Austerity cuts in Greece cause suffering

Published on People’s World, by W. T. Whitney Jr., October 25, 2011.

“Greeks of all walks of life have become increasingly angry at measures they feel only hurt the poorest while tax evaders and corrupt politicians remain unaffected,” reported Reuters on Oct 20.

Tens of thousands of protesters surrounded the parliament building as, inside, ruling socialists and the center right New Democracy party joined for final passage of yet another austerity package aimed at satisfying big bank creditors and preserving euro-zone credibility. They are obeying European Union political leaders in what observers think is a futile attempt to stave off national bankruptcy. 

The plan calls for raised taxes, hits against labor rights, removal of more public sector jobs, and public workers’ salary cuts of up to 40 percent. The Greek people are victims of policies, says the Greek Communist Party, that “will lead them and their children to live for decades in the most bleak misery with starvation wages, unemployment, insecurity, without basic rights, in order to protect the profits and interests of the business groups from their crisis” … //

… Diminished primary and preventative care services have led to high admission rates to public hospitals, up 24 percent in 2010, 8 percent so far in 2011. That trend relates also to private hospital admissions falling 25 percent in 2010. NGOs have long operated “street clinics” in Greece to serve immigrants, but now Greek citizens now make up 30 percent of users.

Mental health outcome data are available and extremely worrisome. Depression figures are up, and between 2007 and 2009 suicides rose by 17 percent; in 2010, by 25 percent; and in the first half of 2011, 40 percent. Suicide hotlines report that 25 percent of callers speak of serious financial difficulties. Homicide rates doubled between 2007 and 2009.

A report on quotes veteran academician Vassiliki Angelatou: “The thing doesn’t end with salary cuts. It’s the uncertainty of what will happen tomorrow, because each day they tell us something new.” Angelatou’s salary is down almost 50 percent. He’s part of “the silent Greek majority [that] feels an immense anger.”

Rather mildly, the Lancet authors advise, “Greater attention to health and health-care access is needed to ensure that the Greek crisis does not undermine the ultimate source of the country’s wealth-its people.”

This prescription might work in a time of peace, a far cry from present tumult in Greece. There, financial resources are exiting, people’s survival is jeopardized, and long term solutions appear to be a distant dream.

It is no wonder that the message sounded by labor-led general strikers to end payments to banks, to abandon the EU and euro, and to build a people-centered political independence is growing in appeal. (full text).

(See also the photo: A man empties out the remains of an olive oil container from a trash bin in Thessaloniki, Greece. Welfare agencies and charity groups have warned of a spike in poverty and homelessness in Greece due to the effects of the financial crisis. Nikolas Giakoumidis/AP).

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