Feb 20, 2012
The European Bank, the European Union and the International Monetary Fund gave a new ultimatum to Greece: if it wants money to make its payment of 19 billion dollars due on March 20th, it had until last week to agree to a 20% cut in the minimum wage, to eliminate bonus pay in the private sector, to cut Social Security pensions and to lay off 15,000 government workers. And all these cuts were for a country where the official unemployment rate is 21%, if not really 28%, as the unions state. The bankers simply demand the population be strangled a little more.
The government first took aim against the public sector, demanding an end to a bonus worth 16% of workers’ pay, an increase in worker contributions for health and retirement insurance, a new “solidarity” tax, and lowering the income level at which income taxes are collected. A grade school teacher getting $19,000 a year in 2001 now earns only $14,000 and will soon earn only $11,000.
In the private sector, labor laws are still respected in large businesses, but elsewhere it’s the law of the jungle. There are a lot of medium and small businesses in Greece. On the big boulevards of Athens there are signs saying “for rent” or “for sale,” but with no takers. The Greek Chamber of Commerce forecasts another 160,000 jobs will be lost this year.
Some bosses don’t pay wages, or cut hours of work, especially in trade and restaurants where hours and pay had already been reduced. Many workers are no longer paid regularly. The bosses give them $250 to “hold” them while they wait for their pay. A big daily newspaper, Eleftherotypia, hasn’t come out since 2011 when the workers went on strike after not being paid for months.
Retirees have lost at least 20% of their income. Greek workers save regularly to be able to draw on their savings when they retire. The newly retired always need a few months to get their money. But now, not only are their savings not turned over to them, but many have to wait a year or more before they can get their hands on their own money.
A large part of the population can barely survive. Many can only do some small jobs for cash, and even these are rare. And how can someone survive with prices soaring? A government investigation at the beginning of February showed that Greek prices are higher than those in Germany. So people are skimping on heating oil, gas for their car and food. They appeal to the generosity of family and friends. Those who are more isolated go to soup kitchens organized by church parishes and to food pantries organized by charities. The weakest wind up in the streets. Homelessness has increased by 25% in the past two years. There are 15,000 homeless on the streets of Athens.
So now the IMF, the European Bank and the European Union, the great European powers like France and Germany, their banks and their financial companies demand Greece “make an effort.” During this time, the Greek big bourgeoisie has increased its transfer of funds to London real estate, and like all the capitalists of Europe and elsewhere, wait for the moment when the Greek state privatizes assets at a low price, so they can get a good deal on them.
A Greek salesman told a reporter, “We should put [the bankers] in a small, unheated apartment with a $400 a month pension and see can they live like that. Can they live how they’re asking us to live?”