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Chris Ford: Syriza win in Greece - close similarities with First Labour Govt in NZ

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Chris Ford
Chris Ford

On Monday morning, I pumped my fist in the air at the news that Syriza had won in Greece. After two failed attempts (caused by a massive scaremongering campaign waged by the Greek and European elites) the Greek people overcame fear and elected hope.

The Greek people, in so doing, chose a government of compassion and justice. They chose a government which (so far) is standing up for Greece's interests against the powerful 'Troika' comprised of the European Central Bank (ECB), European Union (EU) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). This troika has inflicted the most severe economic pain on the Greek people for the last five years in return for bailouts from them. In almost sadist fashion, the Troika have punished Greece and, what is more, ordinary Greeks, for the perfidy of previous governments who corruptly hid spending away from public scrutiny.

Another interesting aspect for me are the close comparisons between the Greece of 2015 which has elected Syriza and the 1930s Depression-era New Zealand which elected the First Labour Government of Michael Joseph Savage.

As in recent Greece, the then New Zealand United-Reform 'National Coalition' Government (as did similar governments in the UK, Australia, Europe and Canada) followed the classical liberal economic policy of cutting public spending at a time of economic crisis. While by 1935 this had produced some results in New Zealand in terms of government budget surpluses and balance of payment and trade surpluses, the real economy continued to suffer as the unemployment rate stood at around 25% and growth remained negative. Ditto Greece in 2015 where, despite these same results produced by a combination of budget cuts and depressed economic demand (which has seen demand for imports drop away dramatically), the country still remains massively depressed - and more deeply indebted than ever.

Therefore, unsurprisingly, the same conditions that gave rise to the election of the Savage Labour Government in 1935 in New Zealand gave rise to the election of Syriza in Greece nearly eighty years later in 2015.

And another striking similarity is the fact that the New Zealand Labour Government's programme in 1935 was social democratic and Keynesian in character which was a slight remove from the radical democratic socialist programme adopted by the New Zealand Labour Party in its first years. Similarly, Syriza had 'toned' down its rhetoric in going from promising to unilaterally tear up the Troika's austerity programme in 2012 to instead seeking to re-negotiate the programme with its European counterparts. These moves made both left parties, in their own times and in their own respective countries, more electable in a time of crisis.

Finally, the election of the First Labour Government gave New Zealanders of the time renewed hope. This optimism proved well founded as by the Second World War, this country had largely pulled out of the depression and into the era of the progressive, social democratic welfare state. Hopefully, if Syriza continues to play its cards rights with the Troika powers, it too could pull out of its deep depression into an era of prosperity and hope.

I wish Syriza well as it seeks to bring Greece back from the abyss.


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