On the Greek Crisis "The people have had enough"


The following is an interview on the Greek crisis with Constantinos Avramidis – a Greek resident in Ireland, member of the Workers Solidarity Movement and of the post workers union.

1. Can you give us some background of the economic crisis in Greece?

First of all, you have to start with the last government though they’re not responsible of the whole thing. There was a lot of money getting lost, scandals, black holes… not that they were the first government to resort to this corruption, remember that a Socialist government put us in the Eurozone by manipulating the economy and the real state of it. As usual, no one has been properly convicted or prosecuted, but last year there were lots of arrests. The main issue were the forest fires, because they had been using that scorched land for development and it was a big scandal since it was not happening for natural causes. And then you had young Alex [Grigoropoulos] who was killed by the police and the collapse of the world banks and their impact on the Greek economy, all adding to social discontent. But no one was really talking of the domestic economy: the people in government were fixing the figures, they were hiding information, and things were actually far worse than they told the public.

Conservatives and Socialists alike knew the situation was quite bad, but then the country was into elections in October. The Socialists knew the country was in a very bad condition and that they could not afford to pay pensions and wages, so we were basically bankrupt. The IMF and the World Bank were willing to give money, for a price, you know. The newly elected Socialists got elected promising economic reform away from Neoliberalism, they promised public and social spending, etc. The people fell into the trap. They gave a 100 day programme for all this to happen. They promised to attack corruption, but nothing of this they promised ever happened, because there was no money! And they did not admit it even though they it knew before hand, but it was all about electoral promises. So they turned to the EU to ask for a loan. The EU headed by France and Germany were not willing to just give them a loan, so they said they would get the money from the IMF. Now, Greece was the first country to get money from the IMF being within the EU, so that has consequences for all of the Union.

2. How bad were the conditions imposed for the loan?

The IMF after giving the first amount of money, what they were asking was for a number of reforms such as reducing public service spending, and to reduce the pensions. So they slashed bonuses and salaries, so 30% of the average income is gone for workers. Pensions were also reduced up to 30%; so people who had been given credit for houses, cars, and other things, are starting to lose them.

The second condition is that they have to reduce significantly salaries on the private sector workers, who were already screwed as they were. So the result is that for the first time in 36 years we have a general strike, where 300,000 were marching in Athens alone. This month we will have another general strike, actually tomorrow, so in two months we will have two general strikes, something that has never happened before in recent times. Now you see housewives coming onto the streets with pits and pans, common people that can’t make a living, is not just the left coming out to the streets.

Another thing that it is happening is a massive exodus of migrants, so people are going to Germany, France and this has not happened for years.

3. What is the real strength of the strike and what can it achieve?

Protests and strikes can’t achieve much now honestly. Now the time is to organise massive work stoppages together with occupations… the aim has to be to bring the government down. They will have to hold a referendum on the whole thing of the EU and the IMF, and then we have to have a massive reconstruction of the public sector, fight corruption at all levels, starting from the top. The highest levels are the problem; there’s a minister for tourism that two days ago was revealed that her husband, a very famous local musician, owed to the tax office 5.5 million euro. She resigned, but they were trying to milk the people dry while they owed millions to the State!

4. What are the political and social actors that can bring about those changes you talk about?

That’s not clear. You see, in Greece there are more people with a class consciousness that in other parts of Europe. But still is not that significant a percentage of the population in order to have a massive change. The trade unions, the majority of them, are affiliated to the big parties, Conservative and Socialist, except for PAME that is affiliated to the Communist Party. The problem with them is that even though they hold 10% of the electorate they do not bring fresh ideas, they speak to an audience of people that were around in the ‘50s. They call people to the streets because they have no other option; the leadership has to obey the will of their own people. The president of a private sector union, GSSE, a few weeks ago was almost lynched by his own rank and file when he was trying to calm people down in a demonstration. There is not much room for them to express any other opinions than the general feeling. The rest of the left, and the anarchists, are trying to blend in the union movement, what is good, because they achieve more working politically where the people are, but this is not enough… they should have done this years ago. The anarchists marched only in detached blocks, there was a bit of vanguardism, but now they are starting to march with their unions and with their social organisations what is a positive development.

5. Some people in the media claim that the protest in Greece is dying at the moment…

I have different information, and tomorrow’s strike will prove that. They are growing stronger. But eventually there will be a breather for a while, though it will not die, because summer will come and a lot of people will go on holidays, they may get a few bonuses for pensioners to leave for holidays, but what you have to take into account that September may be the hottest month, but I feel that October will be twice as hot. People will come back, the bonus will be gone, pensions and wages will be reduced, they will still be paying credits and education is collapsed. It will be just a little break. And there is still a chance that the summer does not have a calming effect at all. This is a special year, is a special time and we are speculating, it is hard to know what will actually happen, is the first time the country has been in such a mess, a mess in the making for the last 30 years.

6. What do you think will be the possible scenarios to solve the crisis?

One scenario that I want to see is Greece leading the world scene by achieving something that has not been achieved anywhere else. I don’t want to see my country isolated in a Cuban model, with embargoes, etc. What we need to see is that we manage to get out of obligations imposed by the capitalist leadership: out of NATO, all the bases and foreign troops gone out, out of the IMF… without falling into conspiracy theories I strongly believe, because of the experience of Latin America, they can turn the country into a financial guinea pig… out of the EU, because there’s no point in staying in a market alliance with no real solidarity at a social level. It is not an alliance of people, we are made to pay the price… we are supposedly living under the same roof but we are the tenants of the basement floor, this is not a relation between equals. We need a referendum and I think a lot of people will vote not to pay because we have not caused the debt, this ws caused by market speculators, politicians, capitalists. The second stage is to bring those who are responsible and pass the bill to them. We also need to build independent trade unions that democratise the working class, so they fulfil their job to educate, agitate and organise… I think that this could have a domino effect on other countries like Iceland –they had a referendum, and they voted not to pay to Holland or the UK the debt they did not cause in the first place. The people did not created the crisis, the banks did.

But we don’t know how situation will progress. We lack many things to make the situation progress, but the worst scenario will be that the military takes over. That may mean that Greece would be expelled from the EU in the worst possible way. And this way the IMF could impose their will through a dictator as the US has done in the past. That’s the worst case scenario. I have the feeling that the army has no will to intervene, there is a broader political spectre within the army now that would make such a decision difficult. Otherwise, I don’t see how the capitalists will impose the reforms. The people have had enough.

This interview was carried out by José Antonio Gutiérrez D. for Anarkismo.net and first published there May 21 2010.