by Kostas Svolis
The dawn of a new obscure era
All austerity measures forced on Greek people since 2010 constitute a small hors d'oeuvre in relation to the upcoming tsunami of social poverty and squalor that will be served to them as the main course by the capital and the Greek government, the IMF and EU directorate. The percentage of “official” unemployment has surpassed 16%, while the real one is estimated to be more than 20%.
All austerity measures forced on Greek people since 2010 constitute a small hors d'oeuvre in relation to the upcoming tsunami of social poverty and squalor that will be served to them as the main course by the capital and the Greek government, the IMF and EU directorate. The percentage of “official” unemployment has surpassed 16%, while the real one is estimated to be more than 20%. The situation is really dramatic for young people, as the percentage of real unemployment concerning this age group reaches 40%, while it is estimated that by the end of 2011 the number of unemployed will surpass 1 million. Workers’ wages are continuously decreasing and it is estimated that between 2010- 2012 total decrease will reach 30%.
Apart from salary and pension cutbacks in the public sector, there is also dramatic salary decrease in the private sector, through the abolition of collective employment agreements (CEAs), the abolition of overtime cost and the application of flexible and precarious work arrangements. It is notable that employers have the right to pay young workers (up to 25 years old) with only 80% of minimum wage. The new insurance legislation both decreases pensions and increases the number of working years required and the age limit for right to pension (40 years of labor, 65 years of age as minimum requirements for full pension rights).
At the same time, changes in the Greek health system are burdening pensioners and workers with bigger cost participation in medicines and hospitalization. Of course, it is unnecessary to stress that the unemployed, socially excluded people and immigrants have no access whatsoever to the public health system.
In addition, small and medium enterprises (SMEs) are on the verge of total extinction, especially those in retailing. The percentage of businesses that have closed in the center of Athens has gone up from 17% (August 2010) to 23,4% as we speak. It is estimated that during the interval 2010-2013 approximately 200.000 small enterprises will be closed and the consequent job loss will amount to more than 350.000 (employers’ jobs included).
Additionally, Greece still holds the third place in EU in relation to inflation rates which, in early 2011 were close to 5% (while at the same period the Eurozone rate was 2,2%). Basic survival goods are becoming more and more expensive and the recession rate remains steady in 3,9%. The dramatic increase of direct taxes on basic popular consumption goods, the increase of income tax even on small incomes, together with the interest rate increase for housing loans, are decreasing even more people’s income. There is also the imposition of poll tax on the self-employed as well as precarious workers who are being paid through rendered services invoice. On the other hand, people who enjoy excessive incomes, the local capital and multinational companies continue to ostentatiously evade taxation and are owing huge sums to national insurance funds. The tax reform that takes place in the name of “investment” generates tax cuts for capitalists and initiates an unprecedented tax raid aiming at small and medium incomes. Nevertheless, it is estimated that there are 600 billion euros worth of deposits by Greek big depositors in Swiss banks, a sum which is twice the amount of the Greek public debt!
By voting the mid-term austerity plan and its application law, the Greek government is preparing to pass to the second phase of its plan that involves selling out the country’s public wealth and taking apart the almost nonexistent welfare state. The most tragic sequences will derive from dissolving the national public health system. The aim is to cut back health expenses by 75 million euros till the end of 2012 and another 150 million euros from 2012 till 2015. Needless to say that this “money saving” procedure will not be based on fighting off health equipment and medicine overcharging, neither bribing and corruption that characterizes the deals between hospital management and pharmaceuticals companies, nor through cutting back the huge salaries of various hospital managers, but on the expense of Greek people’s health. Health expenses cutbacks will take place by decreasing the number of public hospitals from 137 to 83, the number of available hospital beds from 36.000 to 32.000 and the release of 550 of them to private insurance companies for economic exploitation. Clinics inside the remaining hospitals are expected to merge, a fact that will lead in significant reduction of service quality offered by hospitals. It is estimated that in years coming 9.000 doctors will be fired and 26.000 nursing staff. Especially in the case of Greek periphery, there will be a desertification in terms of public health services.
And while the Greek government spent 80 million euros for the Special Olympics Games fiesta, at the same time it discontinues a number of special education schools, thus leading thousands of people with special needs to social exclusion and dramatically increasing their expenses in terms of necessary equipment.
Similar changes are promoted in the education system through school merging that, especially in the case of Greek periphery will lead to exclusion of children even from primary education. As far as tertiary education is concerned, academic independence and self-governance are being abolished, while universities are being forced to operate under private financing criteria and the supervision by managers unfamiliar with their academic and scientific content. The quality of studies is undermined and through cutbacks in catering and housing student rights, as well as access to free books, the road to tuition fees is slowly being paved.
And while the Greek public telecommunications operator has been completely sold out to Germans, the government is preparing to sell out all the other public wealth “fillets”. First and foremost energy and water, the exploitation of mineral ores, beaches, public land for touristic exploitation and everything else imaginable –rumor has it, even archaeological sites. By using fast track laws and the Fund for the Private Property Exploitation of the Public Sector S.A., the Greek government is able to continue its destructive task, without being obstructed by constitutional law, parliamentary procedures, environmental effects studies and whatever might suspend capitalist profitability hidden under the beautified title “investments’. Investors, local and foreign, are the ones that brought Greece to its current state and now they will be able to make huge profits by buying for nothing the country’s public wealth with minimum cost and risk involved.
The cost for society will have many aspects, not just in terms of public revenue loss and the increase of public deficit or bills becoming more expensive and services/goods provided becoming worse due to privatization. Worst of all, exploitation will take place in predatory terms so that the capital will ensure the biggest possible profitability, a fact that will lead in overexploiting natural resources, environmental destruction and pollution increase, thus undermining any future possibility for the society to satisfy its needs through its relationship with nature and the environment.
It is most characteristic that following the privatization of water supply companies in the UK, the budget for repairing networks was diminished to more than 50%, leading to a dramatic increase of leaks. Prices were increased by 36% within a decade, while investors’ profits increased by 14,7% within eight years. Two million people had delinquent accounts, water supply was cut off in more than 18.500 households and 50.000 jobs were lost.
Therefore, through the continuously diminishing work income and rights, the shrinkage of small property and self-employment, the pillage of public wealth and nature, Greek society will acquire specific characteristics noticeable in some South-American societies. The economic polarization between extreme wealth and popular poverty will lead to the rapture of social fabric and to generalized social cannibalism.
The “economic miracle” that took place during the former two decades and led Greece to the European Monetary Union and the Euro, was largely based on non-standard work by hundreds of thousands of immigrants who worked under miserable conditions, on illegal status and with extremely low pay. That “miracle” had as its symbol the Olympic Games 2004, which apart from the huge debt they left behind, they also left numerous dead bodies of immigrant workers (during the construction period of Olympic projects, fatal accidents were estimated to three per week).
Currently, with the crisis plaguing the country, the immigrant population that lifted the burden of economic development by working in the hardest and most underpaid jobs (construction, land workers, housekeeping, sea workers, etc.) are being turned into the first victims not only of unemployment, but of social cannibalism as well. The state exploits both the rhetoric and the racist attacks of right-wind radical and fascist gangs against immigrants in order to channel people’s indignation to a generalized war between different segments of the lower classes. This war takes the form of everyone against everyone, so that the indignation will not transform to an overthrowing force directed to upper and ruling classes.
The above described scenery is complimented by Greece’s transformation to a levee against immigration to the rest of Europe, a role that was imposed by the Dublin II Treaty. Thousands of immigrants who intend to go to other European countries are being trapped in Greece, while there are no existing structures for hospitality and social integration whatsoever and absolutely no working perspective that would ensure some sort of basic living. All these people are stacked in already degraded –due to lack of state interest and the desertification caused by crisis- neighborhoods in Athens and other big cities, trying to survive or creating makeshift camps outside the ports-exits to Europe in Patras and Igoumenitsa, hoping that they will be able to escape hidden in the wheels of a big truck, preferring to risk their lives rather than to live in misery and poverty.
Thus, a grim condition is being created in which crime rate, drugs, prostitution, gang war and, of course, even more upgraded, the serpent’s egg, fascist violence and police repression will be used by rulers in the context of the exertion of biopolitics control over different population segments, locals and immigrants, which will be thrown out of the social fabric because of the crisis. In reality this condition constitutes an opportunity -based on popular demand for safety and security- for reconstructing the legalization of the political system which has reached its lowest point. All this may seem too much for Greek reality at the moment, but it should not be treated as a sci-fi scenario, as it is all about “management” forms that are applied in other countries, such as Mexico. Another way of “managing” crisis could be Greece’s involvement in “issues and adventures of national importance”, using, for example, as a pretext the exploitation of deposits in the Aegean Sea or the wider area of Eastern Mediterranean as well as redefining the country’s foreign policy towards Israel. In this last case, the Greek government’s stance towards the Free Gaza flotilla and its obstruction was most characteristic.
A de-legalized political system
At this moment the political system seems too weak to activate this sort of control mechanisms and appears to concentrate all its powers in trying to apply the three pillars of the economic steamroller that were mentioned before.
According to the latest poll, which in essence validates previous ones, unspecified vote amounts to 35%, the percentages of the two major political parties are between 27-25% with neither of the two having majority, while the conservative opposition is pulling ahead of the socialist governing party, and 49,6% of participants approve of public demonstrations against MPs that voted for the memorandum and constitute a part of the daily political agenda in Greece. Left-wing parties do not seem able to effectively reap the centrifugal tendencies of the electorate and their shortcoming appears as structural as the crisis characterizing the rest of the political system.
Papandreou’s government –that nearly abdicated when it dealt with popular anger during the general strike and the Parliament blockage on June 15th- is in quick sand. This is not due solely to the fact that 5 of its MPs have gone independent since the government was sworn, nor to its downfall as sketched by poll results. The basic problem is that the government ruptures its representation relations with its popular basis and even its hard core who are the workers in public and wider public sector and who ensured PASOK’s majority in labor unions, without at the same time being able to build new alliances with other social classes. PASOK’s government remains in power only because of the strong pressure it takes from its principals abroad and the support it enjoys from local capitalists who control the media. In spite of the centrifugal tendencies characterizing the governing party, there are still no reliable socialdemocratic alternatives in Greece.
The important question arising is until when PASOK will be able to govern and suffer the political cost and if PASOK will exist, in which form and with what kind of electoral strength after the elections, whenever and if they take place.
Nevertheless, the most important issue is what kind of processes and dynamic are going to develop in its social base which, on one hand detaches itself from party representation, but on the other remains silent and inert.
The conservative opposition party, New Democracy (ND) may have voted against the mid-term austerity plan but has also voted for the majority of the articles of its application law, thus trying both to comply with the anti-memorandum feelings of its voters and the demand of European partners for political consensus as far as the austerity measures are concerned. Nevertheless this effort was in vain, as both voters and partners are displeased! Given the fact that is impossible for ND to consent to a coalition with its eternal adversary, PASOK, without facing tremendous political cost, ND is forced to demand elections though in secret it wishes against majority -which is unlikeable, anyway.
The political forces of the “willing” span the entire spectrum of the political system, ranging from right-wing radicals (LAOS) and hardcore right-wing liberals (DE.SY.) to the most reformist version of the Left (DE.AR.) and they constitute the political system’s reserve in the very likely case that PASOK will not be able to cope with tasks assigned. The possibility of a coalition or a national consensus is very strong, whether it comes up as an election result or not. There are lot of jokers (polls predict a 9-party parliament) and as a result, alternatives multiply. It goes without saying that a government of this type, especially in the name of national unity, will impose even harder measures and will not hesitate to rely even more on brute force exercised by suppressive mechanisms.
The Communist Party of Greece (KKE) remains faithful to a policy of isolationism and entrenchment, not only in relation to other political formations of the Left, but also to all kinematic processes and fermentation that are taking place in squares. Its strategy concentrates exclusively in increasing its electoral percentage. In spite of its revolutionary rhetoric, it does not miss the opportunity to wink at bourgeois legitimacy, thus being rewarded by the media as the serious, responsible, fortified Left. Even when, on some occasion (seamen strike, for example) it hardens its attitude, it does not provide the struggle with perspective and continuity. As the oldest in the Greek political scene, the Communist Party is more interested in its reproduction, rather than its potential role as a catalyst in the context of a subversive movement –a stance characteristic of any bureaucracy.
Apart from wading in the muddy waters of the squares’ movement, SYRIZA (Coalition of the Radical Left) remains captive not only of its internal contradictions and juxtapositions, but mostly of a policy that although it may seem kinematic, it seeks ways to rescue and not to surpass the existing system. SYRIZA may be under continuous attack by the media for supposedly being politically responsible for public citizen protests and the “violence” against government officials (for several months now government officials and PASOK MPs are unable to circulate in public without being subjected to citizens protesting against them), but at the same time SYRIZA’s sole proposal for finding a way out of the crisis is a regulatory plan for the economic capital, debt renegotiation and development measures, without making any kind of groundbreaking proposal towards socially redefining productive activity.
It is notable that, for the first time, social and political polarization as well as the disparate questioning of the political system are recorded in polls, by estimating an electoral percentage of 1,5-2% for radical left ANTARSYA and 1-1,5% for neo-Nazi HRYSI AVGI.
Is there a rival?
Nonetheless, opposite of this nightmarish scenery there appears popular dispute and disobedience, chaotic, confused, mixed up, controversial, contradictory –but apparent. The question is whether dispute and disobedience will transform to a considerable rival.
The eight 24hour general strikes that took place since the Greek government has asked for an IMF-EU bailout and the 48hour strike in June, exhibit a considerable social dynamic which, without question, is not based on decadent and disreputable tertiary trade union bodies. GSEE (General Confederation of Greek Workers) and ADEDY (Civil Servants' Confederation) mainly consist of public and wider public sector workers, since trade union density in the private sector does not exceed 10%. In reality, GSEE and ADEDY can do nothing else than declaring some general strikes, under the continuing pressure of labor classes. They have been completely cut off from trade unionist workers and they are unable to organize any sort of serious proletarian struggle. Even in the case where significant public industries were targeted for privatization and went on long-term strikes (public transport, DEI-Public Power Corporation, etc), trade union leaders functioned as hindrance to any form of struggle and caused its degeneration. It is most characteristic that the latest 48hour strike was organized under the pressure of Syntagma Square mobilizations and so as to avoid the risk for GSEE and ADEDY to lose even the last ounce of their prestige.
On the other hand, during the last few years a number of militant primary trade unions have been created, mainly after the initiative of fighters of the extraparliamentary Left and the Anarchist movement. These primary trade unions mainly concern non-standard workers in the private sector such as: couriers, waitpersons, call center employees, bookshop employees, teaching staff, technical employees, etc. The main characteristics of primary trade unions are intense militant action, anti-hierarchical structure and a clear anticapitalist politicization in contrast with the partisan influence characterizing bureaucratic syndicates. Primary trade unions are quite small and it could be said that they constitute raw syndicate models; nevertheless they are very successful in terms of achieving significant results. They fight against layoffs, for the application of trade collective agreements and for acquiring more working rights such as benefits for different specialties, etc. Their power lies in the fact that when fighting against employers (where their main weapon apart from striking is also business boycotting), they succeed in mobilizing significant numbers of supporters in solidarity with their cause from the wider anticapitalist movement. In addition, the extra-parliamentary Left is relatively powerful amongst educators, hospital doctors, Local Management Organizations (OTA), Ministry of Culture employees, etc. Nevertheless, their action nowadays finds serious obstacles, having on one hand to deal with the abolition of negotiations for CEAs that was voted by government and on the other hand a huge wave of layoffs which, in combination with increasing unemployment numbers, makes the struggle for re-hiring extremely difficult.
It would be impossible to leave out other notable forms of social struggle, which through time acquire a more radical character. Most characteristic examples are the struggle of the 300 worker immigrants concerning permits and the one fought by Keratea residents against landfill construction in their area. These are struggles organized by the people and in many cases acquire a conflictual character and are characterized by an intense tendency to question central authority and its decisions.
The existence of radical Left organizations, but mainly organizations of a wider anticapitalist movement with distinctive Autonomous, Antiauthoritarian and Anarchist characteristics constitutes for certain a big draw for social questioning, in spite of the existing huge problems and contradictions, mainly those of sectarianism in the case of radical Left and the fetishization of colliding with riot police in the case of Anarchists. If, supposedly, December 2008 was a youthful insurrection where the wider Anticapitalist and Anarchist movement put its stamp, it is time to outdistance itself and its own “regularity”, starting first of all to broaden its social reference beyond young people. Surely there will be plenty of opportunity to make that leap shortly, either through the processes which begun at Syntagma Square, or the local and partial struggles as well as resisting the privatization of public wealth.
The contribution of the wider Anticapitalist movement, not only in the forthcoming working and social struggles, but also in the forms and structures of social solidarity and reproduction, so that society will be able to hold its ground in times of social poverty, will be of major importance not only for society itself, but for the political existence of the Anticapitalist movement as well. Defending and broadening the social character of public goods and resources which the government intends to sell out, reconstituting parts of the productive sector for catering to social needs apart from market criteria, are all issues that must be included in our daily agenda under a different prism that will combine mediate answers with strategic perspective. In reality we are falling behind, social solidarity structures are fetal and experimental, functioning in the context of political collectives, while the attempts to create productive collectives are nonexistent.
All issues are wide open in front of our eyes, but one way or the other the shadow of the future has fallen upon us…