Monday, 13 February 2012

Social Democracy and the Greek Disaster

February 13, 2012

On Sunday night, February 12, the Greek Parliament passed the new austerity measures demanded by the Troika of the International Monetary Fund, the European Commission and the European Central Bank. It is widely agreed that the draconian program will drive the Greek economy even deeper into recession. Very few believe that Greece will avoid defaulting on their debt.

The new “restraint” package includes a 22% reduction in the minimum wage, cuts to pensions and the national pharmaceutical drug program, wage cuts, the elimination of 150,000 government jobs, and the privatization of more government businesses and programs. Companies will now be able to unilaterally reduce wages and break contracts with trade unions.

Public opinion polls show an overwhelming majority of Greeks are opposed to the economic measures being imposed on them. The present government is an alliance between the social democratic party,  PASOK, and the conservative New Democracy, presided over by Lucas Papademos, an unelected prime minister and former banker. The latest poll shows 79% opposed to the bailout package, which is designed to try to protect the international banks and their investments in Greek government bonds.

The two major trade union confederations have been holding general strikes across Greece for over a year now. They are formally linked to PASOK, Greece’s version of Canada’s New Democratic Party (NDP). In the 2009 election for the Greek parliament PASOK received 44% of the vote and formed a minority government. In the most recent public opinion poll, their support among potential voters has fallen to 9%. New Democracy is holding at 31%, just slightly less than they received in 2009.
Greeks support general strike

The Greek crisis has shifted public opinion away from the neoliberal social democrats and towards the parties of the left. Support for he Communist Party (PKK), which has played an important role in the general strikes, stands at 13%. The Coalition of the Radical Left, a left green party, is at 12%. The Democratic Left, a socialist party created in 2010, stands at 18%.

When voters were asked who would be the best leader for Greece at this time, the results show the general shift to the left:

Fotis Kouvelis of the Democratic Left – 56%
Alexis Tsipras of the Coalition of the Radical left – 41%
Antonis Samaras of New Democracy - 31%.

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Is There a Future for the Saskatchewan NDP?

February 7, 2012

From 1944 through 2007 Saskatchewan politics was dominated by the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF) and its successor the New Democratic Party (NDP). But then it was soundly defeated by the Saskatchewan Party in 2007 and routed in 2011. Today the NDP has only nine seats in the legislature. Dwain Lingenfelter, who had been called back from Nexen in Calgary to lead the party in 2009, has stepped down, and John Nilsen was chosen as the interim leader. The NDP Provincial Council will meet on March 10, 2012 to decide when to call a leadership convention. This is a very important decision.

What is the future for the NDP in Saskatchewan? It is clear that the powers that be in the party do not want to seriously ask what happened and why. They are pushing for an early leadership convention. Only two possible candidates are being mentioned, MLAs Cam Broten and Trent Wotherspoon. It is expected that either will continue the policy direction set by the governments of Roy Romanow and Lorne Calvert (1991-2007). This was the full neoliberal package including the promotion of the free market and free trade, cutting taxes and social programs, the privatization of state enterprises, deregulation, and subsidies for large capitalist enterprises. The party also took a strong stand against the Kyoto protocol and any mandatory controls on greenhouse gas emissions.

The collapse of the NDP
The Saskatchewan NDP is in big trouble. Their vote has fallen from 275,000 in 1991 to 169,000 in 2007 and 127,000 in 2011. The party membership has fallen from 46,000 in 1991 to around 8,000 today. The provincial Liberal Party has all but disappeared; in the 2011 election they got fewer votes than the Greens. As a result, the Saskatchewan Party received 64% of the popular vote and the NDP only 32%.

When Ryan Bater resigned as leader of the provincial Liberal Party, he argued that the province had now moved to a “one party system.” Without any real shift in policy, it seems very likely that the NDP will be a weak opposition party for the foreseeable future. They may never again form the government.

It should also be recognized that the public’s participation in the electoral process has dropped dramatically. In the 1991 election which swept the NDP back into office, 83% of those who were enumerated went to the polls. In 2011 this had fallen to 66%. But the number of voters on the official electoral roll has also been falling. In 2011 the turnout of eligible voters (citizens 18 and older) was actually only 49%. Why is it that the people of this province no longer feel it is of any use to even bother to vote?

For most people in Saskatchewan times are quite good. The province has had a boom in the resource extraction industries. People have moved here to find work. Overall employment is up significantly. The average wage is now above the national average. House prices have risen with the general boom, which has benefitted the majority. So it was highly unlikely that the NDP had a chance to win this past election, no matter who the leader was.