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A new stage in the attacks on the European working class

Steven Gaal

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A new stage in the attacks on the European working class

3 September 2012

The European working class faces a new round of brutal social attacks. The process that began in Greece, Portugal and Ireland, and has continued in Spain and Italy, is now on the agenda for France. The government led by President François Hollande is due to announce the country’s budget for 2013 this month. The international business press is full of articles arguing for massive cuts.

The French economy is in crisis. Growth is virtually stagnant, and the number of job seekers in August exceeded 3 million. Large corporations such as Peugeot Citroën have announced thousands of layoffs. Economists estimate that the government needs to save between 33-40 billion euros to meet the deficit limit of 3 percent to which Hollande is committed. This is unprecedented in the history of France and means massive cuts in social spending.

The Financial Times demands that Hollande “stop tending the Mr. Normal image and face up to being Mr. Unpopular.”

The Süddeutsche Zeitung calls upon the Socialist Party (PS) president to “subject the country to the type of shock treatment administered once before by the social democrat Gerhard Schröder in Germany.” In order to strengthen the international competitiveness of the French economy, Hollande must “significantly cut wage labor costs, free working hours and the labor market from strict rules, and reduce benefits.”

The significance of such calls is unequivocal. If Hollande does not follow them, the banks plan to visit upon France the same fate as Spain and Italy: financial speculators will descend upon the country and drive up the interest rates on its bonds to the point where the government capitulates to their dictates.

In fact such external pressures are not necessary. Hollande has already made clear that his government is quite prepared to implement the dictates of the financial markets on its own.

In his first public speech after the summer break, Hollande declared that the French people should prepare themselves for a “long and extremely serious economic crisis.” At a trade fair in Châlons-en-Champagne, he declared that winning the “battle for growth, employment and competitiveness” would take not just three months or a year, but his entire five-year term.

In the language of official politics, “growth, employment and competitiveness” are synonyms for cuts in wages, social benefits and labor rights. Hollande is effectively promising five years of social decline.

His prime minister, Jean-Marc Ayrault was even more blunt. For weeks he has been advocating increased competitiveness on the part of French companies and has charged Louis Gallois, the former head of the EADS air and space company, with developing specific proposals.

Gallois is calling for a “Competitiveness Shock” for the French economy and regards the main problem to be the high cost of labor, currently averaging 34 euros per hour—well above the German (30 euros) and Spanish and British (20 euros) rates.

At a European level, Hollande is now retracing the steps of his predecessor, Nicolas Sarkozy, joining forces with German Chancellor Angela Merkel to enforce a policy of uncompromising austerity throughout Europe. During the election campaign earlier this year, he had posed as an alternative to Merkel and promised to renegotiate the new European fiscal pact.

Hollande has unceremoniously dumped his campaign promises. He plans to accept the Fiscal Pact without changes and without a popular referendum, despite the fact that acceptance of the strict terms of the pact will force him to make massive cuts. When Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras recently visited Paris and asked for a relaxation of the austerity measures laid down for his country, both Hollande and Merkel remained adamant that there was no alternative to punitive cuts.

Last week German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble and his French counterpart, Pierre Moscovici, agreed the formation of a joint high-level working group to coordinate the two countries’ fiscal and economic policies and also to deal with Greece and Spain. Schäuble and Moscovici even agreed to meet every two weeks for personal consultations. As was the case during Sarkozy’s presidency, the Franco-German tandem is assuming the task of enforcing the dictates of the financial markets throughout Europe. (OBEY BANKS)

Hollande is also seamlessly continuing the policies of his predecessor in the sphere of domestic politics. To divert attention away from growing class conflicts, he is fomenting racist campaigns against Roma and deploying the police against rebellious teenagers. His insistence on a military intervention in Syria is also part of this strategy. He is not only pursuing French imperialist interests in the Middle East but also using militarism to both divert from, and prepare for, growing internal dissent.

Workers across Europe must draw the necessary political lessons from the events in France. France now confronts the same social counterrevolution that has engulfed Greece and Spain. Also in Germany, where a huge low-wage sector was developed over the past decade, those sections of the working class with proper job and wage contracts are now increasingly in the firing line. This is the significance of the current dispute at Lufthansa, where cabin crews face outsourcing to low-cost airlines or replacement by temporary workers.

The financial markets will not rest until benefits and wages in Europe have reached international standards—i.e. until they have been slashed to the level of China and similar countries. Social-democratic parties are lining up to offer their services in this respect and are virtually indistinguishable from their conservative and free-market opponents. The same goes for the trade unions, which are working closely with the big corporations and their respective governments.

The events in France have also thoroughly exposed the pseudo-left organizations that claim it is possible to revive the European Union based on reformist demands from the post-war period. They are nothing other than a cover for the social democrats and the trade unions. When in government, they are quite prepared to implement austerity themselves.

Thus, during this year’s Greek election campaign, Alexis Tsipras, the candidate of the Coalition of the Alternative Left (SYRIZA), praised the French president Hollande as an ally and as living proof that it was possible to reform European capitalism.Now it is clear this was a deliberate lie and deception.

European and international capitalism cannot be reformed. The dictates of the financial markets can only be repulsed by a social revolution. This requires the mobilization of the European working class on the basis of a socialist program.

Bourgeois governments must be replaced by workers’ governments, pledged to expropriate the banks, hedge funds and large corporations, seize large fortunes and organize economic life to fulfill social needs rather than the profit needs of the financial markets. The European Union, a tool of the banks and corporations, must be replaced by the United Socialist States of Europe.

Peter Schwarz

Edited by Steven Gaal
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related a world wide phenomenon


The World's Richest Woman Suggests Australia Pay Workers a $2 a Day Wage

And finally ... the world's richest woman, Gina Rinehart, who was born into a wealthy mining family, is suggesting that Australia should be considering paying workers a $2 a day wage. As Rinehart explained, "The evidence is unarguable that Australia is indeed becoming too expensive and too uncompetitive to do export- orientated business...Africans want to work. Its workers are willing to work for less than $2 per day." Aside from the tinge of racism in her comments, they're also completely uninformed. Just a few weeks ago, African miners were slaughtered while they were on strike demanding higher wages – including a $1500 monthly minimum wage – which is well above Rinehart's call for $2 a day. But her comments speak to something bigger – they reveal how the billionaire class thinks. They don't think of workers as humans beings trying to live a decent life – they think of them as numbers on a spreadsheet. Gina Rinehart would have felt right at home at last week's RNC.

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********* SOLUTIONS OFFERED BY SOME ********

The Western Socialist

Vol. 36 - No. 268

No. 2, 1969

pages 16-17


"PRODUCTION FOR USE" — a phrase uttered so often by socialists as to become almost a cliche, yet understood (in a superficial fashion) by both enquirers and opponents.

It describes our concept — our visualization — of a future social system superseding the present "un-social" system we call capitalism. Our enquirers and opponents alike recognize this.

But the full implications of the term are not grasped, even by many who consider themselves to be socialists. The thinking of these people is so conditioned by the institutions of the present order that their thoughts take on the coloration of their master's ideology.

The concept, "Production for Use," implies the existence now of something different and contrary. This basic difference we emphasize and amplify by adding a further phrase: "and not for profit."

"Production for Use" is a concept basic to a socialist order: it is the cornerstone of the socialist edifice. It rules out the notion that socialism has been established in Russia, Cuba, China, etc. Production in all these countries is for the sake of production itself. Of course, as with capitalism everywhere, commodities must have a use, but they are "useful" goods produced primarily for profit. They are also the product of wage-labor. And wage-labor co-exists with money. Yet the question almost always posed by the very people who seem to think that "Production for Use," and a society based thereon is, maybe, a good idea is: "What are you going to use for money?"


Here is an example -- somewhat paradoxical — of the confused thinking now obtaining which constitutes so great an obstacle to the advancement of scientific socialist ideas.

The ideal, "Production for Use," springs from the material conditions of modern capitalism: the reality. The money concept, derives from the same source. Because "useful" goods are now produced with the ultimate objective of being sold, i.e., exchanged for money, our confused friends burden their future ideal of "Production for Use," with the concept of the present reality of things exchanged for money.

"Production for Use" means just what it says: goods needed by people who can use them, not for those who can pay; goods produced and distributed socially on the basis of social needs.

Some claiming to be socialists are also victims of this paradox. Our friends of the SLP* (evidently being more clairvoyant than we) not only visualize a new social order, but carry with their vision elements from capitalism which are distinct hallmarks of that society. Money is a necessary item in a society in which goods are produced for profit. With the sale (via money) to the consumer, the profits (surplus value) is finally realized. But whatever characteristics and functions money has in measuring value, acting as standard of price, medium of exchange, etc. such functions are related to capitalism, not to socialism. The SLP, of course, does not claim money to be necessary to a new social order, but they substitute for it something which is to do the same work.

The character of a thing is revealed by its function. To substitute one thing which is to function similarly to the one substituted, and then claim that a basic change has taken place is to deny reality. We hold that while the concept of "Production for Use," and a social order based thereon arises from an understanding of what is, the drawing up of pre-conceived blue-prints for the future, with organizational schemes for administration, etc., which one might imagine that future might require, calls for a detailed knowledge of the social circumstances of that time. This, we confess, we do not possess. Such a concept, also, implies that man has free will.

While the SLP holds that Socialism means Production for Use, they claim that under that form of society the workers, instead of receiving wages, will receive a voucher according to the amount of work, measured in labor-time. This will be exchanged for goods, etc., similarly measured.

Here again appears our paradox; an ideal view of a future society burdened and beclouded with the concepts of today's reality. What else are wages paid to workers now but tokens of their wage-slave status?


The idea of measuring a worker's output by labor-time is a misapprehension (and misappropriation) of the Marxian Law of Value. This law applies only to commodity production, that is to say to capitalism. Under this system, where goods are produced for a market, to be exchanged through the intermediary of a third something (money), the Marxian Law states that these various products — different in so many ways — exchange one with another on the basis of some property or characteristic common to all. Exchange implies an equation. That was the position of Marx and that is ours. The exchange value of commodities (goods produced for SALE, although useful) is determined by the amount of socially necessary labor-time incorporated in them. But this socially necessary labor-time is reduced in the theoretical Marxian analysis to simple undifferentiated labor.

To take the yardstick used in this analysis of capitalist commodity production and apply it as a measure of "value" to a worker's output under socialism is to establish a completely false premise. If a premise so established is shown to be false then the reasoning erected thereon must also be false.

In our efforts to disabuse the minds of honest enquirers of the confusion that arises from the setting up of false concepts, as also in our efforts to remove the false notions developed by those who appear to hold views on capitalism somewhat similar to ours, we hope to advance our ideas without rancor, using explanation rather than declamation.

"Production for use and not for profit" cannot exist where money (or a substitute) is present. To "pay" a worker, under socialism, on the basis of his output or the length of his working day is a denial of socialism. "From each according to his ability; to each according to his needs," is for us quite sufficient.

Socialism is, and can only be, a system of society in which the means of production and distribution will be democratically controlled and administered BY SOCIETY AND FOR SOCIETY.

And, as of now, that is the only blue-print we have to offer.


Edited by Steven Gaal
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Austerity and eurozone crisis resulting in suicides increase

SEPT 19/12


Discussion of the economic crisis is dominated by dry statistics but austerity is having a real impact on people lives – with homelessness and suicide on the rise, says mental health organisation

One of the main characteristics of the current financial crisis is an obsession with number crunching. Concerned by the data, many European Union governments have launched austerity plans that have forced rising numbers of people into joblessness, and pushed many into poverty.

The devastating effect that these measures have had on families and communities is now becoming increasingly clear: a rise in homelessness is sweeping across Europe and could likely lead to an increase in suicides.

Studies show that for every 1 per cent rise in the unemployment rate, there is a 0.8 per cent rise in the rate of suicides. The Greek National Centre of Social Solidarity reports that the percentage of people seeking help for food and shelter has doubled, and the number of people who are unable to cover their living costs increased significantly. In the United Kingdom, homelessness is reported to have risen by 25 per cent since 2009.

Naturally, becoming homeless takes a serious toll on a person's mental health. At the same time, people with existing mental health problems are more vulnerable to losing their homes, as studies show that such illnesses are one of the most important causes of homelessness. In most EU countries, more than half of the homeless population suffers from serious mental health problems.

This rate is significantly higher in young people, aged 16-24, who are either homeless or living in temporary accommodation. A study from South Wales discovered that among the young homeless, 93 per cent met the criteria for a mental health problem, with the most common diagnosis being depression, among 43 per cent, followed by post-traumatic stress disorder, among 35.5 per cent, and psychosis among 21.5 per cent.

What is more, homeless people are more likely to complete suicide than the general population. In Denmark, homeless men were found to be 7.3 times more likely to take their own lives than the general population, and homeless women were an astonishing 14.8 times more likely to do so. Other UK research states that the prevalence rates of suicide in the homeless population range from 1-3 per cent, compared to approximately 0.0001 per cent in the general population.

As World Suicide Prevention Day is celebrated in September, it only seems fitting that Mental Health Europe, along with the European Federation of National Organisations Working with the Homeless, reminded European governments and EU institutions that suicides are about people, not numbers. The helplessness and desperation felt by a person willing to take their own life is unquantifiable, and real action must be taken to ensure that all people have their most basic needs met, such as a stable home, in times of crisis or otherwise.

European governments and institutions must get serious about combating suicide through targeted campaigns aimed at the most excluded members of society. Creating an EU Action Plan on Homelessness that includes a comprehensive mental health perspective should be a priority, along with preventing suicides by ensuring that affordable and adequate housing is available to all.

There are many reasons people become homeless, but most can be mitigated by social safety nets, and by a real commitment to improving the lives of the most vulnerable. If we are to talk numbers, by 2020 suicides are estimated to contribute more than 2 per cent to the global burden of disease. Surely, in a cash-strapped Europe dependent on healthy workers, that ought to prompt some response.

Silvana Enculescu is communications manager at Mental Health Europe

Read more: http://www.publicserviceeurope.com/article/2479/get-serious-about-combating-suicide-europe-urged#ixzz26w2Afvy0

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Crisis: From Government Employee in Portugal to Cleaner in Switzerland

As protests spread in southern Europe – especially in Greece, Spain and Portugal – against austerity measures, more and more people hit by the crisis are moving to northern countries in search of decent jobs. Public sector workers are not an exception.

By ILO*, Geneva – We meet Ana B. – a 50-year-old Portuguese woman – at a café in a Swiss city. Ana has been living in Switzerland for about six months. She moved here to work as a cleaner and caretaker. But Ana is no ordinary cleaner.


She is a secretary at a government agency in the Portuguese city of Porto who took a one- year career break to come to Switzerland for a job that would allow her to pay her bills back home.


“I am a single mother and my 20 year-old son is still at university. I am also still paying for the flat I bought in the outskirts of Porto a few years ago. My salary as a public sector worker in Portugal was only 700 euros a month. But with the economic crisis and the austerity measures that followed, salaries have been frozen…,” she said.


When a Portuguese friend told her about a cleaning job in Switzerland and how much it paid, she quickly realized that she would more than double her salary by accepting the offer.


Migrating Even Only for a Year


“Since the possibility of taking a career break is one of the ‘benefits’ the government agency I work for has not as yet cut, I decided to move – even if it’s only for a year,” she explained.


It was not an easy choice. She misses her country and regrets not being able to see her son.

“Thanks to the internet, we still keep in touch almost every night,” she added. To save the extra money she makes, Ana decided to live in a hostel mostly occupied by younger people: “At the age of 50, I would certainly rather stay at home. But I want my son to be able to graduate from university… Even if it means losing part of my social status,” she said.


Public Sector Workers Hit by Austerity

Ana’s story is certainly not unique. And she is probably much better off than those who have become economic migrants because they have no job at all.

What her decision to leave Portugal shows, however, is that even public sector workers – and the middle class in general – are being hit by the crisis.

Portugal is one of the most affected countries by austerity measures,” D. Vaughan -Whitehead, ILO economist

“Many of them – especially in southern and Eastern Europe – have to deal with frozen wages, benefit cuts and the lack of promotion opportunities. Portugal is one of the most affected countries by austerity measures,” said Vaughan-Whitehead.

“Ana’s story partly illustrates the increasing difficulties that public sectors workers face since the beginning of the crisis,” said ILO senior economist Daniel Vaughan-Whitehead, who is currently working on a book about how the crisis affected public sector workers.

Working Poor in Public Sector, New Phenomenon in Europe

“Working poor in the public sector is a new phenomenon in Europe,” he added.

Vaughan-Whitehead explained how deteriorating working conditions (such as higher intensity at work, more overtime but less pay) are also leading to a dramatic decrease in the quality of public services. He attributed this trend to staff shortages caused by the lack of new recruitment – while the demand for services has increased.

“This also contributes to people turning to alternative solutions, which are hard to find because the private sector is no longer recruiting as it used. Women are particularly affected.”

In about six months, Ana is supposed leave Switzerland to go back to her old job in Portugal. But she is already looking into whether or not her career break could be extended for another year.

“If having enough money to live means working as a cleaner here instead of as a secretary in a comfortable office back home, I am ready to do that for an extra year,” she said.

Low paid public sector workers in Europe

Portugal The number of low paid workers in the public sector increased due to wage cuts but also because the minimum wage is lower than in the private sector.

Greece Impoverishment of public sector employees (fall in wages by 15-20 per cent in 2011 and new cuts by an additional -15 per cent in 2012) due to the abolition of 13th and 14th month salaries, and a cut in the minimum wage.

Hungary In 2010, 55 per cent of public sector employees with less than secondary education were below the poverty threshold compared to 33 per cent in 2008.

Romania Low paid workers increased in the public sector due to a wage cut of 25 per cent in 2011.

Lithuania Increase in low paid employees in the public sector due to 15 per cent cut in 2009- 2010.

Germany Increase of low paid workers in the public sector both at national and municipal levels because of more fixed- term and part-time contracts.

United Kingdom Increase in –low paid workers in the public sector due to a shift of many public sector employees from full-time to involuntary part-time.

Source: Public Sector Shock, by D. Vaughan-Whitehead, Edward Elgar-ILO, forthcoming 2013.

*Source: International Labour Organization, ILO News.

Edited by Steven Gaal
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Europe Is Now In A Completely Unmanageable Situation

Posted on September 27, 2012


Spain & Greece Face Mass Anti-Austerity Protests, While Greece Was Reported To Be Billions of Euro Off-Track In Meeting The Terms of Its Bailout And S&P Sees New Recession Hitting Euro Zone.

Discontent in Spain and Greece is rising.

Greece’s two largest labor unions went on strike today, disrupting flight and train services and forcing hospitals to depend on emergency staff.

This is the first general strike in Greece since the coalition government came to power.

Protestors gathering around the Greek Parliament in Athens, throwing Molotov cocktails at the riot police but have been pushed out of the main square now, according to BBC.

Click here to jump to the photos >

Meanwhile, Spain which saw massive anti-austerity protests yesterday, also saw a smaller number of demonstrators take to the streets today. But the demonstrations are expected to gather steam and some reports say 1,300 police officers have been deployed to keep clashes in check.

Spain is also grappling with the threat of a Catalan secession, a crucial economic region of the country. And pressure is building on Mariano Rajoy to request a sovereign bailout, though he has said he will only do so if the country’s borrowing costs stay high over a long period of time.

Markets are selling off across Europe. Spain is down 3 percent, and yields on the Spanish 10-year surged this morning.

We will be updating this feature through the day.

** Debt Crisis: Spanish GDP Falling At ‘Significant Pace’

** Greece Is About To Default AGAIN!

**Violent Protests Swirl in Spain As Regions Seethe

** Hungry Forage Trash Bins for Next Meal…

Greece Caught Underreporting Its Budget Deficit By Nearly 50%

here was a time about a year ago, before the second Greek bailout was formalized and the haircut on its domestic-law private sector bonds (first 50%, ultimately 80%, soon to be 100%) was yet to be documented, when it was in Greece’s interest to misrepresent its economy as being worse than it was in reality. Things got so bad that the former head of the Greek Statistics Bureau Elstat, also a former IMF employee, faced life in prison if convicted of doing precisely this.

A year later, the tables have turned, now that Germany is virtually convinced that Europe can pull a Lehman and let Greece leave the Eurozone, and is merely looking for a pretext to sever all ties with the country, whose only benefit for Europe is to be a seller of islands at Blue Aegean water Special prices to assorted Goldman bankers (at least until it renationalizes them back in a few short years). So a year later we are back to a more normal data fudging dynamic, one in which Greece, whose July unemployment soared by one whole percentage point, will do everything in its power to underrepresent its soaring budget deficit.

Case in point, on Friday the Finance Ministry proudly announced its budget deficit for the first eight months was “just” €12.5 billion, versus a target of €15.2 billion, leading some to wonder how it was possible that a country that has suffered terminal economic collapse, and in which the tax collectors have now joined everyone in striking and thus not collecting any tax revenue, could have a better than expected budget deficit. Turns out the answer was quite simple. According to Spiegel, Greece was lying about everything all along, and instead of a €12.5 billion deficit, the real revenue shortfall is nearly double this, or €20 billion, a number which will hardly incentivize anyone in Germany to give Greece the benefit of another delay, let along a third bailout as is now speculated.

To quote Greg House: “Everybody lies”

From Spiegel:

The gap in the Greek national budget is greater than previously expected. According to a preliminary Der Spiegel finding, the troika of European Commission, European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund reported that the government of Prime Minister Antonis Samaras is missing currently around 20 billion euros - nearly twice as much as last admitted. Only if the funding gap is closed, the next EU tranche will be transferred to Athens.

S&P says new recession hitting euro zone

Standard & Poor’s Rating Services on Tuesday pared down its economic forecast for the euro zone in 2012 and 2013 in response to indicators that “paint a bleak picture” for the region. “The data are confirming our view that the region is entering a new period of recession, after three quarters of negative or flat growth since the final quarter of 2010,” according to Jean-Michel Six, the rating agency’s chief economist for Europe, the Middle East and Africa. “But prospects continue to vary from country to country.” S&P said it now expects a drop of 0.8% in euro-zone GDP in 2012 and flat growth in 2013, compared to its July projection of a 0.7% GDP dip in 2012 and 0.3% growth in 2013.

The Eurozone Con Game Just Keeps Cracking

“European leaders have not been able to meet their responsibilities,” French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said about Germany and some other countries that are reluctant to pile more taxpayer money on Greece, whose economy is grinding to a halt, and whose government, deprived of the flow of bailout funds and cut off from the financial markets, can no longer fulfill its promises.

And Greeks are leery of new “structural reforms” currently fought over by the coalition government. They oppose more cuts in salaries, pensions, and health care. On Wednesday, they will attempt to bring the economy to a halt with a general strike and demonstrations in Athens and Thessaloniki. Meanwhile, Germany and other countries are wondering how Greece can possibly “reform” if the government can’t agree on the reforms to inflict on its people, and if the people aren’t willing to suffer them.

To his French compatriots, Ayrault defended the Fiscal Union treaty, which, after having been silenced to death, has come under blistering attack from the far right and the far left ahead of the parliamentary debate. They’re clamoring for a referendum, something the government wants to avoid at all costs—the people might well kill it, as they’d killed the European Constitution in the referendum of 2005 [read.... A French Rebellion Against Unelected Bureaucrats: “European Coup D’Etat And Rape Of Democracy”].

“This treaty doesn’t damage the budgetary sovereignty of parliament,” he said. “There is no transfer of sovereignty.” THE issue with that treaty. Even the German Constitutional Court acknowledged that it transferred sovereignty to the European Union. “There must be much more,” Ayrault told his listeners. “The reorientation of Europe” would continue, he said. “Europe is a combat.”


“There is no transfer of sovereignty.” = LIE= Ayrault

“Europe is a combat.” = TRUE = Ayrault = Elite vs the common man

Edited by Steven Gaal
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A Fascist party in full cry. Black-shirts smashing migrants' homes. Swastikas on the streets. No, not Germany in the Thirties: Greece 2012

By Sue Reid In Athens

PUBLISHED: 19:34 EST, 17 October 2012 | UPDATED: 04:15 EST, 18 October 2012

Dressed in black shirts with faces hidden by helmets, ten men on motorbikes came to find him on a Saturday, after darkness fell.

Finding the door bolted at his home in a pot-holed Athens side street, they smashed the windows, broke in and trashed the place. Then, their dirty work done, the neo-Nazi gang roared away into the hot evening. It had taken less than a minute for them to sound an ugly warning that foreigners were not welcome in Greece.

Their target was Imam Shahbaz Siddiqi, a 42-year-old spiritual leader of the Greek capital’s 500,000 Muslims. ‘I was at the mosque praying when they searched for me the other night,’ he told me yesterday. ‘I thank God for that, or else I might now be dead.

Scroll down for video


Hatred: The far-right Golden Dawn uses fascist symbols. Almost a quarter of Greeks under 25 support the party

‘During the night I went three times to the police station to report the break-in. At the desk I was told that the officers did not have time to investigate my complaint. They were too busy. There is one law for the Greek people and another for us immigrants.’

The attack on Imam Siddiqi is the latest racist outrage by neo-Nazis in a country riddled with xenophobia. In an era of crushing debt and poverty, the immigrant is blamed for almost every Greek ill.

On the same weekend, a young Pakistani immigrant, Hussein Abbas, was viciously attacked outside his home in Elefsina on the outskirts of Athens by the men in dark shirts. He ended up in hospital, his face smashed to a bloody pulp.

So dangerous are the streets for foreigners that the U.S. State Department has sent out a warning to dark-skinned American visitors that they must be careful of their safety when they leave their hotels.

A shocking internet video shows leaders of the anti-immigrant Far-Right Golden Dawn party — which has 18 MPs — marching into an ethnic street market at Rafina, an hour’s drive from Athens, destroying the stalls with wooden clubs and scattering the merchandise to the ground.

‘We found a few illegal immigrants selling their wares without permits,’ says Giorgos Germenis, one of the party’s MPs. ‘We did what our party has to do and then went to church to pay respects to the Madonna.’

Of course, it is not just immigrants who are subject to the fury of the Greek masses. Last week German Chancellor Angela Merkel visited Athens to taunts from 50,000 protesters, many waving swastikas and dressed in Nazi uniforms.


Victim: Young Pakistani immigrant Hussein Abbas was set upon by a blackshirt gang

There were banners proclaiming ‘From Hitler to Merkel’, which harked back to the hated Nazi occupation of Greece during World War II — and which surely made a mockery of the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to the EU last week.

The German Chancellor, too, is blamed for the social turmoil crippling this country, which faces further austerity cutbacks on her orders and those of eurozone finance ministers.

The descent of Greece into chaos could not be more different from the halcyon days after the country joined the European Union 31 years ago, and then milked the system for all its worth.

Early retirement, generous state-paid pensions, countless millions on the public payroll and institutionalised tax fraud were a way of life. Hairdressers, for example, were listed among the 600 ‘professions’ allowed to retire at 50 with a state pension of 95 per cent of their final year’s earnings on account of the ‘arduous and perilous’ nature of their work.

Now the big, fat EU gravy train has hit the buffers, drastic austerity measures mean pay rates and pensions have been slashed and taxes are going sky high in a frantic bid to balance the books. The retirement age is to be raised to 67.

Greece is in its fifth consecutive year of recession, something that no European country has endured in the past 65 years, except in wartime. Half of the young are jobless and a third of stores in Athens have closed.

And yet the EU is demanding a further £12 billion of spending cuts before they will hand over another emergency bailout of £35 billion to stop the country going bankrupt.

Soup kitchens are feeding once well-to-do Athenians and homeless hostels are full of the middle class who have been forced to sell their homes and are struggling to take in what has befallen them so fast. Little wonder there is such anger on the streets.

Some speculate that civil breakdown and the unravelling of democracy in Greece may be just around the corner.


Tough times: Journalists on strike in Greece. The country is in its fifth consecutive year of recession, something that no European nation has endured in the last 65 years, except in wartime

Last week as Chancellor Merkel visited, protests were outlawed in Athens. No one took the slightest notice of the rules, as Molotov cocktails were hurled by rioters at police guarding parliament and ordinary people cheered them on.

It is from this cauldron of bewilderment and fury that the neo- Nazis and their triumphant party, Golden Dawn, have emerged with such sudden popularity.

As 71-year-old Doukas Thanassis, queuing for lentils in a smart grey suit at a church-run soup kitchen in central Athens, told me defiantly: ‘I voted for the party. They are the only ones who help us in this time of trouble.

‘Every Wednesday you can buy the party’s newspaper at the local street kiosk. It prints a list of places where Golden Dawn hand out food and even medicines to the Greek people. They pay for ambulances to take us to hospital if we are ill.’

Mr Thanassis, the former head chef on a Greek cruise line who lives in a homeless hostel, adds: ‘These free gifts are only for us Greeks, not for foreigners. The meat in the sandwiches they give us is pork so the Muslim migrants don’t come and scrounge it. These foreigners shouldn’t be here anyway.’

Beside him, others in the queue nod approvingly.

Even Prime Minister Antonis Samaras, leader of the New Democracy party (Centre Right) running an unruly coalition with Left-wingers, blames Greece’s woes on ‘waves of illegal immigrants’ from Pakistan, Bangladesh, India and north and sub-Saharan Africa, who smuggle themselves over the Turkish border for a new life.

Mr Samaras says that with 1.5 million recent arrivals in a country of 11 million Greeks, the immigrants are ‘creating extremism’ and feeding the extraordinary popularity of Golden Dawn.

When I visited Greece in May, Golden Dawn was a name that was barely whispered. Today the party has a foothold in parliament — with 18 of the 300 seats — and talk of the neo-Nazi party’s popularity is on everyone’s lips.

In cafes, taxis and bars, Greeks of all ages and social backgrounds discuss the latest official poll prediction that Golden Dawn would claim 22 per cent of the vote — rather than the 6.9 per cent it garnered in June’s national poll — if a general election were called tomorrow. Almost a quarter of those under 25 support the party.

If the same political swing was happening in Britain, it would mean that 60 Parliamentary seats would be in the hands of extreme Right-wingers.


Summit: Greece's Prime Minister Antonis Samaras (right) and Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel (left) speak before their meeting in Athens earlier this month

‘And don’t compare these people to the British National Party or the English Defence League,’ a Greek professor warned recently. ‘They make the BNP look like Julie Andrews.’

It is an open secret that a Greek who thinks he has a problem with migrants can call a special number at Golden Dawn to get their brutal style of help.

I was told the disturbing story of an Athenian lady of 60 whose central city apartment with wood floors and fine drapes was taken over by Pakistani and Bangladeshi squatters while she visited her family in Crete.

She returned to find the door barred and graffiti at the entrance to the block telling the owner to stay away.

She called the special number. A man on the line told her to stay with friends for a week and everything would be all right, so she took the advice.

Seven days on, she went back to her apartment. The place was empty of the interlopers. The curtains had been cleaned, the floor polished, and she moved back in. Urban myth, ethnic cleansing or proof that Golden Dawn gets things done? Many Greeks prefer to believe the last of these.

As 54-year-old Agnes Bakas, sitting in the sun at a coffee bar in Attika Square, Athens, said: ‘Every Athenian knows Golden Dawn will send their people to help a Greek.’

On the white wall behind her, a Nazi swastika is painted and the kiosk selling newspapers under the trees is a known meeting place for young Golden Dawn supporters who gather menacingly with their motorbikes and black shirts.

But this does not bother Agnes. She says: ‘This square was full of immigrants, but Golden Dawn cleared them out. I was robbed seven times before that near my home down the road. Even my necklace was pulled from me by an African. I could not have sat here safely, even in the day, a year ago.’

Whatever the accuracy of her story, Golden Dawn has taken full advantage of claims of immigrant crime. The party has widespread support among the rank-and-file Greek police (the Golden Dawn vote soared at the polling booths near police stations in Athens) and peddles the line that 37 Greeks have been killed by immigrants in the past few years.


Demonstration: Angela Merkel visited Athens to taunts from 50,000 protesters, many waving swastikas and dressed in Nazi uniforms

A vicious attack and rape of a 15-year-old Greek girl by a Pakistani illegal migrant aged 23 on the island of Paros this summer played into the party’s hands. The Pakistani admitted the crime and the girl, battered over the head with a rock, is still in intensive care in a hospital near her home in Athens.

Academics in Greece warn of disturbing parallels between the rise of the Right today in an economically crippled country indebted to the EU and the rise of the Nazis in the Thirties after hyper-inflation in Germany’s Weimar Republic led to economic collapse.

Between the wars, you may recall, an indebted Germany was forced to make huge reparation payments to the victorious Allies of the Great War as a punishment for starting the conflict. The German people felt humiliated, just as the Greeks feel hostile to their eurozone masters and Mrs Merkel today.

The Nazis claimed their first parliamentary seats even as they were garnering the local support of Germans by sending out gangs of ‘storm troopers’ to terrorise Jewish and immigrant communities and blame them for the troubles of the time. It sounds horribly familiar.

As Nickos Dermetzis, a professor of political science at the Athens University, explains: ‘We have a major socio-economic crisis in which native Greeks are losing ground. You also have a rising number of immigrants, many illegal.

‘This is a volcanic situation where all the classic parameters for the flourishing of a Far-Right force such as Gold Dawn are present.’

Of course, it does not help that police are struggling to cope with the huge numbers of illegal immigrants arriving daily in Greece. Their sweeps of immigrants happen regularly in Athens and the port of Patras, a three-hour drive away, where a thousand immigrants doss down in disused factory buildings near the promenade. They wait, hoping to smuggle themselves on to freight and passenger ferries going to Italy.

Ten days ago, 350 Afghanis, Pakistanis and Bangladeshis were picked up in Patras and put in holding centres. As one disgruntled resident, a man in his 50s living near the promenade, said: ‘They only took a few and so many are here. I am no racist, but this town used to be paradise. The police sweeps are a merry-go-round. The ones they took today will be back next week, wait and see.’

It is a viewpoint supported by Andreas Nicolacopoulos. The 59-year-old architect is a leading light in the Patras Golden Dawn party.

‘The Greek people don’t want illegal immigrants,’ he says. ‘They have to be deported to their own countries. We have to stop them coming in, too. We will lay landmines at the Turkish-Greek border to blow them up so they do not enter our country. We have promised our voters this.’

Golden Dawn also wants to make immigrant criminals serve double the prison terms of their Greek counterparts and introduce capital punishment for foreign murderers.

Back in Athens, I meet Golden Dawn’s spokesman, MP Iliopoulos Panagiotis, at the Greek Parliament building.

The face of this 34-year-old former internet marketing executive can be seen clearly on the video of immigrants being attacked at the market by Golden Dawn’s louts.

Mr Panagiotis is in bullish form. He boasts that the party is so popular that at the next election it will be the second biggest in Greece. ‘In a few years, we expect to be the biggest of them all,’ he says.

The party’s MPs arrogantly puff on cigarettes even though smoking is banned inside the parliament building. They wear black shirts with the word ‘Hooligans’ emblazoned in orange on the sleeve. They have tattoos on their arms.

And on the walls are the blue flags stamped with the party’s swastika-style logo, an ancient Greek symbol.

The official Golden Dawn line is that they are not Nazis, even neo-Nazis, but nationalists wanting to save Greece for the Greek.

So what does Mr Panagiotis plan for illegal immigrants? ‘We will fly every one of them home,’ he says.

‘Even Pakistan would not dare shoot our planes down when their own people are on board and would be killed.’

And what does he think of the racist Golden Dawn gangs that systematically beat up those who were not born Greek?

‘We have a million supporters, some of them wilder elements. We cannot control them all,’ he says with a smirk.

It is hard to believe that his words are those of an elected MP in the Parliament of a modern democracy. Yet anything is possible now in Greece, as the unpalatable face of fascism makes an unwelcome return to Europe.

Edited by Steven Gaal
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Portuguese Join Europe's Chorus of Discontent

Wednesday, 28 November 2012 12:15 By Raphael Minder, The New York Times News Service|

Until a few months ago, Portugal was seen as a role model in the grinding euro zone crisis, adopting deep spending cuts and raising taxes to reduce its deficit without the outcry, protests and strikes that austerity policies have set off in other Southern European countries. International lenders praised the Portuguese government even as they arranged a 78 billion euro bailout for the country last year, following similar deals with Greece and Ireland.

But the belt-tightening helped push Portugal deeper into one of Europe’s longest recessions — and the Portuguese have now joined the ranks of Europe’s discontented, even coordinating a general strike with workers in neighboring Spain earlier this month.

The hard times have also created strains within the center-right coalition government of Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelho. Still, the government managed to pass a stiff new austerity budget with steep tax increases on Tuesday, even as protesters demonstrated angrily outside the Parliament building.

Such protests and work stoppages have become much more common over the past year, as daily life for many Portuguese families has become a struggle to stay afloat. Pay is being cut for government and private-sector workers alike, the unemployment has risen to nearly 16 percent, retirees face higher health costs and students will pay more for tuition without any assurance that their degrees will lead to jobs. In fact, many graduates are packing their bags to emigrate instead.


Edited by Steven Gaal
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Austerity... seems to be the wrong solution....

Truthdiggers of the Week: Iceland’s Leaders

Posted on Dec 1, 2012

541610754_3a72138c34_z.jpgvicmontol (CC BY 2.0)

One country refused to bail out its derelict banks and slash social spending amid the financial crisis. And guess what? Unlike the eurozone and the United States, it’s making a sturdy comeback.

Iceland’s stock market plunged 90 percent in 2008. Inflation reached 18 percent, unemployment shot up ninefold and its biggest banks failed. This was no recession. It was a full-blown depression.

Since then, the country has steadily improved. By September of this year, it repaid its IMF rescue loans ahead of schedule. Unemployment dropped by half and its economy will have grown by roughly 2.5 percent by the beginning of 2013.

So what’s Iceland’s secret? According to the editors at Bloomberg News, it’s a refusal to do what virtually every other nation that was pummeled by the crisis did: adopt policies of economic austerity.

Iceland’s approach was the polar opposite of the U.S. and Europe, which rescued their banks and did little to aid indebted homeowners. Although lessons drawn from Iceland, with just 320,000 people and an economy based on fishing, aluminum production and tourism, might not be readily transferable to bigger countries, its rebound suggests there’s more than one way to recover from a financial meltdown.

Nothing distinguishes Iceland as much as its aid to consumers. To homeowners with negative equity, the country offered write-offs that would wipe out debt above 110 percent of the property value. The government also provided means-tested subsidies to reduce mortgage-interest expenses: Those with lower earnings, less home equity and children were granted the most generous support.

The International Monetary Fund’s mission chief to Iceland has sung the nation’s praises too. “Iceland has made significant achievements since the crisis,” Daria V. Zakharova told Bloomberg in August. “We have a very positive outlook on growth, especially for this year and next year because it appears to us that the growth is broad based.”

Letting the losses fall on bondholders rather than taxpayers, maintaining the country’s welfare system and imposing temporary controls on investments protected Iceland from collapse and pushed it toward recovery, she said.

American leaders are threatening to do the opposite at the end of this year when a potential failure to reach a deficit reduction deal will trigger a total of $54.7 billion in spending cuts from government offices and social programs, Medicare among them, per year.

Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman agrees that cuts to the social safety net are not the way. Ideology should not trump empirically based economics, he says. But right now, in the United States, it is. Krugman writes:

The doctrine in question amounts to the assertion that, in the aftermath of a financial crisis, banks must be bailed out but the general public must pay the price. So a crisis brought on by deregulation becomes a reason to move even further to the right; a time of mass unemployment, instead of spurring public efforts to create jobs, becomes an era of austerity, in which government spending and social programs are slashed.

Even in the face of evidence, including a recent return to recession for the eurozone economy, elected officials on the right and left are pushing what serious economists recognize as failed policies. And it appears they will continue to do so for the indefinite future. In the meantime, we honor the reality-based leaders in Iceland as our Truthdiggers of the Week.

—Posted by Alexander Reed Kelly.


Brendan O'Connor : The straw poll sure to break the camel's back

The majority of us believe this Budget will be a step too far – and with grave consequences

indepentent ie DEC 2/12

WE considered presenting both sides of the austerity debate today but, to be honest, we had a bit of trouble thinking of anyone, apart from the Government, who thinks austerity is a good idea.

Even the people who are enforcing austerity, people like the IMF, don't actually believe in it anymore. The IMF have gone so far as to admit they got it drastically wrong. "Activity has disappointed in a number of economies undertaking fiscal consolidation," they admitted recently. "Negative short-term effects of fiscal cutbacks have been larger than expected."

In fact, it turns out that the traditional multiplier applied to the effects of austerity on an economy has been wildly wrong. Since the beginning of the crisis the negative effects of austerity on economic output have been up to three times what the IMF thought they would be. They were operating under the assumption that for every euro cut from government spending a country's output would fall by 50c. In fact the case has proven to be that for every euro cut from spending, 90c to €1.70 is wiped off output. It was a huge miscalculation, and the observed outcomes of austerity have actually led to Christine Lagarde becoming one of the leading anti-austerity campaigners on the European scene.

But it is not just that the economics of austerity have been proven to be wildly wrong. Underneath all economics is an unpredictable irrational beast called the human being. And unfortunately nothing can work without these beasts. And when you scare them, and you cut back on them, they cut back even more, and before you know it you are into a vicious downward spiral.

The problem with human beings too is that they are only human. And even if you convince them rationally that cutbacks are needed, there is only so much they can take. The results of today's Sunday Independent Milward Brown National opinion poll show a people punch drunk from austerity and unsure how much more they can take. And that's even before they are hit with another austerity budget next week.

A staggering 56 per cent of people believe this Budget will be a step too far for them. This suggests that over half the population believe this Budget could push them, or the country, over the edge. Over half of those who expressed an opinion one way or another said the Budget will affect their Christmas. Given that the Irish are noted as, and have been proven to be, people who put the best foot forward for Christmas regardless of anything, that's a bit depressing.

People are worried too. Over half of Irish people are worried about their standard of living and two-thirds of people with kids are worried about their standard of living. More than two-thirds of people with kids worry about paying household bills. Over half the population do.

No huge surprises there, you might say. But perhaps the most damning finding in today's poll is that the people see no end to it. Half the population believe there is no light at the end of the tunnel. As we face our sixth austerity budget, 48 per cent believe we will see four to five years or more of them. And that really is the crux of the problem of where we are at now.

We have endured four, maybe five years of misery already in this country. In the post-war period recessions have tended to last six months to a year-and-a-half, an average of about a year. We have now had our heads down for four times that at least, and half of us think it's going to be another four years or more. As if this is just how we are now. This is how we live. There are people who think this is how it will be for the rest of their lives. There are people out there who believe they will never see good times again. You could go so far as to say that the prolonged nature of this downturn has changed us as a people. It has actually got into us and altered our personality, our essential character. And now half of us have trouble seeing how things can be any other way. There is, for half of us, nothing to look forward to anymore, not even Christmas.

And that's when people give up, when they see no point in it all, when austerity and cuts just seem to become an end in themselves. You need to bring people along with you. You need to get them to feel that it is all going somewhere, somewhere better, that there will be some reward. But clearly, the people don't believe. And if the people don't believe, they won't bear any more of it.

And furthermore, for Noonan to ask people to bear this while he refuses to deal with the issue of massive pensions for the bankers and senior civil servants who destroyed the country and helped put us in this mess, is a bridge too far. For all the current crowd say about poor old Brian Lenihan, at least he had the balls to deal with bankers' bonuses, and crucially, he understood too that in order to expect everyone else to take pain, he had to be seen to deal with bonuses. Is Noonan too old and too tired from trotting around the world to act on the pension issue or, worse, does he not have a nose for the public mood? Does he think people don't get it? People get it alright. And what's more, they get the bigger picture.

People are educated enough to know that barely any economist agrees with austerity. People are educated enough to know that there is no example in history of austerity working. And this time is no exception.

On Friday, we learnt that unemployment in Europe is now at a record high – 11.7 per cent. Millions of people across the continent are unemployed, partially as a result of austerity measures that are choking economies. In Spain and Greece, 25 per cent of the population are out of work and nearly 60 per cent of young people are. So there are more unemployed young people in Spain and Greece than there are young people with jobs. That's not a stable equation.

And in the US, where they didn't do austerity, admittedly because the financial markets didn't force it on them, things are looking good. Even as they look at tackling the deficit they are painstakingly aware that, As Alice Rivlin of the US Congress's Budget Office put it bluntly a couple of weeks ago, "austerity is not a good prescription for weak economies". And it doesn't even work for debt sustainability either.

The Yanks look over here and they see that even after all the cutting and all the pain, debt-to-GDP ratios aren't getting much better because, even as debt is being cut, GDP is collapsing too because of austerity.

We all understand that we cannot live beyond our means forever. We all understand that we need to cut deficits. But not now when the economy can't take it.

And now, as they look for more ways to tax us, they're going to start taking money from people for the privilege of owning a home, already a liability to so many. It seems as if they are determined to find people's tipping point. Let's hope, for their sake, that they don't find it on Wednesday. Just because people haven't rioted yet, doesn't mean it'll never happen.

- Brendan O'Connor

Edited by Steven Gaal
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The destruction of health care in Greece

By Ernst Wolf wsws.org

8 December 2012

Five austerity programmes within the space of two and a half years have reduced the health system in Greece to the level of a developing country and stripped working people of the basic right to adequate medical care.

Although winter has begun and the recent cuts have already had life-threatening and sometimes fatal consequences, the troika of the International Monetary Fund, European Union and European Central Bank are insisting on further cuts in the sphere of medicine. The result will be the ruination of the Greek health care system for decades to come and the re-emergence of illnesses and diseases regarded as long since eradicated.

In order to save €1.74 billion (US$2.25 billion), patient contributions for vitally necessary drugs are to be increased, while expenditure by public hospitals on medicines is to be reduced and overtime work by doctors restricted. A slate of vicious new cuts will come in January. The contribution for the purchase of drugs will be increased yet again, and plans for hospital reform to reduce costs will result in more staff reductions.

From 2014 onwards, a fee of one euro per prescription is to be levied, together with an increase in the daily sum to be paid for hospitalisation—from the current level of €10 to €25. This will above all discourage pensioners, the homeless and families with children from seeking emergency hospital treatment.

No fewer than 50 hospitals are threatened with closure in the next six months. Two have already ceased operating due to a lack of health insurance payments, which meant that staff had received no wages for between four and six months. The total debt of hospitals with pharmaceutical companies is in excess of €1.3 billion.

Most hospitals lack essential basic materials such as disposable gloves, plaster and catheters. Poorer women have to give birth at home because they cannot afford a hospital birth, which can cost €700-€1,500. Children can only be vaccinated with cash payment.

Due to the austerity measures, drug addicts—whose number has increased 20-fold in the past five years—receive just 15 needles per year, a tenth of the total granted in other euro zone countries. The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDE) warns of a new wave of AIDS in Greece, especially in the big cities. In Athens, heroin addicts must wait an average 44 months before they can participate in a methadone programme.

Control of infectious diseases is no longer guaranteed due to the lower standards of hygiene throughout Greece. Chronic respiratory diseases, skin diseases and tuberculosis are all on the increase.

Outbreaks of malaria infections have been reported in five parts of the country, although the disease had been thought be eradicated in 1974. Once again, it is the poorest sections of society that are hardest hit. The lake and orange region of Skala is home to many immigrants from Afghanistan and Pakistan, many living crammed together in small spaces and exposed without any protection to the disease-causing mosquitoes.

The ECDE raised the alarm recently regarding the proliferation of multi-resistant germs. In Italy, the proportion of such germs in bloodstream infections has risen from 15 percent in 2010 to 27 percent in 2011; in Greece, it has risen from 49 percent to 68 percent. The reason: Many people fearful of losing their jobs have resorted to taking strong general antibiotics for minor illnesses, thereby unintentionally reducing their resistance levels.

“We have children who are starving, dehydrated babies”, complains Nikitas Kanakis, president of the network Doctors of the World. At the same time, the country is suffering from an unprecedented exodus of doctors. Due to the austerity measures, a consultant will earn just €1,007 monthly beginning in January 2014. This is less than a quarter of what he could expect in a western European country such as Germany.

Instead of demonstrating a modicum of humanity in such a situation, pharmaceutical companies have responded with unrelenting harshness. Due to outstanding debts, the Merck pharmaceutical and chemical company, with headquarters in Darmstadt, Germany, ceased to supply the cancer drug Erbitux to Greek hospitals in early November—a fortnight before the company announced a 16 percent increase in profits to €754 million for its third quarter.

In June, the German pharmaceutical company Biotest had already ceased to supply its blood plasma products. The outstanding debts of the life-sustaining drugs represent less than 2 percent of the annual turnover of Biotest.

While the working population of Greece is helplessly exposed to these inhumane conditions, the wealthy are increasingly turning to medical care abroad. Hospitals in Northern Europe report an increase in operations for patients from the south of the euro zone. “We also find that more and more people from Greece, Spain, Portugal, England and also Switzerland are buying our drugs”, declared Lorenz Schmid, president of Zurich’s Association of Pharmacists.

Describing the current situation in his homeland, Nikitas Kanakis stated: “The truth is that our health care system has already collapsed…. Stabilisation is not in sight and I think it will get worse. Especially now when a hard winter is approaching and heating costs have become twice as expensive. The gap between rich and poor will increase, which is very dangerous. Social mobility has come to a standstill—children from poor families have little chance of a better life.”

A very different assessment comes from Euro Group president Jean-Claude Juncker. Following the passing of another European “bailout” for Greece totalling €13.5 billion, Juncker announced: “Greece is on the right track.” In fact, not a cent of the latest “loan to Greece” will go towards the Greek health care system. Instead, more than 80 percent will be consumed repaying interest to the international banks.

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SEE POST # 11 above

Privatizing Healthcare in Spain. Making the people pay for financial mis-management

By Arturo Rosales writes from Caracas. Axis of Logic Exclusive

Axis of Logic Exclusive

Thursday, Dec 27, 2012

Editor's Comment: A big thanks to Arturo Rosales for his highly informative and rock solid analysis of the Great Spanish Health Care Robbery that began in broad daylight today. This is only the first public move by the neoliberal thieves in the Spanish government, hauling off the people's health care funds into the coffers of gaping mouths of private corporations signaling the end of the medicine and treatment and very lives of the Spanish people. We applaud the people for their courage and dignity as they take to the streets once again to demand an end to this great crime. Arturo's research and logic are irrefutable and the comparisons he makes with Venezuela and the UK are poignant.

- Les Blough, Editor


The banner says: "You don't sell public health care - you defend it!"

Today, December 27th 2012 is a black day in Spanish social services history. The Madrid Assembly approved a law which allows the “externalization of the management” of various hospitals in Madrid. This means privatization with public monies heading into private management pockets and patients being expected to pay for medical services or being obliged to take out costly medical insurance as in the US.

Spainhas free medical services and this is the first step to privatize medicine in this country and make life even more harsh for the 5.6 million unemployed and people who have lost their jobs and their homes, as well as those upon whom the Rajoy government is forcing wage cuts.

The President of the Comunidad de Madrid, Ignacio Gonzalez, who has been instrumental in forcing this legislation through, has had the gall to say that he is willing to enter into a dialogue with striking doctors protesting against this neoliberal axe coming down on the socialized medical services in Madrid. It will not be too long before other regions in Spain follow suit as the central government prefers to save the bankers by having the public pay for their errors and embezzlements. The EU bailouts will eventually fall on to the shoulders of the public with higher direct and indirect taxes and by having their social services and right to a decent education for their children cut to the bone.

The Protests!

On December 16th thousands Spanish public health workers and other people marched from four main hospitals in Madrid to converge on a main square in the capital Sunday, protesting the regional government’s plans to restructure and part-privatize the sector.


The marches, described as a “white tide” because of the color of the medical gowns many were wearing, finally met mid-afternoon in the central Puerta del Sol. On Monday, the region’s health councilor will meet with a committee responsible for coordinating professional services and union representatives to try and agree how to achieve €533 million (US$697 million) in savings.

In early July the EU agreed to bail out the Spanish banks with US$123 billion on the condition that the Spanish government implements austerity packages to cut public spending. Bearing in mind that it was the banks’ greed and risky lending to overpriced real estate projects which sparked the financial crisis in Spain, combined with a national debt that is more than 60% of the GDP, the public is now having to pay for these “misjudgments” which will eventually force Spain into the status of a third world country again.

During the protest march doctors, nurses and public health users — grouped into four columns —marched from leading hospitals located in the north, south, east and west of the capital.

“Our health care system is going to be damaged,” said Alberto Garcia, 26. “Patients are doomed to get a much worse service and this will just make us poorer.”

Health care and education are administered by Spain’s 17 semi-autonomous regions rather than the central government and Madrid proposes selling off the management of six of 20 large public hospitals and 27 of 268 health centers to private corporations.

The Spanish Debt

Spain’s regions are struggling with a combined debt of €145 billion (US$190 billion) as the country’s economy contracts into a double-dip recession triggered by the 2008 real estate crash. By electing a neo liberal government such as that of Rajoy and the Francoist Partido Popular, the Spanish voters are really getting what they voted for. At least Rajoy is true to his “principles” and he is rewarding the Spanish population with:

• Foreclosures

• Unemployment

• Austerity

• Hunger

• Police brutality

• More taxes

• Impunity for most bankers

• Homelessness

• Medical services being privatized

• Human dignity being stripped away month after month

The Numbers

Just look at the figures. The Spanish capital needed just US$697,000,000 to save the public health service but the banks which effectively screwed themselves and the country got US$123,000,000,000. Madrid only needed 0.57% of this amount to maintain the integrity of its health system and prevent it falling gradually into capitalist hands. What about families with children who are destitute? Is there no compassion left when it comes down to saving the “too big to fail banks”, by denying bankruptcy which is one of the fundamental pillars of capitalism. It cleans out the system of the diseased and weak.

No-one can tell any right thinking person that this is not a political-ideological decision. With just one iota of political will this total injustice could have been avoided.

Some Enlightening Comparisons

Venezuela: Here in Venezuela we are watching in horror as Spain is gradually morphing into Greece II and at the same time observing how in our country: houses are being built for poor families; a national health service is being constructed piece by piece; banks are too scared to take unnecessary risk too feed their greed since they know that they will be immediately nationalized.

Hundreds of Venezuelan families who sold everything and moved to Spain in order to escape the Chavez “tyranny” are now homeless, jobless and cannot get back to their home country. They are appealing to the Venezuelan government to repatriate them, give them work and put them on the list for a home of the Grand Housing Mission currently underway in Venezuela. How ironic is it that 95% of Venezuelan residents in Spain voted against President Chávez in the October 7th presidential election – and now they are begging to be saved from their own folly – just like the bankers.

While we empathize with the Spanish people and the looming loss of their health-care system to the capitalists, many must accept part of the blame by voting in Rajoy and his neoliberal gang of thug ministers.

The UK and NHS: What is happening in Spain is inevitable and similar situation is developing in the UK where the Welfare Reform Bill has been passed the two Houses of Parliament and signed into law by the Queen. This implies at least partial privatization of the National Health Service but the silver lining of this dark cloud for the British public could mean that the Conservative and Liberal Democrat Parties could be banished for many decades from government for this betrayal of British voters. Just use Google to discover that no-one – Conservative, Liberal Democrat or Labour - would have voted to privatize even part of the UK National Health Service.

Higher education is now out of reach except for all but the wealthy (university applications are down by 54% this year) and the beloved National Health Service could also soon be sacrificed to the neoliberal ideology of David Cameron who is ensuring that public money is poured into private coffers.

Rajoy and his gang in Spain will also be dumped the next elections by the voters. If you are in service to the banks and big business expect the end of your political career to come sooner rather than later in the financial maelstrom of the crumbling European Union edifice.

Edited by Steven Gaal
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February 04, 2013

The Baseless Myth of the Lazy Worker

The New Specter Haunting Europe


“A spectre is haunting Europe.” Thus began the famous opening passages of The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels.

Today, once again, Europe is haunted by a spectre. But, unlike back in 1848 when Marx and Engels wrote those passages, it is not communism, but laziness.

Gone are the days when the upper classes were terrified of the angry mob wanting to smash their skulls and confiscate their properties. Now their biggest enemy is the army of lazy bums, whose lifestyle of indolence and hedonism, financed by crippling taxes on the rich, is sucking the lifeblood out of the economy.

In Britain, the coalition government constantly slags off those welfare slobs in the working class suburbs, sleeping off their hard night’s slog with Sky Sports and online casino. It is their shameless demand for “something for nothing,” pandered to by the previous Labour government, we are told, that has created the huge deficits that the country is struggling to get rid of.

In the eurozone, many believe that its fiscal crisis can be ultimately traced back to those lazy Mediterranean types in Greece and Spain, who had lived off hard-working Germans and Dutch, spending their time sipping espresso and playing card games. Unless those people start working hard, it is said, the eurozone’s problems cannot be fixed.

The problem with this story is that it is, well, just a story.

First of all, it is important to reiterate that the fiscal deficits in the European countries, including Britain, are largely due to the fall in tax revenues following the finance-induced recession, rather than to the rise in welfare spending. So, attacking the poor and eviscerating the welfare state is not going to cure the underlying cause of the deficits.

Moreover, on the whole, poorer people typically work harder. They usually work in jobs with longer hours and tougher working conditions. Except for a tiny minority, they are poor despite the welfare state, not because of it.

The point comes into a sharper relief, if we compare nations. According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, people in Greece, that famous nation of skivers, worked on average 2,032 hours in 2011 – only a shade less than the supposedly workaholic South Koreans (2,090 hours). In the same year, the Germans worked only 70% as long (1,413 hours), while the Netherlands was officially the “laziest” nation in the world, with only 1,379 hours of work per year. These numbers tell us that, whatever else is wrong with Greece, it is not the laziness of their people.

Now, if the laziness story has such flimsy bases in reality, why is it so widely believed? It is because, in the past three decades of dominance by free-market ideology, many of us have come to believe in the myth of the individual fully in charge of his/her destiny.

Starting from Disney animations we watch as young children telling us that “if you believed in yourself, you can achieve anything”, we are bombarded with the message that individuals, and they alone, are responsible for what they get in their lives. This is what I call the L’Oreal principle – if some people are paid tens of millions of pounds a year, it must be because they’re “worth it”; if others are poor, it must be because they are either not good enough or not trying hard enough.

Ha-Joon Chang is a Senior Research Associate with the Center for Economic and Policy Research.

This article originally appeared in the Guardian.

Now, it is politically difficult to criticize the poor for their incompetence, so the attack is focused on the mythical lazy slob, who has no moral leg to stand on. But then the end result is the dismantling of a whole set of policies and institutions that help all poor people in the name of punishing the lazy.

The beauty of this worldview – for those who disproportionately benefit from the current system – is that, by reducing everything down to individuals, it draws people’s attention away from the structural causes of poverty and inequality.

It is well known that poor childhood nutrition, lack of learning stimulus at deprived homes, and sub-par schools restrict capability developments of poor children, diminishing their future prospects. When they grow up, they have to contend with all sorts of prejudices that constantly discourage and deflate them, especially if they have the wrong gender or the wrong skin colour.

With these sandbags on their legs, the poor find it difficult to win the race even in the fairest market. Markets are frequently rigged in favour of the rich, as we have seen from a series of recent scandals surrounding deliberate mis-selling of financial products, lies told to the regulators, to the rigging of the Libor rate.

More importantly, money gives the super-rich the power even to rewrite the basic rules of the game by – let’s not mince our words – buying up politicians and political offices (think of all those former banker-turned-U.S. treasury secretaries). Many deregulations of the financial and the labor market, as well as tax cuts for the rich, in the last three decades are results of such money politics.

By turning the debate into a morality tale of laziness, the rich and powerful can divert people’s attention away from all of these structural problems that create more poverty and inequality than is necessary.

All of this is not to say that individual talents and efforts should not be rewarded. Attempts to completely suppress them can create societies that are ostensibly equal but fundamentally unfair, as in the former socialist countries.

However, it is vital to recognise that poverty and inequality also have structural causes and start a real debate on how to change those things. Ridding the debate of the pernicious and baseless myth of the lazy mob is an important first step in that direction.

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