By Andrew Brady
Greece is in a humanitarian crisis. I’ve often thought that surely the various European Governments and institutions would not allow a situation to develop that would leave society in many areas on the brink of collapse – but today I can only conclude they don’t. What is far more important is the repayment of debts and this is taking precedence over the quality and continuation of human lives.
But it goes wider than that because we rarely hear a statement on the situation in Greece from the NGO community who more often than not step in to crisis hit areas when Governments are incapable of responding and when human rights are routinely abused. It is for this reason we are supporting the documentary being produced by Zoe Mavroudi on the HIV women who were imprisoned only after their faces had been paraded on every major TV and newspapers.
With the notable exceptions of The Guardian newspaper and Paul Mason (BBC Newsnight) we hear, read or see scant information from the mainstream media. My friends and comrades in Greece tell me they think it’s because Europe seems to be incapable of believing that in the 21st Century a country such as the standing of Greece – previously associated with reasonably high living standards and quality of life – could be in such a perilous state. Well Europe wake up!
I was invited to address a meeting in the centre of Athens, Panipestimiou Avenue, involving rank and file trade union members and the unemployed. People from companies such as Nokia-Siemens, dockers, postal workers, the Hellenic Post Bank and the Network of Precarious Workers and the Unemployed came to share their stories in an informal setting. You could palpably feel that this was emotional and cathartic for those in attendance. At the meeting I also had the pleasure of meeting a wonderful woman who had been interviewing the remaining HIV women in prison and expressed her delight that we were assisting the project.
Over nearly four hours I heard shocking stories, shared on a confidential basis for fear of reprisal, about individuals who had not been paid for months; a company who was promoting its employees should vote for the Nazis in Golden Dawn, and, people being taken to the police station for questioning for spurious reasons no doubt related to their trade union and left-wing activities. There were many stories shared and listened to with quiet respect.
The most shocking one was the story of a brave woman who had been trafficked after responding to the ubiquitous agency advertisements in a newspaper. The agencies, who more often than not are run by gangsters, ‘guarantees’ a paid job after an initial installment is paid that ends up totaling 1600 Euros. This is not uncommon at all in the Greece of today and people will naturally respond to these ads as paid employment is becoming scarce. The women in question was in essence trafficked to an island where people were divided in accommodation by only a sheet. She escaped after a month in disguise. Those attending the meeting had a resignation about these experiences because it is the norm. Stories such as those shared in the meeting are not irregular or unusual.
It is a disgrace that the Greek Government and the ‘Troika’ have collaborated to ensure that collective bargaining is dismantled with individualised contracts growing at a frightening pace, minimum wages are cut back by more than thirty per cent, and, debts (compounded by outrageously imposed high interest rates) are paid back while medicines and vaccinations are cut back for children, the elderly and sick.
I had the privilege of meeting people associated with the ‘Solidarity for All’ initiative. USi will be featuring some of their inspiring work in the future as they help to facilitate solidarity networks all over Greece involving thousands of volunteer teachers, nurses, doctors and lawyers benefiting tens of thousands of people.
The initiative helps to coordinate people in accessing groceries which cuts out middle-men so people at source pay far less than they would through these intermediaries; it facilitates those requiring legal representation and advice but can’t pay for it, and, identifies health product shortages including powdered baby-milk and vaccinations for children to be targeted in specific localities. It is a model of self-organisation and coordination which all progressive peoples in countries should analyse and learn from as austerity bites even deeper on the bones of society.
The brothers and sisters who attended this moving meeting in Athens are pleading with Europe to wake up, to take courage from their resistance and oppose this economic enforced barbarism. Europe will you continue to turn a blind eye because if you do your country could be next if Greece falls and this neo-liberal social experiment succeeds.
I want to thank a number of people who have become my friends as a result of USi’s Solidarity with Greece campaign. To Dora (@IrateGreek twitter) at the wonderful Radio Bubble thank you for your contribution to exposing the blind eyes and lies of the Greek mainstream media and for reaching out to people beyond your borders including your new international show on Saturdays. To Stathis Strachanatzis and Nagia Nikalaou of the Athens Labour Centre please take confidence, courage and heart from your tireless efforts to fight for trade union rights and a better Greece because people including me are inspired and humbled by your work. To Vangelis Lagos, your contribution to USi has been truly ‘fantastic’ my friend. We could not have helped to tell thousands of people about the crisis in Greece if it was not for your wholehearted commitment to socialism, dignity and human rights – and for that I am forever indebted.
USi will be featuring a number of interviews and articles over the coming weeks arising from our visit to Athens on (7-10 March).
Read all of USi’s work on Greece at our tag here.
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