[Marxism] talking with Greek workers on referendum, Syriza, future
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Sat Jul 4 09:26:00 MDT 2015
Workers in Greece say, 'A no vote will show that we are not afraid'
by Dave Sewell in Athens
Socialist Worker, Britain, July 3
. . .
Cleaners sacked by Greece's previous government returned to work at
the ministry of finance in Athens last week.
“We won,“ cleaner Despina Kostopolou told Socialist Worker. “We got
our jobs back—and on better conditions than before we were fired.”
Several groups of laid off workers hounded the Tory-left coalition
throughout its last two years in office. The cleaners had a particular
impact, setting up camp outside their old workplace and confronting
ministers and officials who went inside to plot austerity measures.
They were finally reinstated by the new government formed by left
party Syriza after the election this January.
Despina said, “The change in government was crucial. We won because we
took to the streets—but if the old parties were still in office we'd
still be there”.
The cleaners have collectively called for a no vote in this Sunday's
referendum on a new austerity agreement proposed by the European Union
(EU) and International Monetary Fund. Despina said, “We voted for it
unanimously. There is no future with the yes vote.
“People cannot stand any more of this situation. A big no vote will be
the best way to show we are not afraid—and make the other side afraid
A number of leading cleaners in the campaign joined Syriza—and are
determined not to let the gains they have won be reversed.
“I think the whole point of all this has been an attempt to get rid of
the left government,” Despina said. “It's completely political. And
whatever the vote is, it's very important the government isn't made to
Just out of town in the port of Piraeus, dockers' union secretary
Giorgos Gogos told Socialist Worker all the workers there would be
voting no too.
“It will show that we didn't want austerity, it was imposed on us,” he said.
The union was preparing a statement condemning the main private sector
union federation GSEE's decision to call for yes vote.
Like the cleaners, the dockers had to fight bitterly under the last
government. It was trying to privatise the port.
“We are talking about a fire sale—selling the port off at far less
than its value, adding up to virtually nothing compared to the
national debt,” said Giorgos. “And this is a port with a real social
role. It is the only link to the mainland for people in most of the
The dockers have held strikes, demonstrations, and even an occupation
of the cargo terminal over the course of their own ten year battle.
And subcontracted workers on worse conditions on the piers that have
been privatised have struck to demand collective bargaining.
But the dockers’ fight continues under Syriza.
Giorgos said, “The new government said it was going to stop the
privatisation, and of course we were very happy. So we were very
disappointed when they revealed they were going ahead after all. The
majority of the workers voted for Syriza.”
Giorgos himself is a member of Syriza. But he said, “Privatisation is
wrong whatever party is in power, and we are going to keep mobilising
They struck in May, and a speaking tour over the summer is laying the
ground for more walkouts in September when bidding for the port opens.
Workers at both Piraeus port and Athens ministry see the referendum as
a crucial point in their struggles. The cleaners' civil service
colleagues made this clear when they became among the first of many
workplaces to drop a banner saying no from their windows.
Cleaner Giorgia Ekonomou first talked to Socialist Worker at the camp
outside the ministry in January.
Now she says, “The Greek issue is an issue for all of Europe. You have
the same questions in Britain—a vote on the EU, and politicians who
want cuts, cuts cuts. Everyone in Europe will have the same problems
we have some time down the line.”
'We want control of our lives and workplaces', Greek health workers speak out
by Dave Sewell in Athens
Socialist Worker, Britain, July 3
. . .
With just three days until Greece's austerity referendum, Europe’s
rulers are ramping up their “project fear” about rejecting their
But the message from workers is a resounding no. Cleaner Cleopatra
told Socialist Worker, “We need to take Greece back into our own hands
– if we back down now they will crush us.”
Health workers know the European Union (EU) and International Monetary
Fund’s (IMF) proposed austerity package would only make a dire
In Aglaia Kyriakou pediatric hospital, coping with staff, medicine and
equipment shortages has become a way of life Nurse Efi told Socialist
Worker, “Nothing good can come of another agreement.
“We've had to make a superhuman effort to make sure patients get
treatment after the cuts in the previous ones.”
Social worker Giorgia knows all about austerity’s devastating impact
on Greek society. She told Socialist Worker, “People need support now
more than ever—and workers are close to burning out.
“High unemployment and benefit cuts for people on low wages means
children aren’t getting fed properly – a lot of them come to the
“The nurseries have been shut down, and many parents are also
suffering psychological problems because of the crisis.”
The referendum is on another 8 billion euro austerity
agreement—including an 80 percent cut to some disability benefits.
But mainstream politicians argue it’s really a referendum on EU
membership –this is central to their “project fear”.
Efi said, “Some workers will vote yes because of the euro, but others
will vote no because of everything else. I'd rather the euro than the
drachma—but I'd also rather money went to the hospital instead of the
The anti-capitalist left has taken the issue head on, arguing to break
with the EU and default on the bankers’ debt.
Hospital supply clerk Sakis agreed, “They say it will be a catastrophe
if we leave, but we had the drachma for years before. The real
catastrophe is what is happening now.”
In the hospital pharmacy, chemists Vaso and Lina were deep in debate.
Lina said, “Every new measure they impose is like a new dictatorship.
They promised us an EU for the people—instead we've become a colony.
“But the question is what happens the next day. They say the banks
will close, the pensions will go unpaid.
“My heart says to vote no, but I am not sure if I will vote.”
But Vaso said, “They are trying use threats and fear to impose a yes.
All the EU leaders are united in trying to scare us. So are the media
companies who want us to pay while they dodge tax. We have to say no
to these people.”
Hospital workers have been fighting back for years—from strikes
against cuts to blocking the Nazi Golden Dawn's attempt to run a
“Greeks only” blood donation drive.
Radiographer Maria and trainee surgeon Zanneta –both members of the
Greek Socialist Workers Party (SEK) – are trying to build on this
militancy in campaigning for a no.
Zanneta told Socialist Worker, “It’s clear this is a class vote. The
ruling class are threatening that the banks will close and the
medicine will run out unless we vote yes.
On the other side the workers want to talk about what they can do.
“We’re having really political conversations about what to do with the
EU and the debt—and about the need for workers' control.”
The no vote leads in the polls. But the Syriza-led government has
tried to galvanise support, while offering more concessions to the EU
They made a new offer yesterday that agreed to virtually all of their
creditor’s demands. Prime minister Alexis Tsipras even offered to call
the referendum off in exchange for a new bailout programme—an offer
German chancellor Angela Merkel flatly turned down.
Zanneta said, “The government isn't helping. Day after day it is just
making people more confused. The battle is on and we have to win it.”
At the nearby Aghios Savvas cancer hospital, workers were set to hold
a mass meeting this afternoon, Thursday, to decide on whether their
union should call for a no vote.
They also want to make healthcare free—just as public transport has
been since the banks were shut on Monday.
Doctor and union president Costas Kadarachias told Socialist Worker,
“We have a tradition of fighting for free healthcare.
“Last year when the previous government tried to bring in a 25 euro
fee for all treatments we held workers' assemblies and strikes to shut
down the payment offices. They backed down within a week.”
The hospital has lost half its staff and 70 percent of its funding
since the crisis. While the government has announced that people
without health insurance should now get treatment, it’s raided
hospitals' reserves to appease its creditors.
Nurse Maria said "We have to vote no – and it will be a no to all the
“We want free public healthcare for everyone. We want control of our
lives and our workplaces – and after the referendum we will have to
take to the streets to demand it.”
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