Syriza rally

It has been so inspiring to see the Greek people reject austerity and vote in a government committed to radical change. And what is so radical about Syriza? They want to do something pretty much no other government on the planet has committed to: put people first.

Given the drastic impacts of the austerity program imposed on Greece, it is not surprising to see people so fervently reject yet more of the same. One quarter are unemployed, and of those still with work, average earnings have plummeted. It is frightening to imagine one’s own household with one lost job and the other wage down 30 per cent. No wonder in these conditions the Greeks are now measuring statistics such as who can no longer afford electricity to heat their homes. 

It is early days for Greece, and no doubt there will be disappointments along the way, but how refreshing to see this morning’s news: they are halting the sale of the state-owned port and stopping plans to privatize their power corporation.

For most Canadians, austerity has not been so drastic — yet. But it has been hard to have much hope in a country where child poverty is on the rise, wages are stagnant or falling, public services are clawed back and privatized, and the only hope on offer from government is the false promise of oil wealth by degrading our environment. 

I am happy that the federal NDP has finally put out a few platform proposals that are genuinely progressive: a promise for $15/day childcare and an increased federal minimum wage. But this comes after two decades where the NDP, like its European social democratic counterparts, has pretty much bought into the “austerity light” form of social democracy. And even these proposals are being accompanied by the usual soft-right policies supposedly meant to attract a centre-left electorate. Just today they announced a plan to give small businesses a tax break, which economists say will mostly help families earning over $150,000 a year. What little the NDP has put on the table is, frankly, too little too late.

Imagine instead what a Canadian Syriza could do? Here’s my starting list:

Sound crazy? Every one of these ideas has been proposed by not-so-radical people in some part of the country. What we don’t have is a political party articulating them as policy.

Many look to the NDP to be that party. I don’t think that will happen. After many attempts, such as the New Politics Initative of the early 2000s, I don’t believe it is possible to change the NDP from within. And interestingly, that isn’t what happened in Greece either. The traditional social democratic party, PASOK, supported austerity until they were so unpopular they collapsed. It took a new party, built on the strength of anti-austerity activism, to put a genuinely social democratic agenda on the ballot. Spain is following the same trajectory, with the incredible rise of the brand new Podemos party, built on anti-austerity left wing politics, and rooted in social movements.

Now I don’t happen to believe that Syriza, or any social democratic party that doesn’t challenge the underlying contradictions of capitalism, will ultimately succeed in creating the world we need. But unlike the Blairite practices of most social democratic parties in the west, Syriza is a step in the right direction.