Greece eyewitness: SYRIZA pushes plan to help jobless

Issue 
A SYRIZA campaigning tent in central Athens. Photo by Vivian Messimeris.

Speakers from the SYRIZA -- the radical left force poised to win Greece's January 25 general elections -- addressed the topic of “How To Recover From Unemployment” and the role of the Manpower Employment Organisation (OAED) in Athens on January 20.

The meeting was addressed by SYRIZA candidates Despina Spanou, Dimitrios Stratoulis and Nazos Iliopoulos, as well Maria Karamesini, a SYRIZA member and economics lecturer at Panteio University.

The OAED is a public authority that supports the needs of the unemployed and assists them to find work, providing welfare assistance to the most disadvantaged.

The meeting's aim was to allow for a dialogue between SYRIZA and the OAED to facilitate positive outcomes for the jobless. With an anticipated SYRIZA win on the 25 January election, this dialogue is a pressing issue for many Greeks. Unemployment is considered to be the biggest issue facing Greece. Jobless figures now stand at 26%, while youth unemployment is above 50%.

Spanou told the meeting: “These figures exclude young people that have migrated in search of work. Also, it is estimated that there are 2 million people that are underemployed, under-paid or working without pay.”

With a SYRIZA win anticipated, the pressure is on for the party to address this crisis. “What happens next is the biggest problem facing a new left government,” Spanua said. “This discussion on unemployment will be of a major interest to all of the Greek people.”

Stratoulis outlined SYRIZA’s program to address the urgent needs caused by Greece's deep-going humanitarian crisis. Proposed measures include:

* Providing free electricity to the poorest and unemployed;
* Providing meal subsidies to 300,000 families without an income;
* Providing a free public transport card to the long-term unemployed;
* Cutting heating fuel costs for houses down to €0.90 per litre from €1.20 per litre. Providing a housing guarantee, including 30,000 apartments and subsidising rents at €3 per m2.

Stratoulis said: “These measures will be amongst the first of a new government. We bring hope because this is a program that we want to see through.

“We want [the workers] to get involved so you can take control after the elections … We are ready, and we know that we can govern for another, more democratic Greece.”

Karamesini outlined the four pillars of SYRIZA’s Thessaloniki Program designed to restructure Greece:

1. Confronting the humanitarian crisis;
2. Restarting the economy and promoting tax justice;
3. National plan to regain employment;
4. Transforming the economy to deepen democracy.

She said: “Today’s problem is that 72% of the unemployed are long-term unemployed. As a result, stopping austerity has to be a priority. The rights of workers have been taken away under austerity.”

She elaborated the third pillar, which aims to implement a two-year plan that will create a net increase in jobs by 300,000 in all sectors of the economy -- private, public, and social.

Here, SYRIZA proposes to re-institute employment rights that were demolished by the Memoranda governments in areas of collective agreements themselves as well as arbitration. SYRIZA also intends to abolish laws allowing unjustifiable layoffs and forcing short term contracts on workers.

Karamesini said training and education programs were central for those without jobs. She said: “The unemployed are not customers of the unemployment office, but workers. That is why we support them.

“We want a strong SYRIZA in government, so that we can open a new page in the history of this country with the support of it’s citizens, so that we can govern for years to come.”

Iliopoulos said democratic debate had to be at the centre of all discussions, saying, “a change of culture will need to occur, as one government can not know it all.”

He said there had to be a dialogue between citizens and the government, pointing out, “it was a democratic right to decide how unemployment should be tackled”.

“For four years, they’ve told us to make do with less. To live with fewer dreams and without hope.”

Enormous pressure is being placed on a prospective SYRIZA government. It will not only face pressure from Brussels, but will also be carrying the hopes and expectations of the Greek people. It is clear that vast challenges lie ahead for Greece and the restoration of democracy, dignity and justice will be complex.

[Vivian Messimeris is a member of Australia's Socialist Alliance who is part of Green Left Weekly's team covering the lead-up and aftermath of Greece's potentially historic elections.]

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