Sunday, 2 October 2011

Despair and fury: Interview with Greek socialist

As the ‘troika’ – the European Commission, the European Central Bank (ECB) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) – arrive in Athens, this week, to review the Greek government’s “progress” in its vicious austerity cuts in return for the latest tranche of bailout funds, the people of Greece are suffering beyond endurance.

Over the last four years, the income of the average Greek household has fallen by a staggering 50%, in what is described as as a “death spiral” by the New York Times.

Massive job losses, tax increases and rising inflation are ruining the lives of working people. Athens, which is home to one third of Greece’s 11 million people, is hit by “soaring crime and lawlessness”, according to the British Guardian newspaper (24/09/11). There has been a sharp rise in homelessness and the number of drug addicts. “Psychiatric patients are being ejected from institutions that can no longer offer them a place”, reports the paper. Many shop owners have been forced to close. People are reduced to having to “forage through municipal rubbish bins at night” and pensioners have to survive on “rejects at fruit and vegetable markets”. Suicide rates are up sharply. In desperation, larger numbers of Greeks are either returning to their “rural roots” or emigrating in the biggest exodus in over 40 years.

These sort of desperate conditions are usually associated with crisis ridden parts of the neo-colonial world or with the collapse of the former Soviet Union. But this situation is unfolding in the heart of what until recently was supposed to be the European capitalists ’success story’ of the ‘euro-project’.

Last week’s announcment by George Papandreou’s Greek PASOK government of further masses of job losses, tax hikes and pension cuts led to huge anger and frustration and a new surge of industrial action. Students are already occupying colleges over new fees and privatisation plans. But after several general strikes in recent months and big occupations of city squares, how can Greek workers and youth now halt the cuts tsunami?

Below, we carry an interview with Nikos Anastasiades, Xekinima (CWI Greece), from this week’s Socialist (newspaper of the Socialist Party - CWI England & Wales).

Could you explain, briefly, what the austerity measures will mean to the majority of Greek people?

The government recently announced some new austerity measures. “New” has become a standing joke in Greece as the government announces new measures every week!

After the destruction of living standards caused by previous attacks, the government has now announced measures that will lead to more attacks on the working class. These attacks include: the layoffs of public sector workers – they plan to sack 200,000 out of a total of 750,000 public sector workers in the next few years. This plan will start this week by putting some thousands of workers on ‘suspension’. Public sector pay will also be slashed by an average of 50%.

The government is planning to tax those workers on the lowest incomes, combined with the introduction of an annual ‘household tax’ - a poll tax. The Papandreou government intends to double the price of fuel for household use.

In addition, there are attacks on education funding, and the implementation of university tuition fees.

Before the current economic and financial crisis Greece was one of the poorest countries in the European Union. These cuts will plunge society into absolute poverty and create a ‘lost generation’ of unemployed people.

Last week official figures showed that the number of suicides due to economic reasons doubled in the last year....

Read the rest of the interview here:

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