Friday, May 28, 2010
Wednesday, May 26, 2010
When one of the employees of the upscale Banquet restaurant in the centre of Thessaloniki had the temerity to ask for wages owed him he was promptly fired setting off a chain of protests outside the establishment which has continued now for over a month.
Accused of failing to pay overtime, legally mandated minimum wage, overtime rates and keeping tips the management decided to close down the place rather than pay what they owed employees and re-hire the dismissed worker.
What you have in microcosm is the painful choices being forced upon millions of Greeks, either work for a pittance without "luxuries" such as overtime, holiday pay or health insurance or become unemployed. Despite what the foreign media may say about the Greek welfare state its provisions come nowhere near providing a safety net for the country's poorest and most vulnerable.
Tuesday, May 25, 2010
Monday, May 24, 2010
Friday, May 21, 2010
When the IMF hit squad rolled into Argentina during their financial crisis, one of the ways people reacted was by going out onto the streeets en masse banging pots and pans. A tactic repeated here in Thessaloniki during yesterday's protest march.
Thursday, May 20, 2010
About 10,000 people took part in two protest marches today in Thessaloniki. The demonstrations passed off peacefully and the police kept a discrete distance so managed to avoid inflaming a tense situation. Though the demo was smaller than the one on 5th May it was still reasonably well-attended. For more pictures check out my Demotix story.
Monday, May 17, 2010
"Οι επιτροπές AKΡΙΒEIA-STOP! ΘΕΣ/ΝΙΚΗΣ καταγγέλλουν τη διοίκηση του ΟΑΣΘ, που με περισσή υποκρισία κ ψεύτικη συγνώμη, κάτω από το βάρος της αντίδρασης χιλιάδων πολιτών της θεσ/νικης, ανακοίνωσε την απόσυρση της αύξησης στην τιμή του εισιτηρίου κατά 100% μέσω των λίγων γραμμών ενός δελτίου τύπου. Εντούτοις η τιμή του βασικού εισιτηρίου παραμένει αυξημένη κατά 20% σε σχέση με πριν. Επιπλέον, ενώ για την αύξηση αυτή η διοίκηση του ΟΑΣΘ ενημερώνει ακόμα και σήμερα, καθημερινά, μέσα στα λεωφορεία κ στους τηλεματικoύς πίνακες των στάσεων, η ανακοίνωση για την ακύρωση έγινε μέσω ενός απλού δελτίου τύπου, δίχως να ενημερωθούν σε ανάλογο βαθμό οι πολίτες"
Activists from the Akriveia - Stop consumer rights group in a protest in the centre of Thessaloniki against the local bus company. Recently OASTH (the Thessaloniki public transport company) decided to raise the cost of tickets by 20 - 100%. The most expensive change was the abolition of the right to transfer from bus to bus for up to 70 minutes without having to by a new ticket, effectively doubling the cost of longer bus journeys. After weeks of protest the bus company reversed its decision but has failed to notify anyone or change the instructions on ticket vending machines.
Friday, May 14, 2010
I haven't posted for the last few days not because things have been quiet but rather that there has been so much happening that I haven't had time to keep the blog up to date. Today, for example a bomb went off inside the central court building in Thessaloniki at midday. I heard about this by chance when the woman sitting next to me in a cafe got news of the event from a friend on her mobile phone. I happened to be in the middle of a major computer meltdown caused by some virus and so lost valuable minutes before I could reach the courts which by then had beeen closed off. Still, where's there a will, there a way in, so I managed to bypass the security cordon and get quite close.
According to eye witnesses I spoke to the bomb went off while people were still inside the building despite a warning phoned into the Athens based Eleutherotypia newspaper,. I think some people thought the whole thing was some kind of practical joke, not an unreasonable assumption given the fact that such phoned in threats are common here in Greece and almost always prove to be a hoax.
However, the fact that those who planted the bomb were able to breach security in a building that is literally crawling with police officers during working hours is not going to look good, especially coming just hours after the bomb attack on the Kordyllios maximum security prison in Athens (For previous security breaches click here).
Tuesday, May 11, 2010
Lots has been made of the profilgacy of Greek state spending, on the way in which billions have been wasted on white elephants and unjustifiable wages and benefits. Yet there are areas of public expenditure which have barely been discussed, let alone touched by the swingeing cuts in services and incomes. Whilst the present socialist PASOK government is busily implementing cuts in minimum wage and lowest pensions the country's massive defence outlays seem to be immune from the fiscal demands of the IMF and EU.
Monday, May 10, 2010
Sunday, May 09, 2010
The streets of Thessaloniki are full of kids carrying bunches of flowers to take home since today is Mother's day here in Greece. It's strange to be strolling with my daughter along streets that just a few days ago looked like scenes out of a war movie with phalanxes of riot police charging protesters and the air heavy with the stench of tear gas and burning plastic.
Yet the calmness is deceptive and belays the fact that people here are extremely angry over the latest developments concerning the IMF-EU brokered bailout deal, and despite the concerted efforts of the country's media and especially the main TV stations not convinced that the massive cuts in incomes and public spending are the inevitable price Greece will have to pay to stop the slide into bankcruptcy. In a poll carried out by VPRC 55% of those asked said that they supported the idea of renegotiating the terms of the debt repayment whilst nearly a third wanted a stop on payments altogether. Similarly, the May 4th poll carried out by Public Issue on behalf of the Greek newspaper, Kathimerini on Sunday found that 66% of Greeks were against the measures. (it should be noted that opinion polls carried out for the Vima and Naytemporiki papers found exactly the opposite figures).
Once again despite what Prime minister Giorgos Papadreou may declare to fellow EU leaders at meetings in Brussels there is absoluely no popular support for the current measues and that the tactic of bypassing constititional and legal objections as part of their imposition is simply fanning the flames of disdent. Reform by diktat is not going to win over many hearts or minds here in Greece and is rapidly dismantling what little consensus exists within the country.
There is also the growing fear that even if the measures announced are enforced there is no guarantee that the sacrifices will bear any kind of fruit. If the rest of the world thinks that the Greek people are simply going to may down and play dead in order that Wall Street/The City/ Franfkfurt can sleep easier at night is in for a terrible shock. The month long wave of riots and revolt that struck Greece in December 2008 following the death of 15 year old Alexander Grigoropoulos was the work of Greece's youth to alarge extent. Current dissatisfaction with the political and economic system covers a much wider segment of the population and is likely to be even more bitter as millions slide into poverty and despair.
One only has to see the example of IMF intervention in Argentina to see the likely social effects of an austerity package which may last for a decade and may nothing but the chance of better macroeconomic statistics at the cost of untold human misery.
Saturday, May 08, 2010
Friday, May 07, 2010
Yesterday I was once again by the BBC World Service to comment on why people are reacting no negatively to the EU-IMF bailout deal. I was paired with the head of one of Ireland's teaching unions (whose name I forget) to show perhaps how different the two country's reaction has been to similar measures.
Whilst Ireland underwent a painful readjustment in incomes and public services there was none of the violence recently witnessed in Athens an many other Greek cities. The impression I got was that Dublin managed to negotiate the changes through dialogue with the major trade unions and built up a consensus, that the cuts in wages and services was vital for the country's future.
No such dialogue exists here in Greece and the massive reductions in public spending combined with tax hikes has been imposed as a fait d'accomplice by the ruling PASOK party.
Thursday, May 06, 2010
Greek riot police used stun grenades designed for use by special forces in anti-terrorist situations to break up protests outside the ex-ministry of Macedonia and Thrace in the northern city of Thessaloniki yesterday May 5 2010.
"The Grenade Hand Stun N580 and Grenade Hand
Stun Multi’s N582, N591 and N592 are diversionary
assault grenades, designed for use in confined
spaces by Special Forces during hostage release.
Noise and candela levels induce disorientation in
any persons within the effective range."
When the news first hit the internet, Twitter was full of wild rumours and speculation, some argued that the deaths were just black propaganda or the work of agent provocateurs intent on discrediting the anti-government demonstrations. Others still insisted that the real target of the arsonists were the archives of the government's anti-fraud agency which supposedly has offices in the same building. As time passed and the details of the tragedy came to light the rumours were quietly replaced by the realisation that the attack and deaths were most probably the result of that most deadly of human traits, stupidity. Those who set fire to the bank saw a target and give little or no heed to the possibility that people were inside.
This is not to say they are not responsible for their actions and I sincerely hope that they are caught and receive the punishment they so richly deserve.
On the other hand there is great sadness amongst those who took part in yesterday's demonstrations that this brutal act has allowed the local media to shift attention from the demands of the hundreds of thousands who took part in the marches onto those responsible for the deaths and so tar legitimate opposition to the austerity package with the actions of a handful of murderous morons.
Despite the attempts by the local media and especially the country's TV channels to present the massive cuts in income and jobs as inevitable the reality remains that the majority of Greeks are unwilling to sacrifice so much in order to pay debts racked up by the current economic and political systems which is already creaking under the weight of the anger that is building up. Today the Greek parliament will most probably vote in favour of the IMF-EU bailout plan but that is almost irrevelent as what really matters is the ability of the ruling PASOK government to implement the measures in the face of opposition from virtually every sector of society, to impose a cut in living standards unprecedented not just in post war Greek society but in the post - war history of western Europe.
Even within PASOK itself resistance to the measures is growing and how long prime minister Giorgos Papandreou will be able to maintain party discipline is a matter of doubt. More fundamentally the current political leadership does not have the moral clout to demand so much of the Greek people when it has been mired so deeply in corruption and scandal. The role of leading PASOK politicians in the Siemens, Daimler and Krupps corruption cases has yet to be satisfactorily resolved and there is a widespread belief that the hundreds of billions destined for Greece will just be used by the political elite to line their pockets and pay off political favours.
Yet it is not business as usual in Greece as people are starting to realise. The rage felt has momentarily subsided replaced by grief over yesterday's awful events but that will be just a brief respite for the government as the underlaying causes of popular anger still remain. When you see a woman pensioner, apoplectic with rage, using virtually every swear word available in the Greek canon to insult police menacing protest marchers then you know that Greece is undergoing a profound sea change.
Wednesday, May 05, 2010
Tuesday, May 04, 2010
Following the announcement of the austerity measures accompanying the EU-IMF bailout package thousands of Greeks have started a two general strike which is set to close down the country tomorrow. This morning thousands of teachers marchs in cities around the country over cuts in educational budgets and lost positions.
Yesterday evening approximately 40 teachers entered the state run NET TV station and interrupted the news forcing the channel to cut its regular programming. The incident ended with the intervention of riot police units who clashed with protesters..
Monday, May 03, 2010
As well as cuts in wages and pensions Greeks are also reeling from massive price hikes in basic goods and services.
In the country's second city, Thessaloniki there was anger and minor scuffles outside the bus company offices when long lines of commuters queued, forced to upgrade tickest and pay the difference.
Members of Akrivia - Stop ("Stop rising prices") staged a ticket boycott and called upon passengers to refuse to buy tickets today in protest against what it called unjustisfiable increases in a time of economic crisis.
Just hours after Athens revealed the final details of the country's $140 billion dollar rescue package about 1,000 people took to the streets of Greece's second city in protest over cuts in jobs and wages which accompany the deal. Closely followed by platoons of riot police marchers went through the city centre calling for the overthrow of the government and for Greeks to refuse to pay back debts. Despite some tense scenes the march passed off without incident.
Sunday, May 02, 2010
Today Greek prime minister will announce the full details of the deal that it has negotiated with the EU-IMF-ECB over the conditions of the bailout package. So far the media here have been coy about saying what exactly the agreement contains but the general consensus is that it will include painful cuts across the board in terms of pay and conditions in both the private and public sector. In addition there are likely to be large job cuts as many civil service positions are axed.The most likely tactic will be a change from permanent contract to fixed term ones which when they run out will not be renewed.
As well as cuts in income Greeks are also going to be hit by yet another round of rises in VAT and other indirect taxes (the second in six months). Already the local public tranport authority here in Thessaloniki has announced 20-100% increase in bus ticket prices.
As you can imagine there is a lot of popular anger from people affected by these measures and this is likely to fuel a wave of protests and strikes in the coming months. Already the Greek communist party (KKE), which is the third largest has delared that it will fight the austerity package and is calling on workers to raise up. Other groups are also oganising different ways to try and fight against the government's plans with direct action and protests which have been scheduled for the coming week.
While everyone in Greece agrrees that the present situation is dire and things cannot continue as before they are bitter and angry that the very same politicians who failed to avert the present economic crisis either due to incompetence, corruption or indifference are now calling upon ordinary Greeks to make sacrifices. This would be a steep order for any country even in the best of circumstances but giving the extreme corruption of Greece's ruling political and economic nomenclenture none of country's leaders retains the moral stature necessary to convince people to take the difficult steps that lay ahead.
THe ruling PASOK party headed by Giorgos Papandreou has done little to clean up ts own house when it comes to graft and influence peddling and despite court cases in Germany and the UK, the scandals its senior members were involved in during their last term in power have yet to result in any criminal charges being brought against those involved here. On the other hand the newly elected leader of the defeated New Democracy, Antonis Samaras heads a party whose members presided other one of the worst periods of corruption in Greek history yet few have even been fired let alone been the subject of a court trial.
What people are enraged about is that such incompetence and corruption is likely to be repeated since no one is in a position to put a stop to the pevious abuses of power. The judiciary is little more than an extension of whoever is in power and can be ignored at will while the media is suppine in the face of the temptation of rewards from those in power in the form of state jobs, contracts and advertising revenue. Sometimes it seems that the news here is a choice between a Hellenic version of Fox News or Pravda, with very little objective reporting.
The clashes witnessed in Athens during May Day are likely to be repeated in the following days as the general strike this week is going to a catatlyst for people's rage and frustration.