To beat austerity, Greece must break free from the euro | Costas Lapavitsas


Greek national flags are displayed for sale at the entrance of a one euro shop in Athens
Greek national flags are displayed for sale at the entrance of a one euro shop in Athens
‘The Syriza government has paid a high price to remain alive. Things will be made even harder by the parlous state of the Greek economy.’ (Photograph: Alkis Konstantinidis/Reuters)

(The Guardian, Monday 2 March 2015)

 

The agreement signed between Greece and the EU after three weeks of lively negotiations is a compromise reached under economic duress. Its only merit for Greece is that it has kept the Syriza government alive and able to fight another day. That day is not far off. Greece will have to negotiate a long-term financing agreement in June, and has substantial debt repayments to make in July and August. In the coming four months the government will have to get its act together to negotiate those hurdles and implement its radical programme. The European left has a stake in Greek success, if it is to beat back the forces of austerity that are currently strangling the continent.

In February the Greek negotiating team fell into a trap of two parts. The first was the reliance of Greek banks on the European Central Bank for liquidity, without which they would stop functioning. Mario Draghi, president of the European Central Bank, ratcheted up the pressure by tightening the terms of liquidity provision. Worried by developments, depositors withdrew funds; towards the end of negotiations Greek banks were losing a billion euros of liquidity a day.

The second was the Greek state’s need for finance to service debts and pay wages. As negotiations proceeded, funds became tighter. The EU, led by Germany, cynically waited until the pressure on Greek banks had reached fever pitch. By the evening of Friday 20 February the Syriza government had to accept a deal or face chaotic financial conditions the following week, for which it was not prepared at all.

The resulting deal has extended the loan agreement, giving Greece four months of guaranteed finance, subject to regular review by the “institutions”, ie the European Commission, the ECB and the IMF. The country was forced to declare that it will meet all obligations to its creditors “fully and timely”.

Furthermore, it will aim to achieve “appropriate” primary surpluses; desist from unilateral actions that would “negatively impact fiscal targets”; and undertake “reforms” that run counter to Syriza pledges to lower taxes, raise the minimum wage, reverse privatisations, and relieve the humanitarian crisis.

In short, the Syriza government has paid a high price to remain alive. Things will be made even harder by the parlous state of the Greek economy. Growth in 2014 was a measly 0.7%, while GDP actually contracted during the last quarter. Industrial output fell by a further 3.8% in December, and even retail sales declined by 3.7%, despite Christmas. The most worrying indication, however, is the fall in prices by 2.8% in January. This is an economy in a deflationary spiral with little or no drive left to it. Against this background, insisting on austerity and primary balances is vindictive madness.

The coming four months will be a period of constant struggle for Syriza. There is little doubt that the government will face major difficulties in passing the April review conducted by the “institutions” to secure the release of much-needed funds. Indeed, so grave is the fiscal situation that events might unravel even faster. Tax income is collapsing, partly because the economy is frozen and partly because people are withholding payment in the expectation of relief from the extraordinary tax burden imposed over the last few years. The public purse will come under considerable strain already in March, when there are sizeable debt repayments to be made.

But even assuming that the government successfully navigates these straits, in June Greece will have to re-enter negotiations with the EU for a long-term financing agreement. The February trap is still very much there, and ready to be sprung again.

What should we as Syriza do and how could the left across Europe help? The most vital step is to realise that the strategy of hoping to achieve radical change within the institutional framework of the common currency has come to an end. The strategy has given us electoral success by promising to release the Greek people from austerity without having to endure a major falling-out with the eurozone. Unfortunately, events have shown beyond doubt that this is impossible, and it is time that we acknowledged reality.

For Syriza to avoid collapse or total surrender, we must be truly radical. Our strength lies exclusively in the tremendous popular support we still enjoy. The government should rapidly implement measures relieving working people from the tremendous pressures of the last few years: forbid house foreclosures, write off domestic debt, reconnect families to the electricity network, raise the minimum wage, stop privatisations. This is the programme we were elected on. Fiscal targets and monitoring by the “institutions” should take a back seat in our calculations, if we are to maintain our popular support.

….

(full article is at the Guardian, 2 March 2015)

 

Costas Lapavitsas is a Syriza MP and an economics professor at the School of Oriental and African Studies

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Darrell Whitman, OSHA Whistleblower Investigator Blows Whistle on Own Agency (NBC)


Employee says the federal whistleblower program isn’t protecting whistleblowers or the public
By Vicky Nguyen, Liz Wagner and Felipe Escamilla
(NBC Bay Area, Feb 24, 2015)

 
For decades, whistleblowers have played a pivotal role in exposing wrongdoing in industries that affect public safety and welfare. NSA leaker Edward Snowden, “Deep Throat” Mark Felt and Enron Corporation’s Sherron Watkins famously blew the whistle on their employers.
The federal government established the Whistleblower Protection Program in the 1970s to shield employees from retaliation when they report wrongdoing or safety hazards in their industry. But insiders say the program is failing the very people it is supposed to protect, and jeopardizing public health and safety in the process.
The program is run and managed by the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA). Current and former OSHA employees, complainants and government reports reveal a system that has botched the investigation and management of whistleblower cases.
“OSHA is hostile to whistleblowers,” said Darrell Whitman, an agency investigator.
For the past five years Whitman has worked in the San Francisco office of OSHA’s Region 9, which oversees four states—California, Nevada, Arizona and Hawaii—and the U.S. territory Guam. Whitman examines complaints from workers who have been fired for speaking up about problems in 22 industries ranging from pipeline safety and food production to aviation and nuclear defense.
When people from those sectors blow the whistle, OSHA is supposed to pay attention. But Whitman says that’s not happening.
“It is so incredibly absurd that we have placed our faith in these people who have no intention of following through to protect the public,” he said.
Whitman said that after he began his job in 2010 he discovered a disturbing pattern of what he considers mismanagement by his supervisors. He said superiors pressured employees to rush investigations to eliminate a growing backlog of cases and dismiss complaints even when Whitman found they had merit.
He points to at least six instances where he believes managers bungled the outcome of cases or decided to dismiss them unfairly. Two cases which Whitman calls “slam dunks” involve the environmental testing and aviation industries.
“Slam Dunk” Cases
For three years beginning in 2010 Aaron Stookey worked as a flight service specialist for defense contractor, Lockheed Martin. He helped commercial, private and military pilots plan safe flight paths by advising them of weather conditions in the skies near them.
“I want that pilot to know everything they need to know,” said Stookey, “so everyone aboard that aircraft can safely get to their destination and see their families that night.”
He was certified to assist pilots in just three mountain states—Colorado, Wyoming and Montana—not the entire country. Stookey says often times he would receive calls from locations with which he was not familiar. He says his managers pressured him to answer an increasing call volume and instructed him not to reveal his actual location when pilots called for help. Stookey believed that practice violated laws established by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).
“They did not want the pilot to know that they received someone who was not certified in a flight plan area,” he said. “I would say this isn’t safe, this is really deceptive to the aviation community and I am not comfortable with that.”
After repeated warnings, Lockheed Martin fired Stookey for failing to follow company procedures. In a statement the company said specialists are “trained to carefully follow FAA regulations and our standard of care policies to ensure the safety of general aviation pilots.”
Mike Madry also believes he suffered retaliation from his employer and said OSHA’s Whistleblower Protection Program let him down.
For a decade Madry served as the Phoenix-based quality assurance manager for Em Lab P&K, one of the largest indoor air quality testing companies in the U.S. In 2009, Madry says he documented multiple labs misusing a device that records test results for asbestos, a cancer causing substance found in many older homes and schools. He said the device called into question the accuracy of thousands of samples.
“The compromised testing process could put the whole nation at risk,” Madry said.
He says he also found that a lab in San Bruno was cutting corners by conducting tests in just 20 seconds instead of the standard time of five to 10 minutes.
“I asked repeatedly how these tests were able to be done in such a short period of time and I never got a clear answer from management,” Madry said.
He was fired in 2011. He says according to the company, he was terminated for failing to return from medical leave. In an email Em Lab P&K said it has a “strong basis for defending itself against Mr. Madry’s allegations” but declined to comment further citing pending litigation.
Whitman investigated and determined both companies violated the law by retaliating against Madry and Stookey. His findings called for the employers to rehire the men with back pay. Instead, Whitman says his superiors dismissed the cases.
“I expected those supervisory people in that office to back up my complaint,” Madry said. “They simply kicked me to the curb.”
“When you simply dismiss a case because you don’t like it or don’t want to stand up to business,” Whitman said, “you are basically sending a message to other whistleblowers, don’t file a complaint because we’re not going to take it seriously.”
Whitman was so upset by how his managers dealt with Madry’s case that he petitioned OSHA headquarters to review it. The national office agreed with Whitman and reversed Region 9’s decision.
With regard to Stookey’s case, Lockheed Martin said in a statement “the OSHA investigative process worked as it should have. When all the relevant facts were reviewed by OSHA supervisors and administrators, Mr. Stookey’s claim was found to be without merit.”

(For the full article see NBC at Bay Area)

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