Greece: Austerity means death

‘The strategy of the European Commission over the past year and a half or two has been to reduce the labour costs in all European countries in order to improve the competitiveness of European companies over the rivals from Eastern Europe and Asia’

Greek representative to the European Commission, Maria Damanaki

‘What I am afraid of is the tsunami of poor and homeless people who flood the hospital clinics every night, and you don’t have enough time to treat them. And most of all, they don’t have free medical care ... It is unacceptable and I cannot accept the idea that a person cannot have free medical care.’

Nurse Zoe Florou

As reports from Greece have consistently demonstrated, there is a deepening gulf between the interests of the capitalist banks and the interests of the Greek working class. The monthly tranches of the troika's bailout loan are not signed off until after the visits of its ‘tough supervision missions’, as German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schauble calls them. Greece is now the only EU country so far to deliver a fall in hourly labour costs in the private sector, driven down by 6.8% since 2011. 60% of under-25s are unemployed. Those fortunate enough to have a job face a 25% cut in the minimum wage from 740 euros to 510 euros per month. The rate for over-25s has been cut by 22.2%. There have been calls by Greek business leaders to abandon any minimum wage and consideration of a flat rate 250 euros per month for part-time work. And yet this is not enough. At the start of the European summit in Dublin in mid-March the president of the Eurozone’s group of finance ministers, Jeroen Dijsselbloem, stated that Greece must 'speed up its efforts' to meet troika targets.

Attacks on wages, work contracts and conditions are not the only methods by which costs for the capitalists are reduced. Privatisations, compulsory redundancies, the slashing of education and health provision are all part of the brutal austerity programme of the troika. Constitutional guarantees of secure employment in public service which have existed for over 100 years have been ripped up by the pro-austerity government coalition. 25,000 jobs will go by the end of this year, 180,000 by 2015. The right to free university education, a constitutional right won after the ending of the military junta in 1975, has gone as four universities out of 40 are shut down. An estimated 20,000 students will have to abandon their studies and join the millions of jobless youth.

But it is the right to life itself that the austerity measures are attacking. Recent studies by the medical journal The Lancet and a book entitled The Body Politic: Why Austerity Kills by David Stuckler and Sanjay Basu, shows the devastating effects of the crisis. A senior Greek clinical consultant states: ‘In Greece, unemployment today means death.’ After 12 months of unemployment people lose their health insurance. They cannot afford medicines and have to delay going to hospital. Emergency centres are only open four days a week, while hospital medicine stocks are depleted or non-existent. Patients have to provide their own prescription drugs and dressings. HIV infections have doubled since 2011 and malaria has reappeared as mosquito eradication programmes are cut back. Suicide and depression rates are multiplying. Malnutrition in children and the old is rising. This is the savage reality of the capitalist crisis in Greece and Europe. The troika demanded that Greece limit its health spending to 6% of GDP and it has fallen from €14bn in 2009 to €9.5bn in 2012… and so people die.

The people are resisting; strikes of transport workers against wage cuts and privatisations have taken place. Doctors have gone on strike over unpaid wages and staffing shortages in vital intensive care units and students have taken over municipal buildings. In mid-May 88,000 secondary school teachers were preparing to strike over extensions to working hours, redundancies and school closures but they were served with ‘civilian mobilisation orders’ by police. First used against transport strikers in early 2013, they effectively draft workers into the armed forces making them liable to charges of mutiny and desertion. Those court-martialled for breaching the orders face up to five years’ imprisonment.

However, such authoritarian measures are outdone by the fascist terror unleashed against immigrant Bangladeshi workers in the agricultural area of Nea Manolada in Southern Greece in March. In an area renowned for racist violence, 30 workers were gunned down by overseers as they protested against unpaid wages. Since 2008 the workers have built a tradition of militancy and organisation through strikes and demonstrations against poverty wages and slum accommodation. Their courageous stand is both a lesson and a warning for the rest of the Greek working class. They must not stand alone.

Michael Macgregor

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 233 June/July 2013


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