Health workers in two Athens hospitals were set to walk out on Wednesday of this week and march on the Ministry of Health.
It will be the first public sector strike in Greece since radical left party Syriza won January’s election.
Costas Kadarachias is a union secretary at Aghios Savvas cancer hospital. He told Socialist Worker, “Most of the workers here voted for Syriza to stop the austerity that has been imposed on Greece.
“But we know we can’t wait for the government. Our problems are getting worse every day—hospitals are understaffed, underfunded, with many facilities closed.”
Syriza’s leadership made promises to its voters—of major reforms to reverse the impact of austerity—but made promises to its creditors too. It agreed last month to continue with austerity measures in order to get an extension on Greece’s bailout.
The first law passed through parliament last week will restore
electricity to 150,000 of the poorest households. That will make a big difference—but it’s half the number promised.
Last week the European Central Bank (ECB) ruled out allowing Greek banks to lend the government money.
Panos Garganas, editor of Socialist Worker’s sister paper Worker’s Solidarity, explained, “This is how they are keeping the pressure up. It gives the message that there will be no funding for Greece unless it continues with austerity. And Syriza has no answer.
“Finance minister Yanis Varoufakis has made comments in the Italian press about a referendum on austerity. But this is an empty threat. There would be a lot of opposition, and it would cause problems for the government.”
The government has resorted to borrowing money from pension funds, and the reserves of hospitals and public services as a short term measure.
These were the same bodies hit in 2012 when the government effectively defaulted on some of its debt to public bodies while banks were bailed out. Raiding their reserves again risks squeezing already cash-strapped services.
Syriza presented the measure as a way of strengthening its hand in negotiations. But it could have the opposite effect.
“It moves the risk of any default away from the ECB and onto Greek pensions and hospitals,” Panos argued.
Even the previous Tory-led government had to recognise the damage its cuts had done to hospitals. Its budget included vague plans to create new jobs in health. Workers hope their strike will make sure Syriza turns them into reality.
Costas said, “We hope to show the way to other workers. With the left in government we need to be out on the streets.
“There will be a lot of negotiations with the government and the banks and the European Union.
“The important thing is that workers have the last word.”