In late November, Greece’s parliament agreed a draconian budget for 2013 that will see 9.4bn euros more worth of spending cuts. In return, EU ministers have agreed to a new 44bn euros ‘bailout’ for Greece.
Beyond the headline figures, the people of Greece are suffering seemingly endless hardship, which is set to get worse.
Eleni Mitsou, from Xekinima (CWI in Greece) describes the terrible human and social toll of the disastrous austerity policies.
Official unemployment is at 26% but, in reality, it is around 30-35% of the working population. Official youth unemployment is at 58% and official unemployment amongst women is at 30%.
Last May, the government cut the budget (the 2012 budget) for mental health to half. As a result, mental health workers have not been paid for about 6 months. Although most of them realise that they will never get the money the state owes them, they have not quit their jobs because there are no job alternatives. They hope they will get paid next year.
There are young doctors that volunteer in hospitals; they work without getting paid, hoping that someone will notice them and hire them in a private clinic, or practice. And this is something also done by young lawyers and young journalists etc.
The health case system is being dismantled. Many people, particularly pensioners, are not getting all the medicines they need because they have to pay for it (they used to get medicines for free or very cheap) and they cannot afford to buy them.
We have a young Xekhinima comrade who has multiple sclerosis. After the "changes" in the health care system, she had to cut back on her therapy. She cannot get the medicine she needs every month but now only every two months.
During last summer, newspapers published a letter written by health care workers from a psychiatric hospital on Leros island. It was addressed to the Minister of Public Health, asking him to raise the budget for the hospital because the inmates are undernourished. Most of their food is donated by the local community.
Undernourishment, which was non-existent three years ago, is now prevalent in schools in some areas. Children faint in school because they have not eaten for a couple of days or have eaten very little.
Across Greece 250,000 meals are distributed every day by the Church and the local councils. But still needs are far from covered.
There are parents who leave their children in orphanages because they cannot support them. The number of children in these institutions has almost doubled since the beginning of the crisis.
There are now 40,000 homeless people in Athens, whereas last year they were 30,000 and before the crisis, three years ago, they were 2,000-3,000.
In 2012, electricity was cut in 260,000 homes and small businesses / shops because people could not afford to pay the electricity bills. In 80,000 homes and small shops electricity was never reconnected.
During October and November in almost all blocks of flats (even in middle class and richer parts of Athens) meetings were called for people to decide if they would turn on the central heating during the winter or not. In one comrade’s block of flats, for example, the decision was to turn it on for just one hour every evening.
Since the beginning of the economic crisis in Greece, close to 3,000 people have committed suicide. A few months ago, a 50 year old man pushed his 90 year old mother off a roof and then followed her because they were in dept and did not have enough money to survive. Recently, a farmer in Crete committed suicide because this was the only way to save his family’s house - it was threatened with being confiscated and his family ending up homeless. The farmer saw this was the only way to save his children from accumulated debt.
There are very large numbers of people mentally depressed. The whole society is under extreme stress. Many people cannot sleep at night because of the sudden and severe reductions in wages they cannot cope any more with mortgages, loans and standard family expenses.
Greek society is in shock. The collapse of living standards has happened suddenly and violently.
These stark facts alone are enough reason to fight the governing political parties and their cuts policies and to struggle for a left government with socialist policies to transform society.