Some are already beyond the anger stage. Some are in a state of just individual despair. Greece is an extreme, an outlier, but it does—of course, it does show what happens if you let your debt get out of control. It also shows what happens if you think—if you only see austerity as the solution to indebtedness.
AMY GOODMAN: We want to thank you very much for being with us, Paul Mason, economics editor of BBC Newsnight, just returned from Greece. His latest book is Why It’s Kicking Off Everywhere: The New Global Revolutions.
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