Greek union leader's view of his country's strikes and suffering

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Marxism 2010: Kostas Katarachias, a member of the General Council of the Federation of Hospital Doctors Unions of Greece, will speak this weekend about his country's current financial struggle.

Q - Why are you are coming to Canada for the Marxism 2010 conference?

There is a conversation about the crisis and the resistance here in Greece and all over the world, and I was informed about the G20 demonstrations which are going to take place in Canada. I think there is a campaign against...

Q - ...Against the G20.

... So for me it is a great pleasure to exchange experiences and ideas and how can we build a big movement all over the world about the resistance against the global crisis and the global capitalism.

Q - What are you seeing in Greece now? We hear a lot on the news about violence and demonstrations. What kinds of things are happening there?

It's true that we are facing the biggest worker movement here in Greece, these days. The 5th of May was the biggest strike ever in the history of Greece. There was more over one million demonstrators, all over the country against the austerity measures here. The workers, they were angry about the situation, about the austerity program, about the IMF and everybody is willing to fight against the measures which were decided by the [Greek] government, the IMF, and the European Union. We're trying to have the struggle, the next step in the struggle, which is strikes everywhere against the measures.

Q - And has that begun?

We are having everyday discussions all over here in Greece. I'm working in a hospital here, I'm a doctor and we are having almost every week conferences about how we can organize our struggle against the austerity measures. The first workplaces to have five days of strike; It was [municipal workers], then it was the teachers. Now we're trying to decide continuing strike against these measures. Our next is in the 20th of May we have the next general strike. The reason of this strike is that they decided in the parliament about the cuts in pensions, and the limit, the age limit, they are getting longer the age limits for pensions.

Q - Do you feel the Greek people are all angry about it, or do you feel there are people who are in favour?

The majority of the workers who are here in Greece, and not only the public services which was they target public services because they said lies about the workers in the public services that they were paid too much and they had a lot of... they didn't work, and something like this, and the private sector but they are very angry because they understand that the measures didn't have any result on the markets, although they take the worst measures since the occupation in the 2nd world war. Everybody understands that we are getting in an era where we're losing everybody; everybody is losing a way of living. And we're getting to an era where they're trying to make us a Third World Country, because not everybody understands in this situation they hit only the workers and not the banks and not all of them but they are responsible for this crisis.

Q - What changes do you see coming for the labour movement in Greece with the austerity measures in place?

First of all, we are trying to have an alternative program against the crisis. And the first thing about this program is our slogan: Can't Pay, Won't Pay, about the debt. The debt now is very great here all over the country. They give to save the banks. So every country in Europe now has big debt, because the important year of the debt, which raised up too much it was last year the governments decided to give money to the banks. And now we're trying to abolish the debt, we don't want to pay the debt.

Q - You want the debt forgiven.

Yes. We don't have to pay the debt because the appreciation of the dept is illegal from 2000 to now, and the majority of the people is not responsible for this debt. Most important for now is people understanding that it's not the problem with Greece. It's the world capitalism is now the problem. Because they lose their profits and they have problems now because they are trying to hit the people for these problems. The fact is wages in Greece are very low. I'm a doctor and working every day, I work 24 hours every three days and my salary is about three euros an hour. I think that they are saying that the people in Greece have a lot of money because of the loans and everybody has good salaries and they are having a soviet-style economy, something like this, and that's not true. The majority of the salaries are very low, and the last 15 years they're getting lower and lower, and there was always austerity measures but now this program, these austerity measures with IMF and European Union is the biggest hit to the to our lives. Now we're having unemployment grow.

Q - What do you think Canada can learn from the Greek situation?

[In Greece], from the crisis of the collapse of the Lehman Bros. we [didn't worry] about, because [we thought that] we're not going to have any problem and that was not true. Now we're understanding that here in Greece there is a problem, the next day it will be Portugal, the problem. It's coming to Spain, the problem. And the austerity measures, now all over the European Union they are trying to have a program for all the countries to have austerity programs to all the countries. They push the debt and the problems from the bank to the state and the countries. And now they're asking for the people to pay for the problems. They are trying to persuade the people that they are responsible for this situation. But now here in Greece there is a movement of workers that is very strong now, and there is a tradition in Greece about the struggle of the working movement. We had in December 2008 the riot against the police brutality here in Greece and now we're facing the riot of the workers. We had the last three months about six general strikes and every strike was bigger than the previous.

Q - What do you expect from Canada at the G20 Summit?

Big demonstrations against the G20, everybody here in Greece wants to know what is going to happen there, everybody understands the struggle against the message that they are going to decide in this summit: they are asking from the working class all over the world to pick up the fee. The success of the campaign against the G20 is valuable and it's a strength for our struggle here in Greece.

Q - Do you have an idea for a solution, a different solution for the debt crisis?

A solution for the debt is that we must try, first of all, profit-share. They have a lot of money and they are protecting their profits. We must ask to take money from the profits. Secondly, we are asking to have a state system of banks, and the workers to have control of the bank system here in Greece.

Q - Do you think those ideas will be accepted?

Here, there are some gallups [polls] here in Greece, and they're saying that about 60 per cent of the people agree about having to stop paying the debt. In Iceland they stopped to pay the debt, there are some examples all over the world but it's very important how can we have the next step. These days we had a conference here in Greece. There were fighters, there were people from Portugal, from Britain, from Germany, from France, and we are having a common declaration against the austerity programs here in Europe. We're trying to make the steps for our program, for workers program. But we're saying stop paying, secondly, control of the bank system from the state to the workers; thirdly, tax the rich because they don't tax the rich. They're having now, in this situation, lower taxes -- the rich. Moreover because there is big unemployment all over Europe, we're demanding to find everybody job, not close all the factories. We must stop it.

Q - Your prime minister, George Papandreau, was quoted in the news saying he needs to change everything about Greece.

These changes will get worse next year. Everybody understands it. We must protect ourselves from the government and the IMF. We know that these measures will make the economy here in Greece worse. Because we see when they are announcing these measures the spreads in the markets were higher. They take these measures to get lower spreads, and the result is the spreads are higher, so it's not connection. If they are going to hit the working class here in Greece, all over the world, for what is happening to their profits, for what is happening to their markets. Now everybody understands that they have problems, but our problem is more important from financial problems. The majority of people here in Greece and all over the world are not responsible for this situation and everybody tries to convince the people that "you are responsible because you have social services, because you have a health system, because you have a school system, because you have a lot of things that are not needs, the state pays too much and the state always borrows money to pay to these services," but it's not true. The services in the last 15 years, it's getting worse; here in Greece there were a lot of privatizations and if they have everything privatized here with this economic crisis there were no perspective about the economy.

Dr. Kostas Katarachias represents the general council of the Federation of Hospital Doctors Unions of Greece. He will be joining Carol Egan, President of the Canadian Steelworkers Union, Judith Orr of the British Socialist Workers Party, and John Cartwright, President of the Toronto Area Council, in a discussion called From Greece to the G20, as part of the Marxism 2010, this weekend in Toronto. For more information click here.

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