The British media reports Greece’s crisis as if it was down to the idleness of Greek workers being supported by a generous Europe. Nikos Loudos is a journalist on Workers Solidarity, Socialist Worker’s sister paper in Greece. He spoke to people about the reality of life under the hammer of austerity.
Since 2008 the forced austerity programme has pushed people in an advanced EU economy into dire poverty. The International Monetary Fund is demanding that Greek workers accept conditions similar to those it has imposed on impoverished countries in Africa.
But this suffering is increasing bitterness and anger. Greek workers have held 17 general strikes against the attacks. And the deepening assault on ordinary people’s living standards is likely to generate more struggle.
‘Seriously ill people are desperately searching for drugs’
by Kostas Katarachias, union rep at Agios Savas hospital, Athens
One of the most shocking aspects of the crisis is the way cancer patients have been denied vital medication for several months. Supplies dried up when cash-starved public hospitals were unable to pay pharmaceutical companies for drugs.
Children who are on chemotherapy are being sent home from hospital without the medicines that help them cope with the side affects. It is not uncommon to see them being comforted by their parents while throwing up in the hospital gardens.
Life is no easier for adults. The government said it would not fund drugs that patients bought on the open market. It insisted that sufferers first travelled from hospital to hospital in a desperate search for medicines.
There is only one situation where the department of health would agree to fund buying the medicines privately. That’s when patients can produce certificates from all hospital warehouses in a city stating they had run out of the drugs.
But still the battle for life-saving medicines goes on. Cancer therapies are so expensive that many pharmacists are unable to stock them. The result is that thousands of seriously ill people and their families are daily engaged in a desperate search for drugs.
When a nearby cancer hospital was forced to close recently all its patients joined our lists. That means waiting times for tests and treatments are growing ever longer.
Patients in urgent need radiotherapy are waiting for up to two months. You can imagine the delays for those who need pre-emptive examinations such as mammography to detect breast cancer.
The cost of mammography is no longer covered by the state—women must pay for it themselves and then join the ever-growing queues. That means many more cases of undetected cancer and avoidable death.
‘I’m epileptic but I can’t afford my medicine’
by Christina Tsamoura
I saw an old man in the middle of the street mumbling “Water, water”, as I was passing on my motorbike through Melissia, a middle class area in the north of Athens.
I pulled him out of the road with the help of two women from a nearby building. Another man brought a chair for him to sit on. While the old man drank some water and calmed down in the shade we asked him some questions.
“What happened? How did you feel?”
“It’s nothing. I’m epileptic. It’s just a usual crisis.”
“Don’t you have any medicine?”
“Usually, but at the moment I haven’t got any. It’s nothing.”
“Do you remember the medicine’s name? I could go to a chemist and buy some.”
“No you can’t. I’m registered as a pauper, so I only get minimum benefits. The medicine is very expensive, and they don’t give it to me. It’s nothing.” He started to cry.
“How much does it cost?”
“It’s 180 euros for six months. I went to my local chemist where they know me. I promised to pay when I had money. But they wouldn’t give me any. It’s nothing.”
Now he seemed all right. He told us he was from Nea Ionia, a working class area about seven miles away. We asked how he ended up here.
He said, “I got a day’s work gardening. They wanted me to prune trees, but they were too high for me, so I couldn’t do it. Just now, I was trying to get back home. It’s just a usual crisis. Thank you. It’s nothing.”
‘People are deliberately infecting themselves with HIV’
Horror stories about the crisis used to fill Greek newspapers. But now they’ve become so common they don’t count as news. Also media bosses are afraid of people making connections between austerity, misery and resistance.
Greece’s suicide rate is still low compared to other European countries—but it has shot up in the past two years. Often people who kill themselves out of economic desperation leave extensive notes explaining why they did it. They include advice to friends and relatives on how to cope with the household and their jobs.
One 50 year old musician posted a note online saying, “I have some property. But I’ve had to sell all my things one by one for pennies. Now I don’t have enough money to feed me and my mother.
“My credit card is over the limit. I’m paying 22 percent interest, even though the bank gets the money at 1 percent. Can anyone offer me a solution? You, the world’s powerful, you should be hanged for the crisis you produced. And hanging is not enough.”
His only income was a pension of 340 euros for him and his mother. A few weeks after he posted his note they both committed suicide by jumping from their rooftop.
Rates of HIV infection among drug addicts jumped by 1,250 percent in 2011. Doctors say that many people are deliberately using contaminated needles to get infected so they can claim a benefit of around 700 euros a month.
‘I do two jobs a day but still can’t survive’
A couple of months ago workers at Greece’s biggest shipyard were put on short time. Grigoris was one of them. Even before this happened he says he couldn’t survive on his pay.
“A few years ago we had decent wages. But after Christmas I had to take up a second job. I got up before 5am every day for the shipyard. After work I’d take a short nap, then I’d do a shift of deliveries for a local store.
“But then, the same week, things changed. The owner of the convenience store said there weren’t enough customers for me to work every day.
“I would get a call on any given day to say if I was needed. I couldn’t do it at all. Just waiting home in case you work for 20 euros can drive you crazy. My wife is in an even harder situation. She works as a cook but she hasn’t been paid for months.
“Now the boss says that no one will get paid for another five months. Nevertheless, she decided to keep on working, even if they don’t pay her for a whole year.
“Every day she goes to the other side of Athens and pays around 180 euros a month just for the fuel—yet she is not being paid. She doesn’t want to lose the job.
“Our wages have been cut, but bills are still going up, and the money we have to pay for our daughter’s education is still the same every month.”