Yanis Varoufakis stepped down as Greece’s finance minister in July but his rockstar status clearly superseded the political spectrum when he touched down in London for an anti-austerity rally.
In front of an anti-austerity and left-wing “public meeting”, hosted by the People’s Assembly, called “Fighting for our Future: The Alternative to Austerity, Humanitarian Disaster and Market Meltdown,” he entered the un-assuming Emmanuel Centre in Westminster, London to standing ovations and cheers.
The new leader of Britain’s Labour party, radical left-wing politician Jeremy Corbyn, was also meant to be at the event but ducked out at the last minute.
But it didn’t really matter — Varoufakis dominated the stage and was mobbed by fans after the event ended.
When he took to the podium, he told the audience that he was “pretty chuffed” to be back in London.
“I have news for you — austerity sucks,” he said to members of the audience of the centre which was so packed out, people were standing at the back of the auditorium for two hours. “That’s what US President Barack Obama told me when I went to meet him at the Whitehouse. It’s not very presidential but it’s true.”
“If austerity was a student, it would fail. I would say, use Greece. Don’t shun us, use us [to show how austerity doesn’t work]. Greece is a laboratory of austerity. We reduced our spending by 14% in one and a half years. We cut public sector down and we cut pensions by 38%.
“Cutting down spending and supply happens when you are shifting tomatoes and potatoes. If you have too many potatoes, you cut the price down to shift them. I works like that — but it doesn’t happen with labour.
“We reduced wages by 40% — can you imagine that? What happened? Unemployment went from 8% to 28%. [Austerity] doesn’t work.”
Greece secured another €86 billion (£63 billion, $US97 billion) for the next three years from international creditors in August.
However, each bailout amount is coupled with conditions from creditors, including cuts in spending, pensions, public sector jobs, and a rise in tax.
Effectively, while an overwhelming amount of Greeks voted against the further austerity conditions in July to get more bailout cash, it hasn’t made a difference to Greece’s position with its lenders or its future.
Greece is still expecting debt relief talks with Europe soon.
He immediately stepped down after Greeks voted “no” in the referendum despite rallying support for the country to vote against further austerity conditions the creditors set out for nation in order for it to get more bailout cash.
“I was made aware of a certain preference by some Eurogroup participants, and assorted ‘partners’, for my… ‘absence’ from its meetings; an idea that the Prime Minister judged to be potentially helpful to him in reaching an agreement. For this reason I am leaving the Ministry of Finance today.
“I consider it my duty to help Alexis Tsipras exploit, as he sees fit, the capital that the Greek people granted us through yesterday’s referendum.
“And I shall wear the creditors’ loathing with pride.”
He didn’t mince his words either at the rally over what he thinks austerity is doing to Greece.
“The ruling class knows it [that austerity doesn’t work] and that by shrinking the state [through cuts in spending and labour] is a massive transfer of wealth and it makes sure that the costs of the financial crisis are transferred onto the shoulders of those who didn’t cause it,” said Varoufakis.
“All they are doing is [taking the time] to transplant the mentality of the bankers into the mentality of the state — never lend money to people who need it.”
He also, due to the number of Labour supporters in the audience and the Labour party’s shadow secretar of state for international development Diane Abbott ready to speak, Varoufakis took the time to give new Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn advice.
“Be prepared for the toxic media [coverage] against this magnificent effort,” said Varoufakis. “You are embarking on a journey and it will not be an easy path to tread.”
The full details, talks and pictures at the event will be published in a separate post on Business Insider UK.