Socialist Worker

'We want control of our lives and workplaces', Greek health workers speak out

by Dave Sewell in Athens
Issue No. 2460

Nurse Maria (left) and doctor Costas (centre)

Aghios Savvas cancer hospital workers. (Pic: Socialist Worker )


With just three days until Greece's austerity referendum, Europe’s rulers are ramping up their “project fear” about rejecting their latest deal.

But the message from workers is a resounding no. Cleaner Cleopatra told Socialist Worker, “We need to take Greece back into our own hands – if we back down now they will crush us.”

Health workers know the European Union (EU) and International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) proposed austerity package would only make a dire situation worse.

In Aglaia Kyriakou pediatric hospital, coping with staff, medicine and equipment shortages has become a way of life Nurse Efi told Socialist Worker, “Nothing good can come of another agreement.

“We've had to make a superhuman effort to make sure patients get treatment after the cuts in the previous ones.”

Social worker Giorgia

Social worker Giorgia (Pic: Socialist Worker )


Social worker Giorgia knows all about austerity’s devastating impact on Greek society. She told Socialist Worker, “People need support now more than ever—and workers are close to burning out.

“High unemployment and benefit cuts for people on low wages means children aren’t getting fed properly – a lot of them come to the hospital.

Suffering 

“The nurseries have been shut down, and many parents are also suffering psychological problems because of the crisis.”

The referendum is on another 8 billion euro austerity agreement—including an 80 percent cut to some disability benefits.

But mainstream politicians argue it’s really a referendum on EU membership –this is central to their “project fear”.

Efi said, “Some workers will vote yes because of the euro, but others will vote no because of everything else. I'd rather the euro than the drachma—but I'd also rather money went to the hospital instead of the capitalists.”

The anti-capitalist left has taken the issue head on, arguing to break with the EU and default on the bankers’ debt.

Hospital supply clerk Sakis agreed, “They say it will be a catastrophe if we leave, but we had the drachma for years before. The real catastrophe is what is happening now.”

Colony 

In the hospital pharmacy, chemists Vaso and Lina were deep in debate. Lina said, “Every new measure they impose is like a new dictatorship. They promised us an EU for the people—instead we've become a colony.

“But the question is what happens the next day. They say the banks will close, the pensions will go unpaid.

“My heart says to vote no, but I am not sure if I will vote.”

But Vaso said, “They are trying use threats and fear to impose a yes. All the EU leaders are united in trying to scare us. So are the media companies who want us to pay while they dodge tax. We have to say no to these people.”

Hospital workers have been fighting back for years—from strikes against cuts to blocking the Nazi Golden Dawn's attempt to run a “Greeks only” blood donation drive.

Radiographer Maria and trainee surgeon Zanneta –both members of the Greek Socialist Workers Party (SEK) – are trying to build on this militancy in campaigning for a no.

Trainee surgeon Zanneta

Trainee surgeon Zanneta (Pic: Socialist Worker )


Zanneta told Socialist Worker, “It’s clear this is a class vote. The ruling class are threatening that the banks will close and the medicine will run out unless we vote yes.

“On the other side the workers want to talk about what they can do.

“We’re having really political conversations about what to do with the EU and the debt—and about the need for workers' control.”

Concessions

The no vote leads in the polls. But the Syriza-led government has tried to galvanise support, while offering more concessions to the EU and IMF.

They made a new offer yesterday that agreed to virtually all of their creditor’s demands. Prime minister Alexis Tsipras even offered to call the referendum off in exchange for a new bailout programme—an offer German chancellor Angela Merkel flatly turned down.

Zanneta said, “The government isn't helping. Day after day it is just making people more confused. The battle is on and we have to win it.”

At the nearby Aghios Savvas cancer hospital, workers were set to hold a mass meeting this afternoon, Thursday, to decide on whether their union should call for a no vote.

They also want to make healthcare free—just as public transport has been since the banks were shut on Monday.

Doctor and union president Costas Kadarachias told Socialist Worker, “We have a tradition of fighting for free healthcare.

“Last year when the previous government tried to bring in a 25 euro fee for all treatments we held workers' assemblies and strikes to shut down the payment offices. They backed down within a week.”

The hospital has lost half its staff and 70 percent of its funding since the crisis. While the government has announced that people without health insurance should now get treatment, it’s raided hospitals' reserves to appease its creditors.

Nurse Maria said "We have to vote no – and it will be a no to all the agreements.

“We want free public healthcare for everyone. We want control of our lives and our workplaces – and after the referendum we will have to take to the streets to demand it.”


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