The global crisis of capitalism, including rising inflation, the devastating consequences of the war in Ukraine, the slowdown of the global economy and the second recession in just three years, has also been felt in Cyprus. This has provoked a number of important workers’ struggles. This rising class tension and polarisation set the tone for the recent presidential elections.
The living conditions of the workers are deteriorating, as the cost of fuel and housing devours around 30 percent of household incomes, and this percentage is higher amongst lower income households. According to data from the Cyprus Statistical Service (ΥΣΤΑΤ), inflation increased by 8.4 percent during the period of January-December 2022 compared to the same period in the previous year. The biggest increases can be seen in the areas of housing, water and electricity, with an increase of 21 percent, while the equivalent percentage increase for transport is 16.3 percent. Unemployment increased at a rate of 9 percent. It is estimated that more than 27,000 young people are unemployed.
At the same time, according to the Dialogos website, from 2013 onwards, on average, for every 100 euro increase in the country’s total income, 64 was allocated to profits and only 27 to wages. The share of labour in GDP has decreased from 56-57 percent in 2006-2012 to 47-48 percent. That is, the losses at the expense of wages and in favour of profits were close to 10 percent.
The report states: “Such large reductions can only be found in times of war.” Ilias Ioakeimoglou, scientific associate of INEK-PEO (Cyprus Labour Institute-Pancyprian Federation of Labour) in his analysis of the economy and the employment for 2022, stresses that “this is the only way businesses have to increase their profits, that is by devaluing work.”
The decay of Cypriot capitalism is reflected in political rottenness, with no shortage of scandals and corruption, from the “golden passports” scandal, to the entanglement of DISY (the ruling party, Democratic Rally) and the presidents’ office with former Israeli agents, and the exporters of surveillance software. A report by PEGA (the European Parliament's scandal investigation committee) notes the collection of data from more than 100,000 devices, and the interception of personal data from more than 600 citizens. These scandals further discredit the political establishment in the consciousness of the masses, and highlight how capitalism is threatening democratic rights.
The struggle of workers at the food delivery company, Wolt, is a symptom of the intensification of exploitation in the context of the crisis of capitalism. ‘Medieval’ working conditions led workers at Wolt to hold a mass strike, which spread to Nicosia, Limassol, Larnaca and Paphos. According to the delivery drivers, Wolt intended to decrease their salary from €2.40 for each route, out of which the employer keeps 41 percent, to €2.26 per delivery route. This was the straw that broke the camel’s back, as the mostly migrant workers had already been working in dire conditions, having to pay for fuel, their protective gear, distribution bags, as well as cover the costs of any damages and repairs to their vehicles. Their incomes amount to a humiliating €400-500 per month. The rising cost of fuel, electricity, and basic necessities has made the workers’ living conditions more difficult and has resulted in a shock to workers’ consciousness, pushing them towards action.
A delivery driver, talking to The Cyprus News Agency (ΚΥΠΕ) said:
“It was something that happened suddenly, we hadn’t planned this, but this shows how stressed we are, and this is what unites us, because we are all suffering, even those who aren’t striking now.”
The delivery drivers, the majority of whom are either students of asylum seekers or political refugees, had not previously been organised in trade unions, yet they organised and were supported by PEO (Pancyprian Federation of Labour), proving once again the power of the workers to combine and fight for their common interests. Despite intimidation and strikebreaking attempts, the workers remained on strike until the start of the dialogue with the employers, with the involvement of the Ministry of Labour, for contracted employment with workers’ rights.
Then there was the mobilisation of workers at the airports of Larnaca and Paphos in early November. After the airports were taken over by a new company, which refused to maintain workers from Swissport and LGS in employment, and declared them redundant, the workers took strike action. This once again forced the government to intervene, resulting in the workers remaining in their jobs.
Meanwhile, on 17 January 2023, more than 5,000 hospital workers in the OKYPY (Organisation of State Health Services) held a two-hour work stoppage and mass meetings in all the hospitals of Cyprus. They warned that they would escalate these measures if grievances around collective bargaining were not solved. Thus, as the crisis of capitalism deepens, more and more layers of the working class are finding they have no other choice but to move into action.
The presidential elections
Elections and the masses’ interest in them offer a snapshot of the level of consciousness of the working class at a specific moment in time. Based on a poll published by the newspaper Kathimerini on 11 December 2022, the dissatisfaction of respondents with the state of society has risen to 84 percent. Kathimerini attributes the responsibility for this to the political leadership of the country. But we must be clear. The economic and social problems faced by the masses are not the result of a political choice. DISY carried out privatisations and austerity policies, not merely because it is composed of vicious, greedy people, but because this is the logic of capitalism. According to Kathimerini, the economic situation in Cyprus and its consequences, like rising living costs, low wages, and unaffordable housing, are the overarching issues weighing on citizens' consciousness, at a rate of 70 percent.
The first round of the presidential elections on 5 February 2023 gave the lead to the independent, right-wing politician Nikos Christodoulides, who was supported by DIKO (Democratic Party), EDEK (Movement for Social Democracy) and DIPA (Democratic Alignment) and collected 32.04 percent (127,309 votes). Christodoulides was followed by the independent candidate Andreas Mavroyiannis, who was supported by AKEL (Progressive Party of Working People) with 29.59 percent (117,551 votes), while DISY’s (Democratic Rally) candidate Averof Neofytou was left out of the second round with just 26.11 percent (103,748 votes). The candidate of the far-right ELAM (The National Popular Front) Christos Christou followed in fourth place with 6.04 percent (23,988 votes).
In the second round of the presidential elections on 12 February 2023, former DISY member and independent candidate of the ruling class Nikos Christodoulidis won with 51.92 percent (204,867 votes) against Andreas Mavroyiannis, who got 48.08 percent (189,335 votes). This small difference reflects the class polarisation in society to the left and the right, as well as the widening chasm between the capitalists and the workers in the context of the crisis of capitalism.
Despite the fact that the capitalist class was split in the first round between the DISY candidate Averof Neofytou and Nikos Christodoulides, who had the support of the capitalist parties DIKO, EDEK and DIPA, they emerged victorious in the end; while the two big traditional parties, DISY and AKEL lost. The split in DISY, the party which, according to its leadership’s statements, will form part of the opposition, shows the split in the capitalist class and reflects the impasse of Cypriot capitalism. If DISY does not support the new government, then Christodoulidis’ government will be a weak one, since it will only have the support of DIKO, EDEK and DIPA in parliament. Meanwhile, the weakness of the leadership of the working class was reflected through the absence of a revolutionary socialist programme on the part of AKEL (which claims to base itself on Marxism and Leninism), something that contributed to widespread abstentions: 27.55 percent, compared to 27.96 percent in the first round.
Based on data from the exit polls, 52 percent of those who voted for Averof Neofytou in the first round voted for Christodoulides in the second round, while 48 percent voted for Mavroyiannis. Also, around 65 percent of those who voted for ELAM in the first round voted for Christodoulidis in the second round. This number amounts approximately to the difference between Christodoulides and Mavroyiannis. This support once again reveals that Christodoulides does not represent a neutral political ‘centre’, but is a representative of the interests of capitalism and reaction.
Mavroyiannis’ reformist programme
In order to understand these results, we have to look at Mavroyiannis’ programme, which did not offer a revolutionary solution for the working class, but instead sought to manage capitalism. Regarding the issue of high living costs, Mavroyiannis’ programme acknowledges the problems of inflation, the rise in the prices of basic goods, which intensify the already high cost of living, especially for low-paid workers and the pensioners. But it is not acknowledged that these problems stem from the nature of capitalism, which is characterised by rampant profiteering and anarchic production. The programme did not identify the root of the problem: capitalism itself.
For example, it recommends “investigat[ing] the possibility of claiming further reductions of consumption taxes from the European Union (EU) so that the consumer is not disproportionately burdened by new rising costs.” There can be no trust in the capitalist EU to protect the workers, as it will always tend to protect the interests of big business at the expense of the masses. Also, the programme recommends the “full attribution of APA (Automatic Price Adjustment) based on inflation, and its attribution to all workers.” The negotiations to achieve an agreement on the Automatic Price Adjustment has already lasted a long time, and yet the employers persist in abolishing it. The trade unions have been clear that, if they need to take strike measures, they will do so. Here we must be clear that, in order to really deal with the high costs of living, the Automatic Price Adjustment must be applied to wages, pensions and allowances every month, and the increase should be equivalent to the increase of prices of products and services as determined by the trade unions.
Also, the programme recommends the reduction of value-added tax (VAT) on electricity from 19 percent to 9 percent by claiming exemptions from the capitalist EU, as well as taxing the exuberant profits of businesses in the energy sector. But in reality, the abolition of VAT on electricity and essential goods and services is necessary, as well as the immediate expropriation of the profiteering companies, since experience shows they will always find a way to avoid paying taxes. Workers’ control by elected workers’ committees is therefore needed. On the basis of this, all the big businesses that profit at the expense of the workers should be expropriated.
In relation to the economy, Mavroyiannis’ programme suggested certain Keynesian policies for managing the crisis of capitalism. For example, it mentioned that companies should “follow good, and friendly practices towards the environment and society, and they should be rewarded even with tax reliefs and exemptions based on European patterns and examples.” For the state to grant more funding and tax breaks to capitalist enterprises in the hope that this will solve the environmental crisis caused by capitalism itself, reveals the advanced parasitism of the capitalist class itself and the failure of the market.
Instead of subsidies and tax breaks for the capitalists, what is needed is the immediate expropriation of capitalist enterprises and a centralised and democratic planning of production, which will serve the interests of the working class. In this way, production will be planned according to the needs of the majority in society, allowing the rapid utilisation of alternative energy sources and the reduction of pollution.
In addition, although it is recognised that public debt currently exceeds 100 percent of GDP, greater borrowing from the EU is proposed: “Fostering research and innovation and strengthening both investment and access to finance are crucial to improving the competitiveness of small and medium-sized enterprises. Funding from the E.U. can be an important source of capital.”
Under capitalism, further borrowing will increase inflation. The “free lunch” for the capitalists, who only invest with the goal of making profits, will ultimately have to be paid for by the working class through the erosion of wages. These proposals fail to recognise that, as Marx explained, the problem is not lack of demand, to be remedied by the state through borrowing and subsidies, but overproduction. When there is already an overabundance in the market, excess capacity will tend to intensify overproduction. In the absence of new profitable markets, the capitalist class will try to increase its profitability through unproductive speculative “investments” at the expense of the working class.
Instead of borrowing from the capitalist EU and ‘gifts’ to the capitalists, a workers’ party should aim for the cancellation of public debt; as well as the expropriation under workers’ control of all large enterprises in industry, transport, services, trade and tourism; as well as the expropriation of the financial system and the cancellation of the debt burden on the workers and the poor. Instead of Keynesian policies and management of the free market, central democratic planning of the economy and a state monopoly on foreign trade are needed, i.e., the overthrow of capitalism.
As a solution to the so-called Cyprus problem, Mavroyiannis’ programme proposes the framework of a Bi-Communal Bizonal Federation with political equality for the Greek and Turkish Cypriot communities, as determined by the resolutions of the United Nations (UN). The withdrawal of all occupying troops, the full restoration of the territorial integrity of the Republic of Cyprus, the end of settlement and the anachronistic system of Guarantees of 1960, with a clear prohibition of any right of unilateral intervention in the internal affairs of the state, are set as conditions for reaching a solution.
However, we must not forget that the various representatives of imperialism in the UN and the EU act based on the capitalist interests of their governments. These “solutions” under capitalism are nothing but utopian illusions. It is the EU, Britain and the USA and the ruling classes of Turkey and Greece that created the impasse in Cyprus in the first place.
A permanent solution is impossible in the context of capitalism, since the bourgeois interests of the Turkish capitalists on the one hand, and Greek Cypriot capitalists on the other, are constantly in conflict. A permanent solution can only be achieved by the unification of Cyprus on a socialist basis, with workers’ power and guaranteed full rights of self determination to the Turkish Cypriots. It will not come through a loose federation of two states on a capitalist basis, which will quickly rekindle nationalism in both communities of the country.
A united socialist Cyprus should be part of a larger socialist federation of workers’ states consisting of Turkey, Greece and Cyprus, as a step towards the United Socialist States of Europe, and eventually the world. History has proven many times that it is completely utopian to think that the national question can be solved on a capitalist basis, not only in Cyprus but also in many other places like Palestine/Israel and Ireland. However, Mavroyiannis and AKEL that support him are spreading the same illusions. Only the internationalist programme of the working class can provide a real solution.
Within the framework of this internationalist, permanent, socialist programme for a solution to the ‘Cyprus problem’ the following demands need to be included:
- Withdrawal of the British military bases, Turkish and Greek troops and the UN. All external interventions on the island to end.
- Joint committees of Turkish Cypriot and Greek Cypriot workers on who will decide on every issue concerning the future of Cyprus.
- Removal of the border dividing the island. Unlimited freedom of movement and settlement.
- All workers to organise in joint unions throughout the island.
- Expropriation of the key levers of the economy including the banks, under the democratic control of workers’ committees as part of the socialist centrally planned economy.
- Appeal for solidarity to the working class of Turkey, Greece, Europe and the Middle East for a common struggle for the socialist transformation of society
As Marxists, we critically supported the candidacy of Mavroyiannis. Despite the electoral defeat of Mavroyiannis and AKEL, the class struggle continues, and it will intensify as the crisis of capitalism develops. According to data from the Statistical Service, a slowdown in the rate of growth of the economy is predicted. The European Commission in its report on Cyprus, which was published on Monday 13 February, warned of a sharp reduction in the growth rate of the economy (from 5.8 percent in 2022 to 1.6 percent in 2023) and the maintenance of inflation at a relatively high level (4 percent in 2023). On the basis of capitalism, once again, the working class will be called upon to pay the price.
On the trade union front, the issue of defending APA remains unresolved. On 26 January 2023, thousands of workers went on mass, three-hour strike across Cyprus to demand the full restoration and universal attribution of APA. The mass nature of the strike showed the determination and militancy of the workers to fight for the most vital democratic and labour rights, which are threatened by the crisis of capitalism.
However, the leaderships of AKEL and PEO are unable to fulfill their duties, as they did not escalate the strike. In the context of the advanced rottenness of Cypriot capitalism, the leadership of AKEL – as the opposition party, which as it states itself, is guided by the Marxist-Leninist theory – must mobilise the working class around a revolutionary programme for the overthrow of capitalism and for the socialist transformation of society. This is the only way to defend the basic rights of the working class, to achieve a decent living standard for all and a solution to the ‘Cyprus problem.’