Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Greece on the brink of social explosion

By Matthaios Tsimitakis
Greek Left Review
October 18, 2011

While surfing online, last week, I stuumbled on a blog-post that describes the life of a 37-year-old woman in Athens in these days of crisis. Unfortunately it is indicative of the condition in which so many gradually have entered as time under Troika and IMF, “rescue policies” passes by. Translated here is an excerpt:

“I have worked since I was 16 and I have lived in Athens since I was 24. I remember that many times I had to struggle in order to survive with two jobs, but never have I stayed unemployed for too long. During the past eight years there were times when things were tight and difficult and other times when things were more or less ok. But not even in the most difficult period of my life, as a University student, did I find myself in the position I am today. For thirteen years I struggled, I fought, I stood on my feet. But now I can’t take it anymore. I’m giving up.

I’ve been unemployed for ten months. Knowing that I was going to lose my job, I started searching for a new one from as early as the Easter of 2010. By now I’ve send 155 CVs but I only got two replies back, both saying that they didn’t need employees. For the first time in my life I’m facing an eviction order by the end of this month. The landlord says that I have no dignity and that I live on her expense, forgetting the eight years that I have been meeting my obligations regularly or even the improvements I ‘ve made to her house on my own expenses. Still, she’s right. She’s no charity – she wants her money. The movers ask for 1200 euros to take my stuff back to my mother’s city or 150 per month in order to store them in a container. 

I cannot afford either of the twos cenarios. I will probably have to throw away my household of ten years. The tax service is demanding 300 euro as an emergency levy with a 3% interest for every month I don’t pay. Another emergency tax is expected with the next electricity bill and that’s going to be 420 €. I have to pay 640€ every two months for social security, although the company I worked for explicitly told me that they have no job to offer and that even if they did, they would pay a monthly salary of no more than 420 euro. In short: the city in which I have lived for the past 13 years is spitting me off to the margins like if I’m some kind of trash. For the first time in my life, I have no place to stay and no one to hold on to. Any stock of patience and courage I had has now vanished”. (From the blog Typos Nykhterinos)

Even more impressive than the post quoted above, are the accompanying comments. They do not express empathy, or offer help only – though many actually do – but they identify with the narrative and contribute different variations of the same story, transforming it into an open wall of despair. Greece is at the tipping point. Although warnings of social decay and a consequent explosion have been sounding since a long time ago, there are strong indications that the moment of realization is coming with dizzying speed.

  • Suicide rates, one of the classic variables in sociology that measures the health of a society are the highest in Europe and have been rising dramatically since 2007. Only a few days ago, a man set himself on fire outside a bank in the center of Athens in order to protest for debt and unemployment – a story that was never reported in the evening news on TV, but the pictures of the event have gone viral online. And last recently rumors about health problems due to starvation among pupils in primary schools of Athens (their validity still under scrutiny) shocked the Greek society. 
  • Unemployment has reached now, 20% according to GSEE (the Greek TUC), pushing 1.000.000 people (1 out of 5 but a lot more among youth and women) to insecurity and poverty and compressing the total labor cost (and with it the country’s GDP) further downwards. In a recent meeting with Greek Finance minister E. Venizelos, his German colleague complained that the country had an average salary of 1780 euro per month making competition with neighboring countries like Bulgaria with an average salary of 350 euro per month, difficult. According to several reports earlier this month, the Troika is asking for the elimination of the national collective agreements on the minimum wage in the country, one of the cornerstones of the social contract. In short, the middle class is literary being torn apart in Greece today due to a rescue plan that is designed to save European banks and not the Greek people. The working class is being discredited and abandoned to empoverishment and marginalization. 
  • In an irony of fate the law that will reduce or gradualy make ineffective collective bargaining is expected to be submitted to an emergency parliamentary vote on Thursday, a day that marks the 30th anniversary of the election of George Papandreou’s father, Andreas Papandreou in office as Prime minister back in 1981. Andreas Papandreou founder of the ruling PASOK party, is associated with opening up decision-making and governance to broader social strata, national independence and social justice. His first period in office is considered to be the completion of the Metapolitefsis, i.e. the transitional political period after the dictatorship of 1967-1974. His son George Papandreou, president of the very same Socialist party, is going down to history as the prime minister who shifted these principles of Modern European social democracy, in favor of the neoliberal doctrine imposed to the majority undemocratically and with personal and social pain.

As a response the Greeks are once again on the streets. GSEE has declared a 48-hour national strike, only this time everybody expects that it is going to be so massive and intense that it will challenge the political survival of the Socialist party’s (PASOK) government as well as the legitimacy of the imposed Troika policies. Some MP’s of the ruling party openly state that they will not vote for article 37 (the one that significantly alters collective bargaining on the minimum wage) while two days before the vote another MP, Thomas Rompopoulos resigned in a demonstration of discontent.

Alternative political scenaria are on the table with George Papandreou unsuccesfully trying to convince the leader of the conservative party (Nea Dimokratia), Antonis Samaras to form a coalition government and share in the responsibility of this unpopular governance. It seems that the ruling elites in the country and in Europe don’t really have a plan b at the moment. As despair and hope coexist in weird combination, something seems to be about to change in the country. A broad movement of civil disobedience groups with the “indignant” demonstrators that shook the political landscape earlier this summer, are meeting the protestors of occupy Wall Street with the same goals and the same discourse applied to the local context. For many this is the moment to reverse the “shock therapy” the country is being punished with by the Troika and the IMF for more than two years, now.

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