OVER 15,000 workers and youth marched last Saturday in Thessaloniki, northern Greece, on the opening of a trade fair, demanding an end to the barbaric austerity policies of the SYRIZA (Coalition of the Radical Left) and ANEL (Independent Greeks) coalition government of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras.
The angry marchers attempted to enter the fair where Tsipras was speaking, but were prevented by more than 5,000 armed riot police. The march was called by the GSEE (Greek TUC) but separate rallies were held by both the Greek Communist Party (KKE) and by some trade unions who disagree with the GSEE leadership. The KKE rally was the biggest but the party’s speaker L. Stoltides could only say that the workers’ movement was in retreat; the issue now, he said, was for the movement to ‘reorganise’ that workers should demonstrate to ‘shake’ and ‘challenge’ the Tsipras government.
Several small trade unions joined with left wing parties, such the centrist coalition ANTARSYA, to stage an independent rally where the main slogan was ‘overthrow the Tsipras government’. Refugees and villagers’ committees against gold mines participated along with thousands of students and youth.
A contingent of television technicians participated in the march calling on the Tsipras government to safeguard the jobs of thousands of workers employed at television stations set to close down.
The most vocal contingent proved to be the Kavala fertiliser factory workers who have been fighting against mass sackings and the imposition of ‘flexible’ working contracts of 500 euros a month (about £415).
The owner of the fertiliser factory L. Lavrentiades is currently on trial at two different courts accused of gross fraud, attempted murder and illegal loans from a ex-state bank. Still, he is free to use the SYRIZA government’s laws to send workers to unemployment and poverty or force them to work for 500 euros without rights.
The Tsipras government is pushing ahead to introduce a new set of vicious anti-trade union laws which will curtail greatly the right to strike and trade union activities. On the orders of Greece’s troika overlords – the European Commission, the IMF and the European Central Bank – Tsipras must also legislate to allow mass sackings and firmly impose ‘flexible’ labour contracts.
Greek workers and youth will fiercely fight back against these Bills. Meanwhile the Tsipras government is attempting to blame its creditors for the Greek economy’s inability to recover from its spiralling debt. Tsipras said during a news conference at the Thessaloniki International Fair: ‘We are closer than ever before to a solution of this crisis. What is delaying the effort of regaining the trust of the markets is the constant disagreement between the European institutions and the IMF.’
Greece’s lenders have ‘failed miserably’ in their policies aimed at rescuing the Greek economy, Syriza party economist Marica Frangakis said. Tsipras’ and Frangakis’ comments follow the eurozone finance ministers’ meeting last Friday.
The Eurogroup want Greece to act faster on its economic reforms, in other words cuts, in order to get rescue loans from the EU. Greece has to fulfil fifteen reforms by the September 15 deadline to get a 2.8 billion euro tranche from the bailout programme.
Under the terms of the 2015 deal the creditors, including the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the European Central Bank and the eurozone, are to provide 86 billion euros in ‘aid’ to Greece by 2018 in return for unpopular austerity measures.
The reforms include tax hikes and pension cuts, as well as the privatisation of public assets. Greece is also obliged to bring in a primary budget surplus to 3.5 per cent of GDP by 2018.
So far, the country has managed to implement only two reforms out of fifteen. The IMF said that it would not participate in Greece’s third bailout until the issue of debt sustainability is sorted.
It also disagrees with the EU creditors on how much Athens can improve its finances through ongoing reforms. Greece’s current debt is the highest in the eurozone, exceeding 170 per cent of national output. Compounding Greece’s economic crisis is a refugee crisis.
Over 3,000 refugees have been rescued in the Mediterranean Sea over the last weekend alone. The arrivals highlight the ongoing refugee crisis affecting Europe. With the Balkan route cut under the EU-Turkey deal the numbers arriving in Greece across the Aegean have decreased. However, Italy has seen a spike in numbers arriving from the Mediterranean from Libya and Egypt.
At a news conference over the weekend, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said that while numbers were declining Europe must do more to resettle refugees. ”From Europe’s side there is an obligation that must be accelerated. Because what is this (EU-Turkey) agreement?
‘We halt the illegal flows but we create legitimate flows. Which are the legitimate flows?
‘It is the resettlement from Greece and the relocation directly from Turkey… and unfortunately from the 33,000 (reallocations and resettlements) promised by the EU in 2016 only 3,000 have taken place.’
The EU-Turkey deal means that migrants arriving in Greece are forcibly sent back to Turkey if they ‘don’t meet asylum requirements.’ In exchange the EU would increase the resettlement of Syrian refugees in Turkey. With winter approaching, the EU promised more than 100m euros in aid to Greece, doubling its emergency aid commitment, to improve conditions for asylum seekers living in run-down camps.
Around 60,000 refugees are stranded in the country after borders were closed. However the 100m euros are a drop in the ocean compared with what is needed. Men, women, children and babies are trapped in closed camps, suffering from appaling conditions.
An Amnesty International research team were granted access to two closed detention centres in Greece, Moria on Lesbos and VIAL on Chios. They are operated like prisoner of war camps, with armed guards and police to stop people escaping. A total of around 4,200 people are currently detained at the two sites.
In the detention centres, Amnesty International saw or spoke to a large number of vulnerable people including mothers with babies, small children and people with disabilities, trauma and serious illnesses. ‘On the edge of Europe, refugees are trapped with no light at the end of the tunnel.
‘A setup that is so flawed, rushed and ill-prepared is ripe for mistakes, trampling the rights and well-being of some of the most vulnerable people,’ said Gauri van Gulik, Deputy Director for Europe at Amnesty International.
‘People detained on Lesbos and Chios have virtually no access to legal aid, limited access to services and support, and hardly any information about their current status or possible fate. The fear and desperation are palpable.’
A Syrian man in his late 20s told Amnesty International inside Moria detention centre: ‘I escaped Syria to avoid jail, but now I am in prison.’ The decision to move from open reception centres to closed detention camps to hold those who cross the Aegean from Turkey has resulted in thousands of people being arbitrarily detained, in some cases for weeks, while they await news on their asylum applications and future.