In Athens, women cleaners reject austerity’s mess

595 cleaning women of the Greek Ministry of Finance have organized against austerity measures. They were there when Goldman Sachs coached the Greek authorities to hide the deficit with neoliberal “financial innovations” and then bet on it to make outrageous profits. They were there when the Greek authorities admitted that these “financial innovations” did not work and had to be paid for by the Greek population. They were also there when the Troika came to give the prescription of austerity measures. They cleaned the mess and emptied the trashcans.

One day they learned that their already meager salary was going to be amputated of 75% of its value. Without warning one morning they learned that they would have only 325.88 Euros to take care of their families, as many of them are single mothers and over 50 years old. Then they learned that they were to be replaced by contracted workers. For women, losing a job under these conditions means losing access to pension, health care, social protection. It means becoming part of the 62.8% unemployed women in Greece.

The women refused. They organized and showed the power of solidarity. Every day, they stand in front of the ministry and shout at the Troika personnel, at the government and all the financial puppets that come and go. They protest that they cannot be dismissed. They shout that they have rights that shouldn’t be wiped out just to serve their markets and their private interests. The Troika, the State and the stooges know that the cleaners’ meager salaries are not going to solve the Greek deficit. They remind everyone that the ministries and other public spaces are not in danger of not being cleaned anymore. Once again in the neoliberal order of things, public money will be transferred to private hands through contracted work. Ordinarily contracted cleaning work costs more, but women workers’ wages are lower since they either have no contracts or have to sign blank `contracts’ that make them vulnerable to total exploitation.

In 2009, Kostantina Kouvena, an immigrant cleaning woman who was a trade unionist for cleaning women union, was attacked with vitriolic acid because she was exposing these abuses. Her employer was a politician from the Social Democrat party, Pasok, who had created a service company. Making contracted work the norm is central to neoliberal labor policies, to the point that killing the resistance to this move is accepted.

The cleaning women haven’t stop fighting, and their tenacity has become an example for many in Greece, especially women who are more likely to be employed in the public sector.

Last March, the repression was even more violent as they were still demonstrating in front of the Ministry. Their solidarity has been an example that has inspired a larger European and international movement.

Over fifty thousand people from twenty-one countries went to Brussels this past Friday to demonstrate against austerity.  The message from the European Trade Union Confederation was clear: these policies are wrong and do more harm than good. Austerity measures don’t serve the people, they serve the financial markets that thrive on volatility and make victims, like the Greek population, pay the price of their gameThe cleaning women of Athens keep watch for us on the comings and goings of the virtuosi of austerity rhetoric. They tell them that they know who they are. They know that underpaid contracted cleaning/janitor works are the signs of the marginalization of women in a low wage debt economy and a sign of the rise of submissive policies that annihilate the public voice. And to that, the cleaning women of Athens say, “No!”

 

(Photo Credit: Autostraddle.com)

About Brigitte Marti

Brigitte Marti is an organizer researcher who has worked on reproductive rights and women's health initiatives in France and in the European Union and on women prisoners' issues in the United States. She is a member of Women Included, a new transnational feminist collective, that is part of the Women 7, a coalition that advocates for the inclusion of women's rights in the G7.