Friday 1 July 2011

The Braying Of The Dames

Necessary Sacrifice?: The European Union - appropriately portrayed as a vengeful harradin - shatters the Greek nation in an attempt to cement what remains of Europe's arranged financial marriage. Workers the world over must understand that Greece is but the first of many sacrifices that will be offered up to appease the gods of  global finance.

IS THERE ANYTHING WORSE than the braying of the upper classes? That awful, asinine, he-haw-ing expelled from the noses of the privileged whenever the lower orders are suspected of enjoying benefits above their station.

That braying was clearly audible on Thursday morning’s Nine To Noon programme. Dame Anne Leslie: oil company executive’s daughter; raised in the twilight of the British Raj; famed foreign correspondent for The Daily Mail; was supposed to be talking to Radio New Zealand’s Kathryn Ryan about events in the UK, but she simply couldn’t forbear putting the boot into the unfortunate Greeks.

What really got her agitated was the idea of Greek pastry-chefs and hairdressers enjoying early retirement, on generous pensions, in recognition of the arduous and/or dangerous nature of their jobs.

Honoured for her services to journalism, and hailed for her “common touch” with “ordinary people”, Dame Anne nevertheless found the whole idea of recognising the contribution of hairdressers and pastry-chefs absurd.

Never mind the hazardous chemicals hairdressers and their staff handle every working-day. Never mind the pastry-chef’s never-ending wrestling-match with fifty different varieties of dough. Early retirement on generous pensions isn’t for the likes of them; it’s for lawyers, doctors, business tycoons: real people who’ve earned it.

This is why the Greeks have to be punished – don’t you know? For voting themselves a living way beyond their means. For demanding an undeserved tribute from the hard-working peoples of the European Union so that they can lounge like Lotus Eaters in the Mediterranean sun.


I wonder if Dame Anne recalls who it was that, by arming the Greek Right against the left-wing resistance fighters who’d fought so heroically against the Nazis, plunged the Greek nation into bloody civil strife at the end of the Second World War?

Who it was that, when the Greek Left showed signs of electoral recovery in the late-1960s, stood back and refused to intervene as a junta of fascist colonels imprisoned Greek democracy without trial?

Who it was that bank-rolled the expansion of the Greek state-sector as the only viable guarantor of civil peace in a land from which it has been conspicuously absent since the same Germans who now pour scorn on the Greek people came a-calling with their tanks and dive-bombers in 1940?


Dame Anne may bray in ignorance against the “absurd” generosity of the Greek welfare state and take vicarious pleasure at the sight of the Greek riot police dishing out an EU, ECB and IMF-endorsed lesson in neo-liberal economic orthodoxy on the streets of Athens, but I suspect that even she might recoil in alarm from the deadly hissing of the Bank of International Settlements.

The BIS, sometimes known as “the central bankers’ bank”, is responsible for keeping the global financial system in good working order. For these, the High Priests of Capitalism, nothing – not even the genocidal destruction of World War II – has ever been permitted to divert the BIS from its oversight and management of the world’s money.

But now, from its lofty Swiss eerie, the BIS finds itself looking down upon a global financial system teetering on the brink of collapse. Not since the darkest days of the Great Depression have the world’s banks confronted such an all-encompassing and potentially devastating economic crisis.

“We should make no mistake here:”, intones the BIS’s Annual Report, “the market turbulence surrounding the fiscal crises in Greece, Ireland and Portugal would pale beside the devastation that would follow a loss of investor confidence in the sovereign debt of a major economy.”

As the left-wing journalist, Nick Beams, writing for the World Socialist Web Site on 28 June, puts it:

“The BIS has called on governments to take ‘swift and credible action’ to bring down debt levels. But this does not mean a return to the pre-crisis situation. So-called ‘structural tasks’ have to be addressed. ‘In many countries … [this] involves facing up to the fact that, with their populations ageing, promised pension schemes and social benefits are simply too costly to sustain.’

“That is, large portions of the social welfare measures enacted in the post-war period must be wiped out to pay off the government debts incurred as a result of the bailout of the banks.”

And it gets worse. According to the BIS Report, the global financial system is so fragile that simply paying off government debt will not be sufficient to restore stability. To underwrite the security of international financial transactions, governments will be required to build up large fiscal surpluses “as buffers that can be used for stabilisation in the future.”

“In other words,” says Beams, “the working class must be made to pay not only for the past crises created by the banks but for future ones as well.”

The bitter struggles taking place on the streets of Athens are, therefore, just the beginning of “a [global] counter-revolution to return social conditions to the level of the 1930s.”

The braying of a ruling class determined to strip hairdressers and pastry-chefs (along with every other kind of worker) of benefits and protections they don’t “deserve” is about to grow much louder.

And how should we respond? Let the poet, Shelly, be our guide:

Rise like Lions after slumber
In unvanquishable number,
Shake your chains to earth like dew
Which in sleep had fallen on you-
Ye are many — they are few.

This essay is exclusive to the Bowalley Road blog site.


Mark said...

Not sure how this is a class struggle. How can anyone justify retiring at 50? Just as you and I wouldn't be able to save a nest egg for retirement by 50, neither can a country.

The issue here is the banks have just shifted their bad decisions/bad debts on to the EU countries and IMF. Once again passing on their bad lending decisions.

Everyone knows the Greeks can't repay these debts anyway - even with minor savings.
The real issue is that the Euro is unworkable across such a broad range of economies. Greece needs to break out and let it's currency float, and reflect it's true value - as with their interest rates. They would find a devaluation would increase income from exports/tourism.

Instead they are stuck in step with Germany and completely different economic cycles. They get low interest rates at the wrong time.

The EU are fighting to save the Euro, and dumping huge future burdens on the greeks - of whatever class.....

Victor said...

Which Labour Peer are you referring to?

Unless things have changed in the last few weeks, Anne Leslie is just a Dame and hence not a Peer, not a member of the House of Lords and not a member of any parliamentary party.

Having just worked my way through her good-in-parts-and-awful-in-others autobiography, I'd be very surprised to discover she had any sort of Labour affiliation.

It did seem to me , though, that her chat with Kathryn Ryan took place well into the Home Counties G&T hour and was perhaps all the more revealing for that reason.

Chris Trotter said...

Come on now, Mark, use your imagination!

An early retirement age and generous pensions for workers not only open up the labour market to the young (think how many Gen-Xers would celebrate if the Baby-Boomers could get out of their way at 50!) but it also allows older workers to provide voluntary labour to sports, cultural and community welfare organisations, and to set up small, family-based businesses.

Theoretically, the State stands to collect more in revenue than it spends.

Greece's problem lies in the social and political gridlock that arose out of the Right's refusal to accept the verdict of democracy.

Extensive social welfare provision, a massive public service and a wink-wink, nudge-nudge refusal to properly administer the country's tax system was the "Danegeld" the Greek state was forced to pay to its contending social classes in order to ward off yet another round of civil strife.

What's more, until the onset of the global financial crisis, it was a ransom the rest of Europe was perfectly willing to finance.

Now, all the bets are off - and low - the civil strife returns.

Victor said...


I agree with you that a common currency is difficult to sustain across a wide diversity of countries. For this very reason, we should be opposed to any suggestions of a currency union with Australia.

Chris is of course right that a neo-liberal orthodoxy is being visited on the Greeks for essentially ideological reasons. This, of course, does not mean ipso facto, that the Greek state hasn't been profligate. Nor are the gripes of the hard working and frugal citizenry of North Rhine Westphalia on this issue totally without substance.

However, there is a similar, if, for the moment, less radical, consensus of the powerful in favour of neo-liberal ideological rigidity in New Zealand, despite the fact that we have one of the least profligate state sectors in the OECD.

Meanwhile, from an ethical perspective, it might require the intellect of an Aristotle to decide whether Greece deserves its current economic travails.

But, I agree, there's a straight forward practical question about whether imposing ever more radical frugality on the Hellenes will ever get their economy out of schtuch.

Chris Trotter said...

Sorry, Victor, my mistake. She's a Dame - not a Duchess - duly corrected.

Adze said...

"An early retirement age and generous pensions for workers not only open up the labour market to the young (think how many Gen-Xers would celebrate if the Baby-Boomers could get out of their way at 50!)"

I think they would celebrate more if they knew their country would still be able to pay them a pension once they retired. I'm pretty sure NZ wouldn't be able to pay for a lot of things if Boomers all collected the pension at 50 here.

Michael said...

Bravo, Chris! (or words to that effect of a more suitably working class nature)
However, the meek shall inherit the Earth.

Anonymous said...


B. S.

On both scenarios


Madison said...

A hell of a lot of the Greek's troubles could have been sorted if personal responsibility was even remotely suggested here. Not austerity measures, not cutting pensions or benefits. Paying the damn taxes would have wuite nicely closed the doors on the 'crisis' and kept it an annoyance. And I think this applies across the board. Hit the corporations, hit the millionaires, but also hit the working class just as hard.

Greeks and Italians are world famous for their escapes from taxes, yet if they paid these taxes they would probably be able to fully benefit from the system they so desire. If you want to get all the money back from the government perhaps you should pay in first. Just to add, I'm all in favour of enforcing the same here. Hell, start working on the student loan people as well.

markus said...

I simply CANNOT STAND Anne Leslie !!!!!

She's long been a regular on BBC WORLD'S 'Dateline London'. Dyed-in-the-Wool Right-Wing, Thatcherite Tory, who generally has no idea what she's talking about. Her knowledge of foreign affairs is absolutely bloody abysmal.

Victor said...


I think it's fair to say that it's essentially the more monied Greeks and Italians who so successfully avoid paying taxes.

This is , of course, a lot harder for wage earners or beneficiaries, whose tax, as elsewhere, gets largely deducted at source. Yet these are the people who will be doing most of the paying under the austerity regime.

BTW I recall when VAT (the equivalent of GST) was introduced into Britain ahead of the country's accession to the then EEC.

We were given to understand that the new tax was necessary to harmonise our fiscal arrangements with those wretched continentals who, unlike us clean-limbed, virtuous children of Albion, never paid their income tax.

And now, VAT has become a major impost on the poor, as GST has become here. Moreover, Chris, it imposes a huge and often prohibitive burden of time and administration on the small businesses that you envisage flourishing with the aid of early Super payouts.


Your hates do you credit.

I would, though, recommend the bits in Anne Leslie's biography, 'Killing my own Snakes', about her childhood in the twilight of the Raj. I thought it incredibly well-written, unlike most of the rest of the tome.

There again, I wouldn't like to vouch for its accuracy, as the bits concerning times and places I do know something about seemed a wee bit off the mark.

Madison said...

Hi Victor, and thanks for the delayed response. I would like to question why enforcing the taxation would be a bad thing. As you believe that the average Greek or Italian is paying their taxes at the source then they have nothing to worry about by tightening the noose on tax avoidance. As I had mentioned, this austerity problem could have been avoided had all this been sorted prior to this problem if the taxes had been paid. From the Italians I know personally tax avoideance is almost a sport there, and many say their greek counterparts are as equally skilled as they are.

IF the loopholes are closed on taxes in Greece what would this mean? It would mean more close scrutiny on small businesses and small independent operators. Unfortunately these are often the ones skipping on taxes, removing it from employees' paychecks and not passing it on to the government. These are many of the people suffering from a cut ingovernment services as well. Cutting the loopholes for the rich is a matter of the government having the balls to do such and I simply don't see many european governments doing any such thing. It's a shame because surely that shores up many financial weaknesses by itself.

I don't blame the Greeks for fighting, hell, the promises they've been given for generations are being stolen away. But there's a very large number of people to be held accountable for the entire problem and the banks and government are only half the problem when getting out of paying taxes or any other sort of government levies is viewed almost as sport. I do feel for those who are going to be without help but feel many could do a turn taking out their anger on many other targets than just the government. When are they going to storm the rich estates? I'm waiting to see that happen.