Covid-19 and the Greek healthcare system
The pandemic crisis unveiled the current tragic state of the public healthcare system in Greece which was created by the neoliberal policies pursued by all governments under the EU guidance.
The EU guideline has always been clear: Reduce public healthcare spending and promote Public-Private Partnerships, with the ultimate goal being the full privatization of the sector. This attack has become even more intense since 2008. In Greece, during the first years of the crisis (2009-2013) per capita healthcare spending declined by 8.7% each year. The state budget for health from 2010 to 2018 decreased progressively by up to 50%, as of 2019. At the period of the EU-IMF Memoranda, a total of six psychiatric and fifteen general hospitals were closed. At the same time Urban Health Centers and Primary Health Care Units were shut down throughout the country.
In the fight against coronavirus, the public healthcare system has only 567 ICU (Intensive Cure Units) beds, remaining in one of the worst places in Europe concerning the ratio of ICU beds per 100,000 inhabitants. Normally, ICU beds in Greece should be around 3,500 given also the fact of the big percentage of the elderly in the country. Moreover, the number of hospital staff – of all sectors – has dropped dramatically from about 104,000 to about 76,000, while the number of workers with flexible working conditions is now increasing to 20% of the total! Prime Minister Mitsotakis called the coronavirus an “invisible enemy” but over the past few decades, the enemy of public and free healthcare has been clearly visible: the neoliberal policies practised by all governments.
Worker’s health and rights under attack
The rights of the working class and the people are also under attack in the name of the pandemic. Instead of responding to the pandemic with immediate measures in support of the public healthcare system, the ND government is exploiting the current crisis to accelerate anti-labor measures and limit popular freedoms. Benefits were announced for employers and the capital and favorable arrangements for businesses. At the same time, we see new measures to abolish labor laws and work contracts, there are new wage cuts and job-flexibility without any control. The government also imposed a total curfew but at the same time thousands of people are forced to be exposed to the virus while working in industries, factories, crafts, and modern workplaces in the service industry (eg telecommunications). The government aims to ban union and political action that is triggered by its anti-labor policy at this time. Along with these measures that affect workers a whole authoritarian campaign is in progress to legitimize extreme measures of control, discipline, and repression. It is a measure not taken under the criterion of public health protection, as tens of thousands of workers continue to work, in difficult and dangerous conditions, without effective measures and means of self-protection. These government measures limit and abolish free political and trade union action, at a time when trade unions and their members need to act, control the employers and intervene.
Solidarity and struggle at the time of the pandemia
Against this dystopian situation, a wave of solidarity has been created. Activists from every corner of Greece do not forget that they must stay active. Solidarity web pages are growing rapidly, wanting to show that no one should be left helpless during the pandemic. Numerous web pages for solidarity have been created in just a few days. Among them, the fb campaign/page “We Stay Active – Health, Collectivity, Solidarity” is trying to keep people informed and maintain a spirit of action while also functioning as a hub for organizing some solidarity actions and be the voice of the workers, the unemployed, the refugees, the homeless, all those groups in need of help until this period has passed.
Neighborhood collectives are also increasing every day, forming a wide network of social solidarity so that no human being is left alone!In the face of the current state of government policy and employer terrorism, they are taking the initiative to organize and defend the people in the neighborhoods. Their targets are :
-to support people belonging to vulnerable groups (elderly, disabled etc) and their needs for food, medicine-
-to gather food and basic necessities for the weakest (unemployed, immigrants, refugees)
These neighborhood collectives but fb pages and twitter accounts also, are trying to inform the public and give full support to all workplace protests, while also collecting complaints form employees who report violations of their labor rights. These initiatives are very important considering that 40,000 layoffs have been reported even before the lockdown was announced.
A successful campaign was developed about the hypermarket workers and their right to rest on Sundays. The government initially announced that hypermarkets would operate every Sunday but on the first Sunday of the lockdown sales were 50% down, because of the solidarity campaign calling for the boycott of Sunday shopping. Eventually, this measure was taken back by the government and thousands of workers won a day to rest.
At 7th of April, World Health Day actions were turn to protests in Greece to emphasize the need for public and universal free healthcare. There were gatherings called by hospital workers (doctors, nurses etc) in tens of hospitals all over Greece. They were supported by left-wing activists and other unions. In some cases the police tried to impose fines on the protesters using the measures of movement restriction as an excuse. The first mass reaction was at the airport of Athens against 400 redundancies in Sky – Swissport. The first strikes were also called at the sector of telecommute. Workers are saying that the priority of life is their primary duty not only during pandemics but also against destructive inequalities and poverty! They respond with a collective struggle demanding:
-Prohibition of all redundancies
-Payment of salary without any thought for cuts or overtime work
-Health and safety protection measures in businesses that continue to operate.
-Protection of the unemployed.
It is crucial for us that the war against the capital and the government be fought starting from now given all the means we possess. There should be no postponement of the class struggle since the other side has not stopped the exploitation. This is shown to us in the clearest way by the steps which are being taken by government and the capitalists. Yes, we have to fight it out of the ordinary and under unprecedented conditions, but we have to fight this battle today, so that things are not going to get any harder tomorrow.
NAR (New Left Current for the Communist Libaration)