[Marxism] The myth of the lazy Greek workers

Michael Karadjis mkaradjis at gmail.com
Sun Jul 3 07:19:33 MDT 2011


Although over a year old, this article is required reading for anyone 
wishing to understand the depths of the anti-working class propaganda 
that daily seeks to blame Greek workers - the ones being forced to pay - 
for the crisis of Greek capitalism. It is all a lie. As we might expect, 
of course. But when one constantly hears things like "Germans shouldn't 
have to work until 69 so that Greek workers can retire on fat pensions 
at 55," we don't expect that such a lie could be told so blatantly. We 
expect maybe there's something more to it (eg, Greek pensions are far 
lower, which in itself is also true). But no - it is also just a 
straight out lie. Spread it around.
MK

The myth of the lazy Greek workers"
Written by Editorial Board of "Marxistiki Foni" Tuesday, 04 May 2010
http://www.marxist.com/myth-of-lazy-greek-workers.htm

Since the crisis in Greece has hit the headlines there have appeared in 
the bourgeois media many stories about how Greece has too many civil 
servants, how the working week is very short, how people retire early on 
fat pensions, and so on, as if this were the cause of the crisis. Facts 
and figures, however, can be very stubborn things and they tell a 
completely different story.

During the last few days we have witnessed an unprecedented smear 
campaign against the Greek working class by the European bourgeois 
media, in particular by the tabloid press, which is specifically aimed 
at working class people. This campaign is aimed at deceiving the 
European workers and its objective is clearly to prevent them from 
assuming internationalist action of class solidarity towards the working 
class of Greece, which is being brutally attacked by both Greek and 
foreign capitalists.

The first myth being promoted in this campaign goes more or less like 
this: "these lazy Greek people, who constantly go on strike without any 
reason, then come running to the Europeans to finance their own 
laziness".

The rank-and-file of the European Left and of the workers' movement 
internationally must be told the truth, but unfortunately this will not 
be forthcoming from the main media outlets. Let us look at some facts. 
According to Eurostat, Greek workers work on average longer hours than 
the rest of Europeans. They work a
42-hour week, while the average working week in the 27 member states of 
the EU is 40.3 hours and within in the "Eurozone" it is
40 hours. So that is myth number one dispelled.

Again, according to Eurostat, Greece also has the most underpaid private 
sector employees compared to the rest of the "Eurozone". In Greece, the 
average gross monthly wage, including social security and taxes, is 803 
euros [about £700 or US$1063], while the lowest gross salary in, for 
example, Ireland is 1300 euros, in France 1250 euros and in the 
Netherlands 1400 euros. So myth number two doesn't stand up to any 
serious analysis of the real figures.

Another idea being bandied about is that if it were not for the EU and 
the IMF stepping in and imposing strict measures, the Greeks would have 
happily continued to live on ever-increasing wages. However, according 
to the Labour Institution of the GSEE [the Greek general confederation 
of private sector unions], the austerity programmes already imposed by 
recent governments in Greece even before the current crisis had erupted 
had already cut the real average wage in the private sector to 1984 
levels.

What about the age of retirement and pension levels? If we were to 
believe the bourgeois media Greeks live in a kind of workers' paradise, 
where they can all retire early and nice big pensions. Again, facts and 
figures are stubborn things and they give a completely different 
picture. The average age of retirement in Greece is 61.4 years, a little 
higher than the European average of
61.1 years.

And what about these fat Greek pensions? According to the GSEE Labour 
Institution, the average pension in Greece is 750 euros per months [£650 
pounds or US$990], while in Spain this figure reaches
950 euros, in Ireland 1700 euros, in Belgium 2800 euros and in the 
Netherlands 3200 euros. Moreover, this figure was calculated before the 
implementation of the new government measures, which increase the age of 
retirement from 65 to 67 years while at the same time cutting pensions 
by 30 to 50%.

Furthermore, according to the annual report of the joint GSEE-ADEDY 
trade union confederations on the economy and employment levels in 2009, 
of the current four and a half million labour force, more than a million 
work without any social security or other forms of legal protection. 
According to the report of the Commission for Social Security, 
established by the Greek Ministry of Labour, this figure reaches 30% of 
the overall workforce, while in the rest of the EU the percentage of 
workers in these conditions are only between 5 and 10% of the total.

And whose fault is that? Contributions are supposed to be calculated by 
the bosses, who pay a part themselves and the remainder is paid by the 
workers out of their wages. But that would mean declaring the workers 
legally and paying taxes on the profits made. The bosses prefer to hire 
a sizeable number of workers illegally, in the "black economy", and thus 
save on both taxes due to the state and contributions. If the bosses had 
paid all taxes due in recent years, and if they had paid what they are 
supposed to pay into social security funds, the situation would not be 
anywhere as bad as it is today. It is the Greek capitalists and the 
foreign investors who have profited from this situation. But who are 
they blaming? The Greek workers and poor, of course!

On top of all this, in Greece there is also the phenomenon of around 
300,000 "false self-employed workers". These are workers who have in 
reality been forced to set themselves up as self-employed. In reality 
they work for a boss who can freely assign the manner, the time, the 
place of work, and the working conditions and thus this form of working 
is essentially employment by a boss, but with the added advantage that 
he can sack them whenever he wants, as formally he is the workers' 
"client". Bosses prefer this method of employment because these workers 
are not treated legally as employees; they don't have the same legal 
rights as the rest of the working class, such as monthly salaries, paid 
holidays, etc. Employers can fire them freely, even without any 
compensation. We must also add to the list the 200,000 "part-time" 
employees, most of whom work full-time but are being paid half-time.

In the smear campaign, there have been many reports concerning the 
supposedly "excessive" number of civil servants in Greece. According to 
reports of the ILO (International Labour Organization), civil servants 
in Greece represent 22.3% of the total workforce, while in France the 
percentage is 30%, in Sweden
34%, in the Netherlands 27%, in the UK 20% and finally, in Germany
14%. So we can see that Greece is actually below the average. The most 
important fact, however, that has to be borne in mind is that
300,000 of the public sector employees are working under temporary 
contracts, which means they have far lower wages and much fewer rights.

Instead of civil servants' wages going up in recent years, we have seen 
the opposite phenomenon. As a result of the constant cuts carried out 
since 1990, according to an ADEDY report [the civil servants trade union 
confederation], the total real income of civil servants has fallen by 
30%. During recent years, governments have preferred to grant 
"allowances" to civil servants instead of real wage increases. These 
allowances have neither been included in the annual pay rises nor are 
they taken into account when calculating pension levels upon retirement.

The bourgeois propaganda also continues to attacking the so-called "13th 
and 14th month's salary", in an attempt to create the impression that 
Greek workers enjoy higher wages than their European counterparts. In 
reality, these extra "salaries" are bonuses for Christmas (the 13th 
salary), Easter and allowances
(14th salary), which were given separately as a method of fragmenting 
total annual income, in order to facilitate commercial and tourist 
growth during "peak periods" (i.e. holiday periods), in a country whose 
economy is based mainly on commerce and tourism. With the new recent 
measures taken by the government, civil servants and pensioners lose 
both of these salaries. What must also be noted is that all the wage 
levels, all the facts and figures about the Greek workers' wages listed 
above include these extra "salaries".

The myth of the "opulent" Greek workers is ultimately destroyed if we 
look at the massive increase in the cost of living in Greece. While the 
wages and salaries are among the lowest in the Eurozone, the prices of 
basic goods keep soaring. Let us take a look at a few examples. In 
Greece a packet of cereals costs on average 2.86 euros, while the same 
packet costs 1.89 euros in the UK (51% cheaper than in Greece) and in 
France 2.25 euros (27% cheaper). Greeks buy a toothbrush for 3.74 euros 
while in the UK the same toothbrush is sold for 2.46 euros (52% 
cheaper). A pack of soft drinks that costs 3.1 euros in Greece, costs 
2.76 in Belgium, 2.3 in France and 2.68 in UK. The most prominent 
examples are a cup of coffee or tea: in Greece the average price is 
between 3 and 3.5 euros, more than twice the average in most European 
countries.

Of course, during the same period, there are some Greeks that could be 
accused of living in opulence, indeed at record levels, compared to both 
Europe and globally. But these are not to be found among the Greek 
working class. During the first half of the past decade Greek 
capitalists were constantly in the three top places in the league table 
of profitability globally, while Greek bankers even now are enjoying the 
highest rates of interest in Europe. This is not by chance. Their 
profits have been based on the fact that they had at their disposal a 
workforce that has been on some of the lowest wages in Europe. Added to 
that they had a sizeable section of this workforce employed in the 
"black economy", where they were able to save huge sums on taxes and 
social security contributions.

The smear campaign of the capitalist press throughout Europe is thus 
based on nothing but lies. The truth must be explained within the labour 
movement in every European country and beyond. Real wages are far lower, 
the working week is longer than average, the age of retirement is higher 
than average, but one thing has indeed been higher: the profits made by 
the Greek and foreign capitalists in Greece.

This does not mean that workers in the rest of Europe are living that 
much better. What is being done to the Greek working class, tomorrow 
will be done to the Portuguese and the day after to the Italian, the 
Belgian, the British workers and so on. Already in Ireland we have seen 
what the capitalist are capable of. Greece provides merely a foretaste 
of what is coming very soon in the rest of Europe.

What the bourgeois media is trying to do is to play off one working 
class against another. They are putting the blame for the present crisis 
of the euro on the Greek workers, using them as a scapegoat. This is all 
in preparation for the attacks they are preparing across the whole of 
Europe. Tomorrow, no doubt, we will hear about the lazy Portuguese, the 
lazy Italians. In Britain no doubt, the campaign about social security 
"scroungers", i.e. unemployed workers, will be stepped up, and finally 
the day will come when the German capitalists will discover that German 
workers too are "scroungers", that they have lived it up for too long 
and some "sacrifices" need to be made.

The European working class must not allow this campaign to go 
unanswered. It is the duty of the labour movement organisation in all 
European countries to counter this campaign and tell the truth and put 
the blame for this crisis where it lies, at the door of the European and 
world capitalist class.

The workers of Europe must act in solidarity with the Greek working 
class, which is being cruelly attacked by the EU and struggle together 
against this attempt to first divide the workers and then to pass the 
burden of the crisis to the European workers as a whole. This will 
involve a European-wide struggle. In all countries similar conditions 
are being created. In all countries the attack is the same. What is 
required is international solidarity across borders, a struggle for a 
socialist Europe that will finally make those who are responsible for 
the crisis pay, by expropriating those who are truly lazy, those who 
produce nothing, those who live off the sweat of the working class, the 
industrialists, the bankers, the financial speculators, the ship-owners 
and the owners of the huge commercial chains.

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