It seems that for some reason, I always find myself in the middle of protests, strikes, riots, or natural disasters. At the moment, I am in Volos, Greece where a general strike and protests have virtually shut the country down. There are police on the streets in large numbers.
The protests in Volos are orderly and calm as you can see from the photos I snapped this morning and as I walk through the crowds in green and black and see the police looking at me with suspicious eyes, I realize that I am wearing the traditional anarchist colors and so I am sure to say ‘Good morning’ or ‘hello’ so that they recognize I’m a foreigner and not a bomb thrower (though the two are not mutually exclusive by any means).
Greece has enough money to pay pensions, salaries and bondholders through mid-November, the finance minister said Tuesday, as global markets sank on worries that a messy default could bring down European banks and trigger another global recession.
The general strike includes air traffic controllers, garbage collection, metro in Athens, and in some cases police and fire. The situation here is serious as the women who usually work at the Volos Archeological Museum explained to me, they will have no jobs come mid-November and in the meantime gas and electricity rates have shot up by as much as 500%.
The owner of the hotel I’m staying at showed me how in order to make a profit of 3 Euros per room, he has had to increase his rates by 40%. Meanwhile, when I spoke with pensioners on the docks of Meliena who were out fishing in huge numbers, they told me that the number of people fishing has increased dramatically as households try to lower food costs – the two men I spoke with told me they were fishing because they had to save their money to pay property taxes.
As an anarchist, which I certainly am, I can sympathize. In this case as well as in Spain, Portugal, Ireland, the USA, and many other countries – the governments have gone on a spending binge of epic proportions. In order to fund the debt, all of these governments are going to have to cut the services which they provide to citizens, carry out mass layoffs, and trim the fat from mostly the areas that benefit citizens the most. Of course, there are still Greek fighters patrolling the skies, the USA is still fighting multi-trillion dollar wars, and the fat cats who benefit from bailouts and were in fact the cause of them continue to live the high life. You can be sure that those responsible for the fiscal benders aren’t going to suffer – instead it will be children who get less funding for schools, the sick who get less funding for medical care, the elderly who get their pensions cut, veterans who lose benefits and pensions, and of course the arts, programs to benefit the poor, and anything else that is good and just and serves as the governments responsibility to it’s citizens. Yes, it makes me sick.
The only reference that I’ve seen made to the fact that the entire country of Greece has been shut down is via the Los Angeles Times, other news sources have seemingly been told to shut up by the big powers that control the world stock exchanges.
Flights were grounded, schools closed and government offices shut as thousands of civil servants walked off their jobs in Greece on Wednesday to protest a fresh batch of austerity measures.
The general strike, organized by the country’s two biggest labor unions, is the first since the government unveiled a controversial property tax, pension cuts and plans to slash 30,000 public-sector jobs by the end of the year to meet the deficit-reduction demands of the European Union and the International Monetary Fund.
“These are barbaric policies that suck dry workers’ rights and revenues,” said Stathis Anestis, a union spokesman for the General Confederation of Greek Workers. “With this strike, the government, the Europeans and the International Monetary Fund will be forced to reconsider these disastrous policies.”
Unfortunately, I don’t think that the governments of Greece or the Eurozone will be allowed to reconsider anything by the banks that control them. The problem is that if Greece defaults, it will cause the banks who gave the loans to fail – never mind the fact that a bit of due diligence instead of blue skying would have shown that the debts could never be paid in any event. In an individual investor situation, it would be the lender who was at fault and would have to eat their mistake. However in a world controlled by banks and corporations, that is not likely to happen.
Initially, the Greek government said that it would have to lay off tens of thousands and cut pensions across the board in mid-October though now they have suggested that they can last until mid-November – but where that money will come from, no one can actually say.
On the positive side, the Greek people are amazingly stoic in the face of this. The people have begun to adapt to the fact that taxes are making life impossible by bringing more barter to their lives and it started here in Volos.
Part alternative currency, part barter system, part open-air market, the Volos network has grown exponentially in the past year, from 50 to 400 members. It is one of several such groups cropping up around the country, as Greeks squeezed by large wage cuts, tax increases and growing fears about whether they will continue to use the euro have looked for creative ways to cope with a radically changing economic landscape.
I just hope my flight tomorrow goes before the Greeks realize that a shutdown is far closer than they realize.