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Thursday, 11 February 2016

Syriza vs Greek Farmers: Who will blink first?



Farmers loading tractors to go to Athens


Despite the crossparty support (bar KKE - GD) to the 3rd Economic Genocide programme the IMF-EU has unleashed on Greece, the farmers fight that has brought the country to a standstill has created a new dynamic where it appears the Troika for the first time doesn’t want an implosion of a Greek government. The pension-tax agreements which were supposedly supposed to have been agreed by October 2015 and keeps on getting postponed due to the resistance of the citizens.

What has been created is an undeclared United Front encompassing farmers and self-employed professionals (lawyers, taxi drivers, lorry drivers, doctors etc.)by the massive tax and pension changes involved bringing back the spirit of the struggles of 2011-12 which essentially destroyed the extreme centre parties (PASOK-ND) from which in this lifetime they will never recover.


                                    Protest in Thessaloniki with Banner stating 
                                    "You are sending us to Bulgaria"

Farmers are made up of a variety of professions, land farmers, animal husbandry, honey growers etc. and until now due to the crisis their sales are reduced massively due to the drop in income of the population at large from the crisis and its effects and also by the massive increases in imports at a lower cost by foreign owned supermarket chains.

135 Roadblocks and Counting
Farmers initially started some roadblocks for less than an hour at a time with protests on main highways in essentially three areas they have a lot of people in Tempe, Nikaia and Promahona (one is near Larissa the other near Thessaloniki and the third one with the border of FYROM).

Initially from one part of the country to another various Syriza Ministers attempted to speak to the road blocks but the rank and file farmers were having none of it. They played repeatedly in social media Tsipras speeches from roadblocks in 2013 where he parroted old positions of Syriza: that farmers fuel should not be taxed like car fuel, that there should be zero tax for the first Euro 12,000 of income, that agricultural EU subsidies should not be taxed and the cost of materials in relation to production should be evaluated for special cases so production doesn’t move abroad.

 None of these campaign issues of Syriza were now to be taken into account, instead farmers from an income of Euro 10.000 would be taxed at 80% so they would receive only Euro2000 income which essentially implied they would become economically extinct and would be forced to sell their land.
                               Syriza offices defended by riot police in Hania, Crete

For over three weeks farmers have been involved in a variety of struggles: from blockading Syriza MP’s regional offices, occupying town halls, tax offices, organising the dumping of manure, milk, hay in various locations, organising theatrical staged events like mock burials of Tsipras, Al Quaeda style beheadings etc. and creating  blockades in 135 locations and with the large General Strike on 4th February everyone heard the farmers issues. The fact that they have blockaded Greece’s second city (Thessaloniki) twice and that over 10,000 tractors are on roadblocks shows the extent of feeling.
                                                Invading Syriza Offices...

Indicative of the situation is that no political parties from the opposition eg New Democracy, PASOK, Potami, or Enosi Kentro or Golden Dawn only the KKE and only in one region. No one really wants to bring the government down and take over. No one in Parliament is happy the blockades have mushroomed. The riot police were told to confront the farmers but as the police spokesperson stated many in the police force are from farming communities (40% of Greeks live in rural areas). Another police force is required for the demands of the Troika and essentially another population. Greeks ain’t up to what is required of them, to essentially become landless scavengers in their own land.
                                     Pigs have been rebranded ...Syriza

50% of farmers hold more than 5 acres of land and around 33% of farmers are over 64 years old. It’s a dying occupation with too much effort for too little gain in benefits as non-Euro currencies like Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary and Poland can beat prices in a whole range of basic agricultural goods. So apart from the large farming interests, in feta, olive oil, Brandy, Ouzo most of Greek agriculture is for the domestic market which gets of course priced out by imports to foreign owned supermarket chains and the fact that locals purchasing power has been reduced by almost 50% in Euro terms.

EU’s regime of percentages in agricultural production
Big agro-business aims to wipe out small producers via the regime of percentages that are assigned to each country in terms of production and Greece being part of the EU is no exception to that rule. So despite having high quality tobacco, cotton,  and saffron these industries aren’t supported but massively curtailed (or wiped out totally) so farming is becoming either a means of self-sufficiency if the holding is small or catering for a luxury market with the use of modern marketing techniques by becoming part of quality chains ie non GMO or organic if it to remain ‘competitive’. Its basic function to feed the population is no longer neither here nor there. Nor is there a desire to link it to the tourist industry which caters for +20million tourists annually. It’s no coincidence they abolished the Agricultural Bank as the big farming interests in Greece have merged with foreign multinationals and they use banking systems from the developed capitalist states so the small and medium farmer has no way of getting finance other than mortgaging their land and being in perpetual debt and at the whim of production that can being in ‘profit’.

The war against the farmer has been so extensive that they imposed cash registers in all local markets when this rule doesn’t exist in other EU states (eg. UK or France) turning each farming concern into a business and taxing land which hasn’t produced anything, just the mere fact of its existence and ownership. The taxing of land were measures imposed extensively in the dying decades of the British Empire leading to farming rebellions, any fool knows one taxes produce not land for the sake of it.

Breaking away the people from their land, aiming to evict people in the cities from their houses imply attempting to create a break with the past, so as to make resistance all the more difficult. But the ingenuity of the farming community is boundless. Through a diverse and mobile struggle which doesn’t always follow the patterns set by the traditional forms of conflict (ie protest march in the towns square and get teargassed or beaten up) they are crippling business. What is lacking is a political movement that can unite the cities with the countryside and this is why Syriza said farmers can’t march into Athens tomorrow (12th February for a 3 day sit in).
The people who raised the march to Athens as a proposal on the back of the generally held view by the road blocks was the KKE’s agricultural representative Boutas who is famous from past years of talking tough then at the last minute calling everything off. Boutas had secret meetings with Kouroumblis (Syriza ex-PASOK Minister of Interior) to basically explain to him he cannot control the 135 roadblocks and that no negotiations about them ending will occur unless the government withdraws all proposed measures and starts a negotiating process from a zero basis.  As was noted on a popular radio show Ellinofrenia a farmer was quoted to be saying “We will stay on our land, we won’t be evicted, they will leave” (10th February 2016)
                               KKE's Boutas like PAME playing internal 'divide and rule'
For the first time since the IMF roadshow arrived in Greece a section of society linked to the land and the history of the country (from rural areas most of the resistance movements lasted and drove out barbaric occupations) people are openly discussing staying and fighting till the pro-Troika parties go. They are openly anti-EU having ripped up EU flags in many localities, they have been marching on tracters with Greek flags, they openly assert the aim of the measures is the eradication of farming and they have recreated the slogans of Land and Freedom of the past. Despite the strength of feeling the extent of the blockades it is quite amazing how the world’s corporate media is absent which makes one think that something serious is happening for up until now they controlled both the narrative and the outcome.

Farmers will win or they will no longer exist
Whatever the outcome of this weekend it is clear that the government has been given full authority to play for time talking about changing tax and pension changes months from now. They want the movement to subside and come back with a vengenance. For Syriza to survive in government they have to see out the farmers blockades. The feeling as expressed on Greek radio in interviews by farmers from various roadblocks has been very militant sounding. One farmer stated that if the riot police is used we will turn out tractors into weapons. Indicative of the feeling is when a farmer in Thessaloniki has put his farming jeep up to the gates of the Ministry there and was revving up pretending he would break through. There aren’t enough riot police to be able to break every blockade. Only the army can do that.
                         Protesting Athens Airport-No to the Extinction of Greek Farmers

From the farmers point of view can they stay out another two-three months? If the roadblocks aren’t manned in a 24 hour basis for a minimum of two weeks the government will attempt to ride it out but their disarray is evident as one of the MPs from Crete Mihalogiannakis alleged that 30-35 Syriza MP’s elected from farming areas are wavering on the measures. Either which way the peaceful protests about the 3rd Bailout are nearing their limits and there is no parliamentary force on the horizon which can utilize this situation to the advantage of the system and evaporate the anger like Syriza was able to do after the squares movement in 2011. This time round the Greeks may be third time lucky. The Troika may be about to fall.

Notes
EU Stats on Greek Farming
http://ec.europa.eu/agriculture/statistics/factsheets/pdf/el_en.pdf

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