Cyprus: lessons from AKEL's shame

The Cyprus elections come amidst panic about the collapse of banks and the entire economy of Cyprus - and in the midst of a long strike by construction workers.

In these presidential elections the economy took precedence over the national questions.

A big lead was secured by candidate of the (DHSY), Nicos Anastasiadis, who was also supported by the majority of the Democratic Party (DHKO). He will almost certainly win the second round [post-script: he did win the second round].

The current president of Cyprus, Demetris Christofias of AKEL (the Communist Party), who is going to go down in history as the "communist president" who brought Cyprus under an EU/ ECB/ IMF cuts memorandum, did not seek re-election.

Other candidates were Stavros Malas, supported by AKEL, Giorgos Lilikas supported by EDEK, and the ELAM's Giorgos Charalambous.

ELAM/National Popular Front is a nationalist movement founded in 2008. It describes its ideology as "popular and social nationalism" and promotes Greek nationalism. ELAM's activities include marches against Turkish Cypriots and attacks against immigrants and leftist progressive students.

It is openly connected with Golden Dawn. Golden Dawn leader Ilias Kasidiaris has described ELAM as the "Golden Dawn of Cyprus". Members and supporters of ELAM celebrated Golden Dawns electoral results in the May and June 2012 Greek parliamentary elections on the streets of Cyprus.

Golden Dawn MP Polibios Zisimopoulos attended ELAM's march against the Turkish occupation of northern Cyprus on 20 July 2012. ELAM's announcement of Georgios Charalambous as its candidate for the presidency was made in the presence of two members of Golden Dawn, Giannis Lagos and Ilias Kasidiaris.

The slight reduction in ELAM's electoral appeal from 4534 votes (1.08%) in the parliamentary elections of May 2011 to 3899 votes (0.885%) on 17 February.

Makaria-Andri Stylianou, candidate for the "Indignant Citizens" movement of Cyprus, scored 1898 votes (0.43% ).

Anastasiadis (DHSY) got 45.46%; Stavros Malas (AKEL), 26.91% - down from 33.29% in the 2008 presidential elections; Giorgos Lilikas (EDEK) 24.93%.

61.35% of the voters turned out; it was 75% in the 2008 presidential election.

Because of AKEL's treacherous pro-memorandum politics and austerity measures, the people of Cyprus (those have voted) chose to go with an ardent neo-liberal, a fanatical enthusiast for the EU/ ECB/ IMF Troika, and a supporter of a more severe memorandum. Anastadiasis's electoral manifesto promised that the meagre improvements in workers' living standards and conditions gained during AKEL's presidency would be reversed.

He promised to an end to "laziness" in the public sector, and blamed AKEL's hesitancy and reluctance about the memorandum for the current economic crisis.

His presidency will open the way for the creditors to impose in Cyprus even more destructive cuts than in Greece. But all the presidential candidates, with one or another variant, supported the memorandum framework.

These election results in Cyprus will have very painful side-effects in Greece, whose developments have been heavily influenced by Cyprus throughout the last century.

It is a fact that a sizeable majority of the people in Cyprus are in favour of Cyprus going under a memorandum. Despite being fully aware of the plight of the Greeks and of what they should expect from the memorandum in Cyprus Memorandum, the majority of the Cyprus electorate backed the memorandum.

Christofias and the AKEL leadership have discredited the Left and socialist ideas, and paralysed the left in Cyprus, which normally counts over one third of the voters.

If AKEL had resisted the Memorandum, at least 50% of Cypriots and soon the majority of the Cypriot people would have resisted too.

The coming economic catastrophe of Cyprus is expected to have national implications. "Now or never" was the slogan of the New York Times. The loans that the EU would give to Cyprus's Government "ought to give Brussels leverage to push the Greek Cypriots into cooperating with the Turkish Cypriots in the north of the island to join in a loose federation of the kind proposed in 2004 by Kofi Annan, then the U.N. secretary general ... if European countries want to wield some influence, it is now or never" (4 February).

At this stage, the US and Germany have as their first goal future revenues from undersea deposits of Cyprus gas, and the immediate dismantling of the oversized Cypriot banking system, which is the base of the artificial economic prosperity in Cyprus. The Cypriot banks, according to a recent announcement by the Central Bank of Cyprus, have deposits of over 70 billion euros.

22 billion appear officially as coming from non-European depositors, mainly from Russia and Ukraine. Of the remaining 50 billion, several billion belonging to Russians who in recent years have acquired citizenship of Cyprus.

On 11 February, the Financial Times published the thoughts circulating within the eurozone on the Cyprus banking system. The "radical" scenario includes losses for depositors in the banks and for those who have invested in Cyprus bonds. The financial sector of Cyprus, which today is eight times GDP, would be reduced by one third by 2015.
A more "moderate" option would leave banks half their current size within ten years.

These plans mean sudden recession and economic contraction, disappearance of entire sectors of the economy and massive unemployment (15%, which is a-typical for Cyprus).
Based on estimates of the Troika, Cyprus needs over the next three years around 10 billion euros for recapitalisation of banks and about five billion for fiscal needs.

The memorandum is expected to be completed after March if two conditions are met:

  • First, that the loan will be paid in Cyprus will be sustainable. The IMF does not want involvement in the Cyprus Memorandum if the level of public debt after it exceeds 120% of GDP. Future revenues from natural gas do not enter in the calculations, since, as Commerce Minister Neoclis Sylikiotis states, "the first money from the exploitation of natural gas will flow in 2019."
  • Second, that the demand from the European Central Bank and some northern European countries to investigate allegations of laundering mainly Russian money through Cypriot banks, is met. The issue, according to analysts in Cypriots, although real, is raised in a selective manner, if one considers the practices in the City of London, Luxemburg, Liechtenstein, and even in Germany itself.

After signing the memorandum Christofias declared: "United we will succeed through hard work and sacrifice in getting Cyprus out of this situation as our nation did in 1974." But ultimately no sacrifices were asked from the bankers, those who caused the crisis and were bailed out.

The only people asked to sacrifice were the workers.

Christofias attempted to present the memorandum as a victory. But in fact Christofias and AKEL mortgaged the future of the people to the banks and the Troika. All Christofias's supposedly red lines were dropped.

The points of agreement between Christofias and the Troika included:

  • cuts in benefits and social and welfare services
  • increasing the retirement age from 63 to 65 years (maintaining it at 63 was an election commitment of Christofias in 2008)
  • increase of VAT and indirect taxation
  • redundancy for at least 5000 public sector workers.

This is the list of the supposed successes of Christofias's negotiating skills.
Christofias said he would not give the future revenues from natural gas to the banks, but he admitted that he would give them a big percentage. So even the revenues to come after 2019 will be primarily used to meet the creditors needs.

He said he avoided privatisations! But only as long as "the debt is sustainable." But the Troika policies, enforcing bank recapitalisation, will increase the public debt figures hugely.

Christofias also claimed he had preserved ATA (automatic annual indexation) and the 13th month of pay. But ATA will be frozen for three years and restored only if there is growth - and then only by 50%. According to calculations by trade unions, under the memorandum budget workers will lose an equivalent of two months' wages per year.
Since Christofias and the AKEL government signed up for a memorandum last December, a Pandora's box has been opened for a dismantling of workers' living standards and conditions has been opened.

For the presidential election, AKEL nominated Malas, who is a technocrat and not a left-winger. That is the culmination of many political compromises and deliberate retreats.

The Christofias government chose a policy of national consensus and unanimity, a policy of management of the capitalist system, a policy of avoiding conflict and confrontations with the bourgeoisie.

The "achievements" of the AKEL government include: acceptance of the memorandum, recapitalising banks without nationalisation, tax immunity of the capitalists and the church.

Now the Left has a duty to focus on the preparation of the only effective weapon available to workers, everyday solidarity and organisation of struggles.

These industrial struggles that are erupting and will erupt are in need of a political leadership. The formation of ERAS is an attempt in that direction.

ERAS did not offer critical support to Malas and AKEL. That stand was based upon the correct assessment that a vote for AKEL cannot be considered a vote for Left policies as AKEL did not put forward even a minimal political manifesto to enable working-class confrontation against the memorandum politics.

ERAS, however, said that it understood that a lot of AKEL voters are still left wing people who voted for AKEL based on their left reflexes.

According to ERAS the main duties of the Left is to dare to do what experience has shown that no Party that intends to operate within the framework of the capitalist system and manage the crisis can achieve - to prioritise ithe reconnection of the combative industrial working-class movement, being fully aware that even the smallest victory requires the utmost determination, rallying and militancy.

For ERAS the main priority is to contribute towards the victory of workers' struggles that have already erupted and prepare; to lay the seeds for the future struggle to come; to strengthen the ideas and the appeal of the left in a radical direction; to form a united front with all workers, Cypriots and immigrants, the rank and file of AKEL and every fighter and campaigner.

The economic crisis has intensified a pan-European offensive of capitalism against the European working class in all countries of Europe. At the same time, massive movements of class solidarity and resistance are developing especially in the countries of southern Europe where economic conditions are worse.

Amongst them are the Cypriot construction workers who have begun to discover from first-hand experience the impact of the memorandum measures.

On Friday, February 8, the general meetings of the construction workers decided to continue their strike, which had already completed 16 days. The management has not accepted any of the compromise proposals of the ministry. The two union federations (PEO and SEK) are under pressure to call a general strike.

The Cypriot construction workers' struggle is certainly not something new. Since 2010 their bosses have refused to sign a new Collective Labour Bargaining Agreement.

After fruitless negotiations and 24-hour and 48-hour strikes, it became apparent to the construction workers that more decisive action was necessary.

Cypriot construction companies have found in the crisis a perfect excuse to dismantle labour rights.

Despite the fact that the construction sector today employs the same number of workers as in 2008, Cypriot bosses have chosen to sack Cyprus construction workers (6,000 redundancies according to the Cypriot trade unions) and to hire workers coming from other countries of the EU (10,000) with lower wages and no coverage by the collective bargaining agreements.

The reaction of the bosses to the strike of the construction workers has been swift and harsh, recruiting scabs.

The AKEL government of AKEL, which claimed to speak in the name of the workers, the Left and socialism, not only did nothing to safeguard the rights of workers and enforce collective agreements for all, but on 5 February sent the police to attack the strikers, arresting three of them! The largest union in Cyprus, especially among construction workers is the PEO, which is controlled by AKEL.

The struggle of the construction workers is a struggle for all workers in Cyprus. The construction workers' struggle should not be seen solely as a fight by one group to maintain their collective bargaining agreements. The workers are fighting for the extension of collective bargaining agreements to every work place and to every worker independent of nationality. Cypriot and foreign construction workers are striking together, giving a strong message of struggle and solidarity

Over the last few months, Christofias has reiterated over and over again that "he had been forced to sign the memorandum" , "there was no alternative" etc! The truth is that the memorandum is the only solution if one wishes to safeguard the interests of the bankers.

The duty of the Left is not to save the bankers and the capitalists but to prioritise and unequivocally protect the workers' rights. The Memorandum is the end result of the policy of AKEL and Christofias since they came to power.

It's exactly what Cristofias meant when he affirmed the ruling class at home and abroad - in 2008 after the election - that his intention was to manage the system and not to change it. Especially at this time of crisis, however, any effort of a government of the Left to govern via class collaboration and consensus results to a memorandum with "No Human Face" and makes the Left responsible for the crisis in the minds of the working class.

AKEL's years of government were based upon disabling instead of strengthening the trade union movement. One of Christofias's final acts was to invite in the trade union leaders and ask for their collaboration, i.e. no industrial action of any form, in order to smoothly implement the memorandum.

A left government that "does not understand" or "does not want to understand" that the crisis is in the logic of the capitalist system is driven to implement anti working class policies spreading the ideology of defeat and impotence to the working class movement and opening the doors for the original right wing governments to escalate the attacks. At the same time it creates the conditions for the strengthening of the extreme right.

There is an alternative and that is shown daily by the pan European working class movements of resistance against the memoranda and austerity measures and cutbacks of the Greek, Spain, Portuguese, Irish, Italian workers and the re -emergence of the combative working-class movement in the capitalist metropolises of UK, Belgium, France and Germany.

If AKEL were a consistent Left Party, then it should have embraced the following plan of action:

point black refuse for the workers to take the burden of the debts of the bankers and suffer the "support mechanisms" of the EU and Troika.

to nationalise the collapsed banks under workers' and social control

measures to fight tax evasion and fraud, taxing wealth, capital, banks and church

stop repayment of installments and interest on the debt, as the debt repayments are beyond the limits of Cyprus workers and society.

To the extent that the dilemma is posed, "Payment of the debt versus payment of salaries and pensions", a Left's government answer must be: "In order to pay salaries, refuse to pay the debt"

nationalisation of banks, nationalisation of industries in crisis (construction, tourism, etc.) and commerce under a planned economy, under conditions of workers' and social control and management for the needs of society and not for the profit of the bankers and the rich.

There are lessons for Syriza in Greece.

The results of the elections of 17 June and the spectacular rise of Syriza have stirred up debate on the relationship between parliament and the Left, the Left and the state, and the Left the movements and, especially, the tactics and strategy of the Left.

The route of AKEL has a lot to teach us. The strategy of AKEL, that is the policy of the reformist Left, roughly consisted of the following: the goal of any struggle in the political and trade union sphere was the entrance of the left in government. The goal of socialist revolution and workers' power was abandoned as a target "for the moment" and replaced with the entry into government.

For the purpose of entering the government and making bargains with the bourgeoisie, control and blocking of the mass movement becomes essential.

The period when Christofias signed the memorandum was not a period of defeat of the working class movement. All around Europe and especially on the South Europe and Greece we witnessed international class solidarity and the re emergence of a combative working class movement that refuses to surrender to the memorandum politics and austerity measurements.

If AKEL and Christofias had refused to enter the memorandum and adopted a program of transitional demands to remobilise the trade union movement (where AKEL has the majority), then it would have triggered a wave of class solidarity and support both from the Cyprus working class, from the Greek workers, from the South European workers, and from all the workers in Europe, who would have seen AKEL's government as part of their political struggle for a government of the Left to scrap all memoranda and all anti working class laws.

However, AKEL choose the path of compromise and "social peace." AKEL asked the working class to accept and bear the "brunt of the sacrifices imposed by the struggle against the crisis" with the following reasoning: first Capitalist growth, competitiveness and exist from the bankers crisis and after that, pro-working-class reforms in the state and economy. AKEL took responsibility for rescuing the Cypriot capitalism from its own crisis.

Syriza should be clearly separated from such paths of "responsibility" and "governability" and class collaborationist legalistic politics.

The people who voted for Syriza and the rank and file of Syriza endured an unprecedented campaign of ideological bullying (from inside and outside Greece), and do not expect from Syriza a "responsible" opposition. They want Syriza to offer an alternative narrative - that there is life outside the Memoranda, and to organize the resistance to overthrow the memoranda and austerity measures. For a government of the left dialectically linked to the workers' struggles, as a first step to social change, where people will not only be "before profit", but will determine their own lives ...

Syriza has a duty to contribute towards the strengthening of the pan European working class alliance from below against the bosses' European Alliance of austerity and memoranda. This alliance will be built: between the Iberian protesters and the Italian strikers, between the Greek labor movement and the French Peugeot workers, between the Cypriot construction workers and the UK anti cuts movement.

All European Left forces should take the lead in the working class pan European coordination of struggles: with joint demonstrations and organization of international solidarity and support to major labor struggles that will bring closer the goal of a large pan-European general strike.

This criterion determines the programs of the Left which should only speak with the rank and file working class movement: The overthrow of austerity, abolition of the debt, zand war against the national bond holders and creditors would relieve the nightmare experienced by both "North" and "South" workers. "No sacrifice for the euro" will unite all labour movements against the blackmailers of Brussels.

In such an orientation, the left can be a leader, to play the historic role that corresponds to the current conditions of capitalism under deep crisis. The commitment to develop a pan-European resistance movement, the head-on collision with the EU's ultra neoliberal policy, can create the conditions for a response to the crisis and counterposed to the bosses' European Union the workers' red Europe.