Banks were closed across Greece on Monday of this week in the run-up to a planned referendum on Sunday.
Prime minister Alexis Tsipras called the shock referendum last week, as Greece’s creditors escalated their blackmail.
These institutions, formerly known as the “Troika”, are the European Union (EU), the European Central Bank (ECB) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
They’re demanding brutal austerity in exchange for extending Greece’s bailout programme, which expired on Tuesday of this week.
The programme amounts to lending the Greek government money for it to give back straight away as debt repayments.
After previous governments agreed to do the institutions’ dirty work, people elected Tsipras’ left wing Syriza party in January to break the cycle.
But it has made compromise after compromise. Last week Syriza agreed to deep cuts, privatisations and tax hikes worth £5.7 billion a year.
Finance minister Yanis Varoufakis described it as “austerian”—but the institutions demanded more.
IMF boss Christine Lagarde called for benefit cuts that would slash 60 percent off the poorest pensioners’ incomes. This would be particularly devastating as unemployment left whole families reliant on pensioners’ incomes.
The institutions also want to attack workers’ rights and rule out any debt restructuring. The referendum asks Greek workers whether to accept these proposals.
Christos Arghyris is a radiologist at Gennimatas hospital in Athens. He told Socialist Worker, “I’m convinced all my colleagues will be voting no.
“We’re facing the greatest blackmail in the world—and this is our chance to reject it. The hospitals are collapsing with lack of staff. If more cuts go through we won’t be able to treat everybody.
“We’re the worst paid doctors in Europe. Colleagues abroad are shocked when I tell them I work 110 hours a week for a salary of just £710 a month.”
Tens of thousands attended rallies calling for a no vote on Monday evening of this week, including in Athens’ central Syntagma Square.
Workers from all of Athens’ hospitals met on Monday evening and called on their unions to make sure people turning up without cash would be treated for free.
Christos said, “The alternative is to drop the debt—and workers have to take control.
“We thought the new government would pour billions into health, but we’ve been disappointed.
“Now it’s up to us to keep the hospitals open. That means a big no vote on Sunday—and strikes and demonstrations.
Bank worker says, ‘We have to go out on strike’
After queues began appearing at cash machines over the weekend, the Greek government declared banks closed and some capital controls from Monday until after the referendum.
This is intended to stop bankers taking their money out of the country. But bank clerk Panayotis Polydoras told Socialist Worker, “The real question is who runs the banks—who is imposing controls and why.
“There were capital controls in Cyprus in 2012. But ordinary people lost money, while bankers were still sneaking it abroad.
“We told our bosses there was a problem and the cash machines needed refilling. They said, ‘We are in charge, not you’.
“Now there are people who can’t get the money they need for things like medicine.”
The government has kept some bank branches open to serve pensioners. It has also suspended bill payments due to be made in the week and made public transport temporarily free.
But for people pushed to the brink of poverty these measures don’t go far enough.
Bank workers were meeting to discuss action as Socialist Worker went to press.
Panayotis said, “This is not going to be over in a week.
“There’s only one solution to stop big business making big withdrawals and to make sure wages and pensions get paid.
“We have to go on strike and get our unions to take control.”