[Marxism] Greece: struggle over Gold mine (msm,1); from the left, rightists on offensive (2,3)

Dayne Goodwin daynegoodwin at gmail.com
Sun Apr 26 20:13:43 MDT 2015

1) Syriza Sits on Gold Mine as Repayment Date Approaches
by Luke Hurst
Newsweek magazine, April 23

A gold mine is at the centre of a fierce row in Greece between the
Left-wing Syriza government and a Canadian mining company that has
thrust simmering local tensions onto the national stage.

A battle between the energy and environment minister, Panagiotis
Lafazanis, who hails from the ultra-Left faction of Syriza, and Hellas
Gold which operates the Skouries mine in Halkidiki, has escalated
after the government revoked a licence for the construction of an
ore-grinding facility. The move is likely to cost jobs and lead to the
government losing out on valuable export revenue.

Expanding the mining projects could be lucrative for a country in
desperate need of funds. In total the mines in Halkidiki hold around
eight million ounces of gold as well as significant amounts of other
metals, which would make Greece around €500m per year in export
revenues by 2017, according to Eldorado Gold, the Canadian parent
company of Hellas Gold.

Eldorado has already invested around €400m n Halkidiki since 2012,
employing around 2,000 people, with plans to invest an extra €700m and
hire 1,000 more employees by 2020. Unemployment in Greece currently
runs at 26%, the highest of any EU country.

But Lafazanis says the environmental studies the mining permits were
based upon will be reassessed. Other Syriza politicians, including
local MP Katerina Igglezi, also oppose the mine, citing environmental
concerns and the negative impact the industry could have on tourism in
Halkidiki.  Around 4,000 miners and supporters marched on Athens to
protest against the decision to revoke the licence, but Lafazanis
suggested Eldorado was behind the demonstration, accusing the company
of trying to blackmail the Greek government. The row is indicative of
the tension between Syriza’s ideals and the pressure to raise revenue
to pay off its international creditors. Greece is due to pay a €200m
bailout installment to the IMF on 1 May ahead of a further €750m
payment on 12 May.

The company plan on beginning extraction next year, and the
ore-grinding facility is needed as part of this production process.

Anti-mining activists say the dispute is tearing the area’s local
towns apart as people clash over job opportunities and investment on
one side, and the mining’s impact on the environment and the tourism
industry on the other. Fifty-five people connected to anti-mining
protests are still facing charges following a spate of arrests in

Dimitrios Katsikas from the Hellenic Foundation for European and
Foreign Policy, a think tank, says that the decision to rescind the
licences was politically motivated. “It’s something they said they
wanted to do before, and they just fulfilled their pre-election
campaign despite the fact that it sends a negative message in terms of
investment in Greece, and of course it has a negative effect on the
people in the area in terms of employment.”

2)  A provocation that should alert us!
by Andreas Sartzekis
NPA France, April 26

The French press has said little or nothing about it... unlike the
Greek media, which we can say really created the event. On Thursday,
April 16 there took place in central Athens a workers’ rally and
demonstration... entirely taken in hand by bosses and managers, and
supported by every reactionary in the city.

We have mentioned it on several occasions: in the north of Greece, not
far from Thessaloniki, gold mines are being exploited, producing high
levels of pollution. The giant of the region, the Canadian company
Eldorado Gold, has been aiming for several years to expand its
activities around the town of Skouries, which triggered a massive
mobilization of the local population, with rallies and violent clashes
with the police of the Samaras government. Very early on, several
things became very clear: the former government of the Troika was
taking its orders from the employers and it used methods of barbaric
violence against the local people who had mobilized, with police
descending on their homes to terrorize them. Moreover, this company
took little notice of legality, and pushed forward with the
destruction of forests in order to open its new site, despite the
absence of any authorization to do so. Finally, it succeeded in
manipulating the company’s workers, turning them against the mobilized
people and forcing them to depend only on the company... and on the
members of the Nazi group Chryssi Avgi (Golden Dawn) who came to give
them their support "against the terrorists"!

A reactionary descent on Athens

We could have hoped that with the arrival of the Syriza government
this question, among the most popular with left activists, was going
to have a radical solution: a ban on opening a new mine. However, here
as in other areas, the Tsipras government discusses but does not act,
while the revanchist Right and the Nazis have seen very well the
possibility of exploiting the disoriented miners! Result: a real
pitched battle there a few weeks ago between local residents and
miners... who received the backing of the MAT (riot police) who
violently charged the local people.

And above all, the organization on Thursday, April 16 of a descent on
Athens by 4,000 miners with their families, entirely organized and
supervised by the management of the company! No need to dwell on the
free transport, with 85 buses, and the brand new yellow jackets and
helmets worn by the miners and their families. The most important
thing is the way the whole thing was stage-managed: a big crowd of
television journalists was there from the morning onwards, to greet
these brave workers on every channel... this time without a word about
the city centre being blocked. Not forgetting the overblown
commentaries on this demonstration, whereas on the evening of the same
day, the counter-demonstration of 2,000 people in support of the
people of Skouries barely got a mention... except to show, surprise,
surprise, some hooded individuals throwing Molotov cocktails.

There was one sight that sent a shiver down our spines: repeatedly, we
saw groups of miners banging on iron grills with their helmets, in a
clear comparison with empty saucepans of middle-class housewives in
Latin America demonstrating against left governments. And there was a
bonus, providing this clearly stage-managed demonstration with an echo
of the French "Demo for Everyone" against same-sex marriage: we saw a
former minister of Samaras, a mangy ex-fascist clown, leading the
demonstration with a workers’ helmet on his head. The image was
constantly relayed on all the TV channels.

In short, the message was clear: the real Greece, healthy and
anti-union, is back, confronting the government that is protecting the
ecolo-terrorists, who according to some banners are not "real
inhabitants" of the region of Skouries.

Winning at Skouries is an issue of national dimensions

The event was certainly ridiculous and in bad taste; it remains
worrying by its successful stage-managing and its eminently political
dimension. And it therefore demands a strong and massive response from
both the population (many committees exist in the country) and the
government. However, on that side, despite protests from many
officials about the use of the police against the people of Skouries,
Tsipras went at the beginning of this week to congratulate the
minister responsible for the police and to reinforce the propaganda
operation "Now the police are at the service of the people"... When we
know the influence of the Nazis in this repressive force, we can only
have doubts about the success of the objective of democratizing the

As far as the workers in the mine are concerned, it is clear that the
goal is of course to break the relationship of submission that the
bosses have established over them. But but this can only be done on a
clear basis: there can be no question of giving Eldorado Gold the
possibility of expanding. And on this basis, we must obtain the
guarantee of employment or retraining on the site. According to the
latest news, it seems that several miners have the feeling of having
been manipulated by an employer who did not even seek legal
authorization. This is perhaps the beginning of a contradiction that
can help turn the tide.

Winning at Skouries would obviously have a national impact; it would
be a stinging defeat for the bosses and for the Troika, which still
considers that Greece is for sale!

3)  Greece: The right on the streets attempts to put pressure on Syriza
by Arturo Rodriguez
In Defense of Marxism (IMT), April 24

Last week several thousand gold miners marched in Athens against the
government (the media claimed there were 6,000 protesters, although
this is visibly an exaggeration). They were demonstrating against the
government’s plans to close the Skouries gold mine in Chalkidiki,
owned by the Canadian mining company El Dorado and also partly by
Greek investors.

In the past years, there had been strong opposition by the local
residents of Chalkidiki and the environmentalist movement against the
mine, in what had become a cause célèbre for the Greek left. This is a
polluting open cast mine located in a forested area, in a region that
is renowned for its natural beauty.

There are also concerns about the impact the mine could have on the
health of the local population. Specifically, there are fears of
cyanide pollution of local water bodies. Syriza has promised to stop
the development of the mine, but it has also claimed that it will
respect legal commitments and so far it has failed to take any
decisive measures.

The miners’ opposition to the closure of the mine was then taken up
and manipulated by reactionaries. The protests were organised from
beginning to end by the mine-owners, which include shadowy figures
such as the Bobolas family of oligarchs (one of whose members,
Leonidas Bobolas, was arrested on Wednesday for multi-million tax
evasion). 27 MPs of the right-wing party New Democracy delivered a
threatening statement to minister Lafazanis where they warned of the
“escalation of social conflict” and of possible “loss of life” in the
future. Not only that, but the former minister of health and
pseudo-fascist member of the far right LAOS party, Antonis Georgiadis
had the cheek to appear on the demonstration donning a miners’ helmet!

These are somewhat uncanny champions of the cause of labour, to say
the least, having been in government in recent years slashing working
conditions and devastating the living standards of Greek workers. The
truth is that they are not concerned in the least about the miners
(although they may feel some concern about the owners of the mine,
considering their history of shady connections with mining
corporations). This, however, has not stopped them from
opportunistically seizing the chance to escalate the pressure against
Syriza and mobilise the more backward layers of the population against
the government on the streets.

This calls to mind the strike by the yellow unions of the Chilean
copper miners of El Teniente in May and June of 1973, sponsored and
encouraged by the ruling class, against the left-wing government of
Salvador Allende. In the coming months, we are likely to see more such
provocations by the ruling classes against the Greek government.

Syriza must continue to mobilise its base of support, rekindling the
enthusiasm that was generated in the first weeks after the January
elections, which saw spontaneous demonstrations backing Syriza and the
creation of citizens’ committees in support of the government, with
broad layers of society, including the middle classes and former
right-wing voters, speaking out in defence of the government, which
enjoyed approval ratings of over 80%.

However, what must also be pointed out is that the demonstration of
the miners reflects the genuine concerns by the more backward and
vacillating layers of the working class. The gold miners are
complaining that if the mine is closed, they will be left jobless in a
country where one in four workers is unemployed. If Syriza continues
to waver as it has been doing so far, promising on the one hand
ambitious social reforms and on the other reassuring bankers and the
capitalists that their interests will be respected, and, in the
meantime, is both unable to deliver on its promises and continues to
unnerve the capitalists, it will generate confusion and sow
demoralisation among the middle class and the least resolute layers of
the working class. In this context, the  ruling class will be able to
mobilise some of those layers against the government.

Tsipras must back his words with deeds and take bold measures for the
implementation of the Salonika programme on which he was elected. This
necessarily entails a break with the capitalists and the expropriation
of the commanding heights of the economy, including big corporations
like El Dorado, in order to start planning the economy in the
interests of the people. In such circumstances, the government would
have the resources to offer an alternative to the gold miners.

The experience of the Allende government must be remembered. Its
attempts to appease the capitalists while delivering reforms created
economic instability and sowed confusion among its supporters. The
middle classes and layers of the working class, especially the “labour
aristocracy” of the copper mines, began to mobilise against Allende,
who at the same time failed to muster his supporters, fearful of
further provoking the ruling class. In the end, the army stepped in to
restore capitalist order, and a bloody right-wing dictatorship ensued
that was to last almost twenty years.

While the balance of class forces within Greece and the weakness of
imperialism make such a violent counter-revolution highly unlikely in
Greece today, if Syriza continues to waver, the ruling class can exert
pressure both on the streets and in the economic realm to undermine
the government. Tsipras would do well to bear in mind the famous quote
from German revolutionary Georg Büchner: “Whoever finishes a
revolution only halfway, digs his own grave.”

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