More austerity in Greece and Cyprus

This video is called Greece: student protest rally in Athens.

By Robert Stevens:

After Cyprus, more austerity in Greece

30 March 2013

The European Union’s financial looting of Cyprus marks a qualitative turn in the brutal austerity measures being rolled out across the continent.

The EU’s €10 billion bank bailout is tied to the destruction of the island’s banking sector in the interests of the most powerful sections of finance capital.

Bank deposits over €100,000 have been raided, and strict capital controls are in force. Cyprus’s Foreign Minister Ioannis Kasoulides has said these could last for “up to a month” although commentators say they expect them to remain in place for years.

The bailout is tied to drastic spending cuts and privatisations. Representatives of the troika—the EU, European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund—have been in Cyprus since the beginning of the month, drawing up a list of potential privatisations, including major utilities.

At the same time, demands for greater austerity are being made of Greece, which has been in recession for five years as a result of EU measures.

Troika officials are to return to Athens early next month to complete what German Finance minister Wolfgang Schaeuble described this week as a “tough supervision mission”.

Speaking to Greece’s Ta Nea newspaper, Schaeuble refuted any suggestions that the population could no longer bear further austerity, saying “Right now all macroeconomic indicators are showing that the recipe is yielding fruit. But more time will be needed than what many in Greece would desire.”

In December, the troika agreed to release €50 billion from its current €130 billion loan agreement with Greece. In return, it demanded that Greece impose further massive job cuts, tax rises and other crippling austerity measures. The money is disbursed in tranches which are strictly conditional on attached austerity measures, with regular reviews of their “progress”.

But last month troika officials abandoned negotiations with the Greek government, delaying the disbursement of a €2.8 billion loan from that previously agreed.

At the centre of the crisis was the troika’s insistence that Greece fully adhere to promises to cut 25,000 jobs in the public sector by the end of 2013. Fearful of rising and explosive social anger amid record levels of unemployment, the government instead proposed to avoid compulsory layoffs and transfer the employees into a “special labour reserve” by 2014. Even though this would result in workers’ wages being slashed by 40 percent for a year, and the layoff of 150,000 employees by 2016, it was still rejected by the troika as insufficient.

Based on its loyal adherence to EU diktats, the coalition government of New Democracy, the social democratic PASOK and the Democratic Left had claimed that receiving the further tranche would be a formality. Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras commented at the time, “This time it will be easy. If they [the troika] stay a few extra days, it will be to see some antiquities.”

Instead, the troika spent double the time it had allocated in Athens, then ended the talks and withheld the promised loan on the basis that the government could not stall on the measures already agreed, including the shedding of thousands of jobs in the public sector.

In response, an anonymous government official told the Guardian that the receipt of any money from the troika was now gravely threatened: “There are very real concerns that come the summer the next loan disbursement [from the bailout] will not be made. Nothing is certain.”

Central to the EU’s action is a policy to drive down the wages and conditions of workers in all European countries to a level on a par with those in Eastern Europe, China and India.

In revealing comments prior to the last visit of the troika to Athens, a Greek representative of the Commission, Maria Damanaki, told To Vima FM radio, “The strategy of the European Commission over the past year and a half or two has been to reduce the labour costs in all European countries in order to improve the competitiveness of European companies over the rivals from Eastern Europe and Asia”.

This was the backdrop to meetings held late April between Kostas Hatzidakis, Greece’s Minister of Economy and Development, and the managing directors of 11 of the largest international companies operating in Greece. A report by GR Reporter noted that, “Eight of the eleven managers supported the idea that a [monthly] salary of 250 – 300 euro for part-time work could create new jobs.”

It cited the comments of the executive manager of Barilla Hellas George Spiliopoulous, who said, “I do not see why a minimum level of the salary should be maintained in a country where youth unemployment has reached incredible levels.”

It is this drive to destroy workers’ wages and conditions which accounts for the ruthlessness with which the EU has dealt with Cyprus and others, as well as the venality of their national governments in aiding its actions.

The ruling elite is moving rapidly to exploit the now catastrophic levels of unemployment, which stand at nearly 30 percent for adults and more than 60 percent for youth. With such demands, the ruling elite seeks to satiate itself even further just months after the government, under troika insistence, reduced the minimum wage for all under-25-year-olds by 25 percent, to €510 per month from €740. For a worker above 25, the minimum wage was cut by 22 percent to just €586 per month.

This week, the German federal statistics agency Destatis released research showing that in 2012, Greece was the only EU country to see a decrease in average labour costs in the private sector. According to the study, the cost of one hour worked, including non-wage elements, in the Greek private sector was €15.50 last year, down 6.8 percent from 2011.

No area of social provision has been spared, as living conditions in the country were thrown back to a level of those that existed during the Nazi occupation of the Second World War. Even further attacks are being implemented, under cost-cutting measures agreed with the troika, including the closure of regional hospitals in an already decimated health service and the slashing of the right to higher education under the “Athina Plan”.

This plan is called after Athena, the ancient Greek goddess of wisdom. Like this unwise attack on university education got a mythological name from the Greek government, they also gave a name from ancient myths to another one of their disastrous policies. A witch-hunt against refugees and immigrants which they called Zeus Xenios. Zeus Xenios in ancient Greece was the name of the supreme god as protector of foreigners.

Wikipedia says: “Zeus Xenios, Philoxenon or Hospites: Zeus was the patron of hospitality and guests, ready to avenge any wrong done to a stranger.”

What a cynical name for such a xenophobic witchhunt. Maybe this cynicism is inspired by the United States occupiers of Afghanistan calling their bloody war, also outside Afghanistan, “Enduring Freedom.”

Famous Greek composer Mikis Theodorakis reacted against the Athina plan:

Iconic 88-year-old composer Mikis Theodorakis has spoken out openly against the Athina plan, which over and above mergers or abolitions of many public institutions has proposed reducing the number of students in remaining universities and further, severe reductions in state funding of institutions.

The composer’s reaction was provoked by the plan’s indirect attempt to abolish the public nature of higher education, which is embodied in article 16 of the Greek constitution, by suggesting that institutions seek private sponsorship and make greater efforts to connect their educational programmes to the demands of the market.

Referring to IMF and EU admissions that the numbers for economic recovery in Greece had been wrong – though this did not lead to corrections to economic policies that are plunging Greeks into greater poverty – the famous composer said:

“Athina is not another mistake; it is a well planned step towards the further downgrading not only of Greek education but also of the whole of Greek society, individually, occupationally, biologically and educationally.”

In the same message, the composer argued that powerful groups “want our people on their knees, obedient, ignorant and submissive without resistance and without national conscience or patriotism, in order to usurp our national resources and in order to turn us into well-behaved slaves; they are taking us back to the period of colonialism”.

In a direct appeal to students, he said: “Don’t let them do that. It is up to you, together with your parents and the rest of the Greek people, to ensure the safety of the country, to take the problems of our motherland in your own hands.”

Robert Stevens continues:

The aim of Athina is to close many higher education facilities and abolish the right to higher education, currently enshrined in article 16 of the Greek constitution. Under its aegis, institutions will be required to seek private sponsorship and connect their educational programmes to the demands of the market.

This course is being insisted on under conditions in which the austerity agenda has left Greece mired in its sixth year of recession. The Greek central bank has forecast that the recession is set to worsen, with the economy projected shrink more than 5 percent this year, compared with the troika’s projection of 4.5 percent.

The loan terms dictated to Cyprus by the troika of the European Union, European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) are predicated on the destruction of the pay and conditions of the working class and an onslaught against vital social and welfare programs: here.

Greece: LEADER of the Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA) Alexis Tsipras has warned that the Troika ‘maybe wants to abolish democracy’: here.

12 thoughts on “More austerity in Greece and Cyprus

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  4. Thursday, 4 April 2013

    Troika dictates its terms to Cyprus

    THE International Monetary Fund (IMF) has set out the ultra-harsh terms of the ‘bailout deal’ that the Cypriot government has agreed.

    In order to receive a 10bn-euro (£8.5bn; $12.8bn) ‘bailout’ next month, it will have to carry out measures against the 800,000 Cypriots that the IMF describes as ‘challenging’.

    The IMF insists that Cyprus, an economy whose annual output is roughly 17 billion euros, must provide cuts and savings worth 4.5% of gross domestic product by 2018, to hit a primary-surplus target of 4% of GDP.

    These cuts will come on top of savings worth 5% of GDP the government is already implementing through to 2015.

    Bank depositors with more than 100,000 euros will lose up to 80% of their money.

    The IMF said that the deal with its Troika partners, the European Union (EU) and the European Central Bank (ECB), will be sealed by early May.

    Cyprus became the first country in the eurozone to bankrupt its depositors in order to secure a Troika bailout.

    Meanwhile, in Greece seafarers, dockers, port staff and railway workers went on national strike yesterday against privatisation plans.

    The Troika representatives are already in Athens where they dictated to the Greek government the privatisation of all ports, railways and airports and the sacking of at least 5,000 public sector workers and civil servants by this June.

    Airport workers will stage a 24-hour national strike against privatisation today.

    Not a single ferry sailed from the Greek ports on Wednesday morning as seafarers formed walls in front of the ships.

    Greek railways OSE workers are staging national stoppages from 4-11pm for the rest of the week.

    On Tuesday morning hundreds of ship-building workers held a rally outside the Defence Ministry in Athens demanding financial aid to the Skaramanga shipbuilding yard, the biggest in Greece, against closure.

    The president of the ship-builders trade union V. Karakitsos, along with the president of the Metalworkers Federation, Y. Stefanopoulos, met with the Defence Minister Panos Panayiotopoulos to plead for financial aid.


  5. Athens may be due huge German payout

    GREECE: A top-secret Finance Ministry-commissioned report has come to light showing that Germany may owe Athens around €162 billion (£140bn) in reparations from the second world war.

    The figure – equivalent to 80 per cent of Greece’s GDP – includes money for damages to infrastructure and forced loans from Greek banks to the nazis.

    Though the money would go along way to solving Greece’s financial problems, politicians don’t seem inclined to press its paymaster on the issue.


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  7. Cypriot bank workers’ strike

    The bank workers trade union ETYK called a token two-hour work stoppage on April 4, saying the pensions of its members at the island’s two largest banks, hit by huge losses under an international bailout deal, were not protected.

    The union said the pension funds of workers in Popular Bank and Bank of Cyprus were at risk, as were those of other institutions deposited in the banks.

    Around 11,000 bank workers are organised in the union.

    Under a €10 billion loan accord by the troika of the European Union, European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund, Cyprus was forced to split Popular Bank’s assets into a “good” and “bad” bank.

    The authorities have also forced heavy losses on uninsured depositors in the Bank of Cyprus, the island’s largest lender, which is to take over accounts at Popular Bank.

    Cypriot banks were closed for two weeks while the bailout deal was being negotiated, reopening last week.

    Despite the enormous attacks being made on the living standards of the Cypriot population by the troika, the trade unions have barely lifted a finger in protest, authorising just the two hour bank workers action and a small protest outside parliament.


    Riot police continue attacks on gold mine protesters in northern Greece

    On Wednesday, riot police broke down doors of houses in Lerissos, a village in northern Greece, to arrest people allegedly protesting plans to develop a gold mine.

    Following the 3 a.m. raids, the police arrested two men, alleging they were involved in a nearby case of arson. The police action sparked off a protest by angered residents who proceeded to attack the local police station.

    The Canadian-based Eldorado Gold Corp plans to establish the mine in teeth of the protest from those who live in the area. Protesters say the project will harm the economy in Greece’s northern Halkidiki peninsula which relies heavily on farming and tourism.

    Riot police have repeatedly attacked the protests of Lerissos residents with teargas. On one occasion, teargas was fired in front of an occupied school, causing pupils inside to suffer the effects. According to a former mayor for the area, a student also suffered a head injury.


  8. Uitbuiting op Cyprus

    De onzichtbare slachtoffers van de crisis

    NICOSIA (DPD) – De 35-jarige Mai uit Vietnam werkt al drie jaar op Cyprus. Ze betaalde 3000 euro om op het eiland als huishoudster aan de slag te gaan. Maar Mai kwam niet in een familie terecht, maar op een boerderij. Ze woont nu in een barak, zonder elektriciteit en werkt zeven dagen per week. Tien uur per dag, voor 220 euro per maand. Weglopen durft ze niet. De afgelopen drie jaar had ze negen dagen vrij. Al haar geld gaat naar Vietnam, waar haar zoon studeert.

    Activist Doros Polykarpou, directeur van Kisa, de organisatie die zich inzet tegen racisme op Cyprus, kent zoveel voorbeelden. Mai is geen uitzondering, zegt hij. ,,Het is moderne slavernij. Uitbuiting, mensenhandel, gedwongen prostitutie. Welkom op Cyprus.’’

    Hij vreest de gevolgen van de crisis voor de migranten, de meest kwetsbare groepen. Het aantal huishoudsters – velen komen uit de Filipijnen, Sri Lanka, Vietnam – ligt rond de 30.000. Veel op een bevolking van 800.000. Maar in Cyprus, waar meer Mercedessen per duizend inwoners rondrijden dan in Duitsland, is een hulp in de huishouding de normaalste zaak van de wereld. Zij houden de villa’s schoon, zorgen voor de kinderen en de oudjes van het eiland. Door de crisis zullen veel families niet meer in staat zijn om de buitenlandse hulp te betalen. Polykarpou: ,,Sommigen terug gaan naar het thuisland. Anderen gaan voor een nog lager loon – nu 330 euro per maand – werken. Ik geloof niet dat Cypriotische vrouwen ineens zelf gaan poetsen.’’

    Alleen op zondag – de enige vrije dag voor de huishoudsters – zijn de vrouwen zichtbaar in het centrum. De Filipijnse Karen (47) maakt zich zorgen. ,,Ik weet niet of ze me deze maand kunnen betalen.’’ Thuis heeft haar familie het geld hard nodig. ,,Ik onderhoud vijf mensen.’’ Haar vriendinnen knikken instemmend. Werken op Cyprus is niet makkelijk. ,,We werken allemaal tien uur, twaalf uur per dag. Geen enkele werkgever houdt zich aan de 7,5 uur die in het contract staan.’’

    Ook de dagloners – velen uit Afrika – worden hard geraakt door de crisis. Elke ochtend staan ze op een brug in het centrum te wachten op werk.,Ik heb de afgelopen veertig dagen één dag gewerkt. Voor 45 euro’’, zegt de 40-jarige Elly uit Nigeria. Racisme op het eiland? Een bulderende lach klinkt. ,,Ik ben al zeven jaar hier. Heb jaren bij dezelfde baas gewerkt. Hij kent me goed, maar noemt me nog steeds zwartje.’’ Hij schudt zijn hoofd. ,,Ze denken allemaal dat we dieven zijn en dom zijn. Toen ik hier net kwam, waren wij zwarten zelfs niet welkom in de kerk.’’ Dit was niet het beloofde Europa waar hij van droomde. ,,Cyprus is geen Europa, hoogstens een wat geciviliseerd Afrika.’’

    Kisa krijgt steeds vaker meldingen over racisme binnen. Dit jaar wordt daarom- met steun van de Europese Unie – een meldpunt ingesteld. Activist Polycarpou: ,,We hebben nu politici die ronduit verklaren dat deze crisis de schuld is van de migranten en asielzoekers. En de politie doet steeds vaker invallen, op zoek naar illegalen. De hele sfeer is dat deze buitenlanders, deze profiteurs weg moeten.’’

    Ook het geweld op politiebureau neemt toe. Hij vertelt over vrouwen die geslagen worden door agenten, over een meisje dat haar beklag bij de politie deed over de seksuele intimidatie door haar werkgever. ,,De agent die haar terug naar huis bracht, viel haar zelf onderweg lastig.’’ Het zijn onwaarschijnlijke verhalen. ,,De reden voor al deze excessen? Het heeft volgens mij met het koloniale verleden te maken. Dit is bovendien nog een erg onvolwassen maatschappij. En dat zie je overal terug. In de politiek, in de bureaucratie, op straat.’’

    En dan is er nog de extreem-nationalistische partij ELAM, met banden met neo-nazi’s van Gouden Dageraad in Griekenland. Polycarpou vreest dat de aanhang voor die partij alleen maar gaat groeien.

    Bron: 28-03-2013


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  11. Cypriot port workers strike

    Port workers in Limassol, the second largest city in Cyprus, staged a 24-hour warning strike May 2, over a proposal to cut their benefits and overtime pay.

    According to the Cyprus Mail, “The strike caused substantial delays in the service to the public.”

    The proposal provided for a freeze in wages, a cut in the employer’s contribution to the provident fund from seven percent to one percent, cutting 14th salaries (Easter bonus) by half and reducing overtime pay from triple to double the hourly rate.

    The porters have said they intend to instigate a work-to-rule.


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