Dozens of local councils claim to back households refusing to pay tax During the last few weeks, a new mass movement of non-payment is growing fast across the whole of Greece
During the last few weeks, a new mass movement of non-payment is growing fast across the whole of Greece. More and more people, all over the country, say they will not pay a new ‘housing tax’ which was recently passed in parliament by PASOK, just before the collapse of the Papandreou-led government and its replacement by the so-called “national salvation” government led by the former banker Papademos. This new this new “housing tax”, each owner of a house or an apartment must pay a tax that is calculated according to the square meters and the area of the property, regardless of the income of the owner!
New and old Greek finance minister Evangelos Venizelos (Pasok) and new Greek Prime Minister Papademos, former European Central Bank Vice President
Savage attack one incomes
As a result, workers and pensioners living on 400–500–600 euro per month or even unemployed people who receive nothing (unemployment benefits in Greece are only paid for 12 months and then there are no benefits at all) are forced to pay another tax that can go up to 500, 1,000 or even 2,000 euro if they own a house, inherited from their parents or grandparents.
And this is on top of a whole series of new taxes on working class people and pensioners and on the ‘middle layers’ such as professionals and small shopkeepers, many of whom have seen their businesses forced to close down as a result of government cuts policies.
The new housing tax is savage attack on people’s income that has already been slashed by the austerity measures of the last two years.
To force Greek society to pay for this new unjust tax, the government decided to collect it through electricity bills, i.e. by incorporating the tax in the electricity bill. In this way, any household which does not pay the tax will see their electricity supply cut off. The poorer households that cannot afford to pay will be left without light, heating and cooking fuel (there is so gas supply in any significant scale in Greece) and as the winter months approach!
Left parties and local councils call for non-payment
Since the new tax was passed though parliament last September, both the KKE (the Greek Communist Party) which polls at around 10–12% support, and SYRIZA, with 8–10%, called on people to refuse to pay the “housing tax”. In the course of November, the first electricity bills with the new tax began to arrive at houses by post. This provoked popular mass anger. In many neighborhoods, all over Greece, people began to look for ways not to pay the tax. At the same time, they put pressure on local councils to back the non-payment movement.
Under this pressure, some weeks ago, the council of Nea Ionia (local council in Athens) took a decision to publicly call on people living in Nea Ionia not to pay the tax. They also they made some concrete, practical proposals by which people could pay the electricity bill without having to pay the housing tax, and the council undertook to take the issue to the courts by suing the electricity company. In addition, the mayor of Nea Ionia, Gotsis (an ex CP cadre, elected with the support of SYRIZA) said that the council would defend every house that would be threatened with electricity cut off and that council workers would re-connect the electricity supply where it is cut!
This council decision brought huge publicity and widespread popular support. The example of Gotsis and Nea Ionia council was quickly followed by other mayors and councils controlled by the left. At the same time, local residents together with organized leftwing forces started putting pressure on other councils to likewise. At this time, around 30 local councils have taken an official decision to back people who would refuse to pay the tax, though not all of them call openly for non-payment or commit to re-connect the electricity supplies of those homes that face cut off.
Electricity workers against the “house” tax
These developments were followed by an important decision taken by the Electricity Workers’ Confederation, GENOP, which called on its members to refuse to cut off the electricity supply from any house because of a resident’s refusal to pay the housing tax. They also called on union members to take active part in the non-payment movement, to defend households from private companies that could be employed by the state to do the dirty job of cutting off the electicity supply from working class households, and to help local movements re-connect electricity supplies in the case of cuts.
Of course, many of these pledges are regarded by working class people with some disbelief, as they are not sure that the left councils and the Pasok-linked unions will take the fight to the end. But, at this stage, the struggle is developing and expanding, and there is optimism and a determination to put pressure on the tops of the unions to carry out decisive action.
Local assemblies and committees
Council decisions and the GENOP’s public statement have both had a big impact on peoples’ moral. As a result, local peoples’ assemblies that were initiated some months ago, are now getting a new lease of life in many communities and aim to organize the non-payment movement. Any call for open meetings on this issue has a big impact. Hundreds of people take part in these meetings to learn how they can avoid paying the tax and how they can defend themselves against any attempt by government to cut electricity supplies. In some occasions, networks of electricians are organized around the local assemblies or the local councils, with the aim of ensuring reconnection of electricity power in case of cuts.
The new government is in a state of panic because of the mass support of non-payment. A local court in Kalamata, a city in south Greece, decided few days ago to stop electricity being disconnected from a house because of “extreme mistakes” in calculating the tax for this specific household. The court decision provoked the ire of the Finance Minister, Veniselos, who openly attack the court’s decision. The government fears that the Kalamata decision will lead to many more people bringing the same arguments to the courts. Indeed, the court decision played the role of enhancing peoples’ determination. As a result, the government is trying to maneuvere to get out of the impasse and to split the anti-tax movement. Over the past few days, the government announced some concessions to people who are unable to pay the tax and who are in ‘proven need’, i.e. on very low incomes, with serious illness etc, but only so as the authorities can attack the majority of people who cannot pay the housing tax. But such maonoeuvres cannot hide the fact that this is an initial victory for the movement.
Xekinima (CWI in Greece) participates actively in the non-payment movement. We call for people not to pay the new tax. We call for mass pressure to put on the local councils and call for local branches of the electricity workers’ union to back the non-payment movement.
At the same time, we explain that we need to get organised in local assemblies and committees of action to defend every house from electricity disconnections, and we say that it is necessary to organise a network of electricians (with the aim of reconnecting the electricity supplies that are cut). This can build a mass movement of non-payment. If half a million to one million households refuse to pay the tax, this will represent a huge victory for the movement against this savage law.
We link all these demands with the need to build a mighty socialist alternative, as this is the only way out of the impasse of the economic crisis in Greece, the endless austerity measures, the disastrous policies of the Troika (ECB, EU and IMF) and the new Greek coalition government, and to stop the increasing disintegration and barbarism into which Greek society is sliding.