“I wish I could leave Greece. I can’t go on living here. I work very long hours and live more frugally than ever, but I still can’t pay the bills, the income tax or the other taxes like the property poll tax.
“My tax debt keeps building up. I’ll end up losing my home. They are stealing our homes and they are not communists. And people are getting sadder and madder every day. I can’t go on like this.”
This was the response I got when I greeted a stall seller at an open-air market in my area. Due to my own extremely difficult working and commuting conditions, I hadn’t seen him in months. His anger and despair were much stronger than before, as is the case with most ordinary people in Greece.
My friend’s allusion to the communists concerns a decades-long anti-communist argument used by the power elites. The argument went that if the communists came to power, they would confiscate people’s homes. It was recently used by far-right health minister Adonis Georgiadis.
In fact, small real estate property is being confiscated under capitalism. People are losing their homes to banks for failing to meet mortgage payments, or to the taxation department for accumulated tax debts.
Home confiscations have been facilitated by a recent law enabling salary, pension, bank savings and property seizures for tax debts as low as 500 euros. In practice, there have been seizures of all kinds of assets (including land and home) for smaller debts.
The number of confiscated homes has risen in recent years. A big wave of fresh house seizures is expected.
Financial hardship, combined with recent law changes, has led to a dramatic rise in debt-related jailings. Prison conditions are barbaric and unconstitutional.
The vast majority of people are bound to have difficulty paying their mortgage or to run up a tax debt sooner or later. This is due to the extreme austerity measures imposed on Greece at the behest of the “troika” — the European Union, European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund.
People in Greece are suffering a high unemployment rate (officially well over 27%, the highest in Europe), huge income cuts, unfair and unpayable taxes and the sky-rocketting fees imposed on many middle-class professionals.
Since the first “memorandum” agreement signed with the troika in May 2010, real estate taxes have risen by 684%.
The situation was already pretty bad before the first memorandum. It has been getting even worse since the so-called “aid” from the troika and the required “structural adjustment” reforms it comes with.
Despite their stated aim, the loans given to Greece were intended to destroy rather than help the country’s economy. In May 2010, Greek public debt was 120% of GDP. Today, after four years of savage measures, it is 175% and growing.
Most of the bailout money is used to pay off previous loans and excessive loan interest. It is also handed to parasitic banks and insurance companies. On top of that, the people of Greece have paid 100 billion euros more than the loan given to their government.
In a cynical statement in January, Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras confirmed that the people of Greece have suffered a drop in living standards greater than any other people has since the end of World War II.
The “structural adjustment” memorandum-dictated measures are leading to total pauperisation and helplessness, the complete destruction of the country’s economy, the theft of all its public and private property, and the abolition of social and worker rights.
Worse in store
Greek and foreign big capital are making huge profits, while the vast majority suffer. And there is worse in store.
Troika officials keep saying the country is not ready for profitable investment yet. There is continuous pressure for further salary cuts. The objective is the maximum plunder of Greece’s natural wealth and exploitation of the people.
Official papers and statements reveal plans to cut the minimum monthly wage to 200 euros and further increase “flexibility” in working conditions. Other plans include introducing individual pay for public servants based on performance assessment.
The powers-that-be have been blatantly violating our common sense, the law and the constitution — at odds with human, working and political rights.
Not surprisingly, my stall-seller friend is in good company. Hundreds of thousands have migrated from Greece in recent years and about 400,000 are considering it. The emigration rate is rising by almost 40% a year.
Emigration has played a big part in the country’s population decrease. It is the first time in modern Greece that a population decrease has been recorded. The drop in the birthrate, combined with a higher death rate, is another factor.
The situation is mind-boggling, with the attacks so relentless and all-encompassing they cannot be easily described. All areas of life are affected, from financial affairs to cultural, relationship and psychological issues.
The loosely estimated 40% cuts to salaries and pensions are compounded by rising prices and unreasonable taxation measures, sackings in the private and public sectors, unemployment and underemployment.
Working conditions have deteriorated immensely, facilitated by newly-introduced legislation. Also, many employers get away with further violation of workers’ rights. About 50% of workers have not been paid for up to 18 months.
Schools, hospitals and welfare services have shrunk or closed down. Thousands of businesses fold up every month. Homelessness, crime, prostitution and psychological and health problems are rising rapidly.
Prisons have filled well beyond capacity. The conditions are inhumane, as are the conditions in the recently-created migrant concentration camps.
Hundreds of thousands of households have had their electricity cut for unpaid bills. This, together with the high cost of other conventional heating methods, has led to fatal accidents caused by makeshift heaters.
The rising death rate is due to greater illness levels, combined with the shocking state of the national health-care system and people’s inability to pay for medication. Growing numbers of suicides add to the death figures. Greece is leading the world in its rising rate of suicides.
Privatisation and authoritarianism
While people are deprived of indispensable services, such services are being privatised. Electricity, water, ports, the national broadcasting service, public clinics and vocational secondary education are only a few examples.
Opening up professional fields is another method of transferring material and human resources to big corporations. Deregulation has been viciously pursued by the government in businesses such as pharmacies, taxis and trucks. Workers from different professional categories are isolated in their struggles.
Similar moves include facilitating milk imports at the expense of local producers and the enforcement of extended opening hours, which will wipe out small shops.
Shops are closing by the thousands. The only exception are pawnbrokers’ shops, which have mushroomed — another way of stealing people’s wealth.
The whole country is up for grabs by privateers. Whole areas are sold out for exploitation, such as the mines in Skouries, Thrace and Kilkis.
The creation of Special Economic Zones and Free Zones to ensure high corporate profits of “investors” through slavery-type worker conditions and overall unaccountability is also well underway.
These measures are accompanied by heightened authoritarianism. The erosion of democratic rights and police repression are reminiscent of totalitarian regimes.
Violence has permeated society as a whole. Neo-Nazi Golden Dawn has been used by corporate interests to set the pace.
Police brutality mainly targets those resisting the government’s policies. The struggles have been ongoing but are mostly short-lived, fragmented and isolated. Much more planning, social solidarity and coordination are needed for victorious outcomes.
There have been some victories, such as the judicial win by sacked school guards, or the government’s withdrawal of a planned 25-euro hospital admission fee.
On the one hand, such victories can boost people’s confidence. However, the gains do not last long, with the government always finding ways to realise its plans.
A positive development is that the balance of forces in some trade unions has shifted to the left. Furthermore, the left is making conscious efforts to set up new union groups and counter sold-out top-tier leaderships.
With the upcoming combined Greek local and European Parliament election on May 25, a lot of hope is invested in an electoral victory of the Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA). SYRIZA representatives express a belief it will win the highest vote of any Greek political force in these polls, which will instigate national general elections.
But the system has so many means of manipulating voting choices that a SYRIZA win is not certain. For one thing, new capitalist parties have formed and are greatly promoted by the media to diffuse the vote.
As part of the effort to fool the electorate, the Greek government is also keeping secret its new agreement with the troika, which SYRIZA has revealed.
Even if SYRIZA won government, a strong popular movement would be necessary to back the government. SYRIZA must step up its efforts to stand by the grassroots movement, increasing political consciousness and rallying support.
It is no accident that the establishment is trying hard to tame SYRIZA, cutting it off from the people’s struggle.
Recent anti-communist statements by government officials indicate some of what these people are capable of in defence of vested interests, so the left should do everything in its power to be prepared for fresh attacks.