Radio WIBG: Lauren Tooker on student debt and women bearing the brunt

At the CADTM Summer University, the workshop on private debt and resistance broached the system of private debt as debt that is forced on people as public debt is forced on States. The workshop covered micro lending in Morocco, mortgage loan based eviction in Spain, financialization processes in Eastern Europe, and student loans in the UK.

Lauren Tooker talked to us about the student loan crisis in the UK. In 2012 a reform swept the universities in the UK introducing an important increase in education fees. This reform came with a system of loans specially designed to create a source of profit at the expense of equality in education. With a student debt system, women and minorities are losing space and rights.

The United Kingdom is the first European Country that has followed the path of the United States in the direction of for-profit education. As the scandal of the student unfair loan system in the United States is becoming more visible, finally hitting the news, the UK students have decided to organize and take action. Lauren came to the CADTM to link their struggle to the anti debt movement in general.

Resistance comes with conscientization, building spaces and organizing. Listen to Lauren Tooker.

(Recording by Brigitte Marti) (Debt Strike image: The Guardian)

OXI! Greek women say NO to the Dictatorship of the Debt

For the last five years, Women In and Beyond the Global has maintained a series on Greek women, and women in Greece, during the ongoing `crisis’. These pieces have been written by Brigitte Marti, Sonia Mitralia, Dan Moshenberg. We’ve also provided translation for a video, Canaries in the Coalmine.

Given the weekend’s referendum, we thought it would be a good idea to put those pieces that focus exclusively on Greece together. The struggle continues!

Asylum-seeker Mandana Daneshnia and her daughter haunt democracy. Dan Moshenberg. October 24, 2010. http://www.womeninandbeyond.org/?p=710

We are all canaries in the coal mine. Brigitte Marti. December 4, 2013. http://www.womeninandbeyond.org/?p=6613

Deprivation in Greece … just an emotional issue??? Brigitte Marti. December 30, 2013. http://www.womeninandbeyond.org/?p=6670

Violence Against Women as a strategic weapon in a time of class war in Greece. Sonia Mitralia. January 3, 2014. http://www.womeninandbeyond.org/?p=6676

Women’s rights, labor rights did not cause the Greek mess. Brigitte Marti. February 2, 2014. http://www.womeninandbeyond.org/?p=7989

The urgency of an independent women’s movement against debt and austerity measures. Sonia Mitralia. February 4, 2014 http://www.womeninandbeyond.org/?p=8146

In Greece, from debt to prison to death. Brigitte Marti. March 30, 2014. http://www.womeninandbeyond.org/?p=11293

In Athens, women cleaners reject austerity’s mess. Brigitte Marti. April 6, 2014. http://www.womeninandbeyond.org/?p=11785

The people do not celebrate Greece’s return to the debt market. Brigitte Marti. April 21, 2014. http://www.womeninandbeyond.org/?p=12642

Greek cleaning women demand an end to austerity. Dan Moshenberg. June 14 2014. http://www.womeninandbeyond.org/?p=15727

Solidarity with Greek women cleaners against austerity! Brigitte Marti. July 7, 2014. http://www.womeninandbeyond.org/?p=15768

In Greece, austerity builds its own gulag. Dan Moshenberg. July 8, 2014. http://www.womeninandbeyond.org/?p=15772

Cleaners: A handful of women show the way! Sonia Mitralia. August 6, 2014. http://www.womeninandbeyond.org/?p=15831

The experiment continues, and we are all still canaries in the coal mine. Brigitte Marti. November 19, 2014. http://www.womeninandbeyond.org/?p=16064

A new beginning for Greece and for Europe starts today! Brigitte Marti. February 18, 2014. http://www.womeninandbeyond.org/?p=18325

Appeal to support the resisting Greek people and its Truth Commission on Public Debt. Sonia Mitralia. May 27, 2015 http://www.womeninandbeyond.org/?p=18751

Across Europe women campaign against the Dictatorship of the Debt. Brigitte Marti. June 15, 2015. http://www.womeninandbeyond.org/?p=18866

In Greece, the women cleaners show the way! Brigitte Marti. June 25, 2015. http://www.womeninandbeyond.org/?p=18914

#OXI! #GreeceIsTheWord!

 

(Photo Credit: Getty Images / Andreas Solaro) (Photo Credit: Getty Images / Christopher Furlong)

In Greece, the women cleaners show the way!

Ministry of Finance laid-off women cleaners react as they watch the new Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis announcing that the government will re-hire them, in Athens, on January 28, 2015

In Athens, the women cleaners of the Ministry of Finance knew that what was thrown in the trash was to be disappeared. When the Troika ordered that women like them be replaced by contracted workers in order to save Greece, they knew that their lives were supposed to end up in the trash cans. The women cleaners knew that the structural adjustment programs imposed on Greece with ice cold effrontery were as those that had been imposed catastrophically on many other emergent countries. The Preliminary Report of the Truth Committee on Public Debt has established enough elements to assert the dual role of the Troika: bail out the foreign banks; continue the destruction of public services.

The Troika was formed to extend and legitimize the neoliberal project of transferring private debt onto the public sector.

The public sector means us, and, among us, women are the most affected. The women cleaners knew that the crisis of the public debt was a way to bring ordinary people to their knees. They knew that corruption and fraud were being rewarded and aggravated with the memoranda of the Troika. They knew about the corporate media campaign to “portray the population as deservers of their own wrongdoing.”

Their action in front of the minister lasted until the election of Syriza, and epitomizes the resistance to the looting of Greece by this political system of debt. They already discovered the fictitious contracts with Siemens, German French and US banks and speculators. Thanks to bribes from armaments corporations like Thales, Greece boasted the highest expenditure on armaments of the EU countries, proportionate to the size of its economy. The State bought Leopard tanks without contracts and even bought F16 fighter jets from Lockheed Martin … without the engines.

The Olympic games of 2004 were overbilled using outrageous interest rates. Siemens “loaned” its security system, which never worked, and the list of fraudulent and deceitful contracts is long.

The Preliminary Report also describes the falsification of public deficit and public debt using financial techniques to inflate public debt in 2009. The illegal private contracts disappeared from view, and what was left was that people of Greece had to be punished for this dubious public debt. Déjà vu!

The preliminary report defines four types of debt: illegitimate, illegal, odious, and unsustainable. It concluded that Greece’s public debt was an assembly of the four. It infringed on the fundamental human rights of the Greek population. The Preliminary Report clearly established the impact of the measures, especially for women and migrants: “The crisis hit disproportionately women and migrants increasing involuntary part time work and unfair dismissals due to pregnancy.” The Troika made the world believe that it was moral to cut hospital and health care spending to honor military contracts; that it was moral to send people to their death for an economic shell game. The list of negative impacts of the “bail out” program on human rights is equally long.

The women cleaners knew that all along! They fought with courage to re humanize their lives along with the lives of many, our lives!

Let’s remind the creditor-embezzlers represented by the Troika that we are not fooled and they cannot deceive the civil population anymore, although they are still trying. The Truth Committee on Public Debt is an important process, which can only succeed with popular mobilization. The women cleaners of the Ministry of Finance showed the way.

Across Europe women campaign against the Dictatorship of the Debt

In March the European Forum for Alternatives met. With austerity measures imposed over the populations of Europe under the fabricated argument of the need to repay a fictitious public debt, the solidarity among Europeans is growing more organized, especially with the rise of major feminist and feminine voices in Greece and Spain.

Among the many speakers, Zoe Konstantopoulou, recently elected Speaker of the Vouli (Greek Parliament), presented the stakes for Europe as her country has been the theater of the most odious experimentation of European Structural Adjustment Programs, symbolized by austerity. As she said, the neoliberal order reigns in the EU and has created its own destructive weapon with the Troika. It wants to neutralize all opposition and diffuse its power based on debt anxiety.

The forum’s many workshops brought the voices of women who have fought for their rights, including Giorgia Ekonomou, one of the Greek Finance Ministry cleaners; the representatives of the hair cutters of the 57 bvd Sebastopol in Paris; and the hotel chambermaids who won recognition for their workers’ rights.

In her speech about the audit of the Greek debt, a true European issue, Zoe Konstantopoulou acknowledged these feminist battles as well as the brutal destruction of human rights that came as the result of the Troika memoranda. The battle against austerity measures is also a transnational feminist battle.

Regrettably, Zoe Konstantopoulou is the only woman that has a prominent position in Greece since the election of Syriza. Still, as Yorgos Mitralias of the Greek Committee Against the Debt told me, she was not supposed to exist and so is a gift fallen from heaven. She is the voice of reason for many. She wants to shatter corruption, especially financial corruption, while not losing the purpose of political representation as the means of defending the civil society with all its members. “In Greece, we have a systematic infringement on human rights, social rights, worker’s rights on democratic rule of law, on the welfare state,” declared Zoe Konstantopoulou when she was first elected to the parliament in 2012.

Last April in Rome, Zoe Konstantopoulou was keynote speaker at the conference of the European Union parliaments. She began by questioning the title of the session, “A discussion about the Continent of Fundamental Rights. A Europe of Freedom, Solidarity, and Security.” She said, “Is it a discussion about the past, the present, or the future? Is it a discussion about Europe as it used to be, as it is or as it should be? Is it a discussion about the whole of Europe or about part of it?” She remarked that Europe as expressed by its executives, banking and financial sectors, seems to have lost its way during the five last years. She questioned the emphasis on numerical and economic estimation that have been proven to be gross miscalculations, and she ranked competitiveness way below human rights in the European hierarchy.

Her speech addressed the dictatorship of debt: she explained that State debt, as a new European epidemic, is being used as a pretext but also as a tool to retreat the State from its responsibility vis-à-vis human rights and democratic rights. She sees State debt as an extortion mechanism and reminded her audience of the extraordinary trail of misery and death that austerity policies provoked.

Konstantopoulou also reaffirmed the importance of an uncorrupt parliament, a place where no forceful interventions should occur. Since 2005 the Greek parliament has been the theater of all kinds of violence with 800 pages of laws pushed by the Troika, targeting basic human rights, public services, and shielding financial crimes and tax evasion. Just recently a stand off with the Minister of the Interior Panoussis took place with the intrusion of police forces in the parliament that she condemned.

With her anticorruption stand, Zoe Konstantopoulou has become the target of all sorts of attacks including from members of her own government. According to Yorgos Mitralia, But the campaign against her is reaching a new level punctuated with sexist slurs. So far the support to Syriza and Alexis Tsipras’ government is strong with 65-70% approval rate. Although it is a critical moment with the audit of the debt in progress and the hard negotiations with the Eurogroup, Zoe’s initiatives are well supported by the people of Greece and even beyond Greece’s borders

Meawhile, in Spain, three prominent political positions have been won by progressive women in the last elections with the success of Manuela Carmena, the new mayor of Madrid, of Ada Colau in Barcelona, and of Monica Oltra in the Valencia region. All three got their votes for their strong stand against financial corruption, and for defending social consciousness, the only way to reduce the impact of neoliberal totalitarian austerity promises, begetting inequalities, the plague of women’s lives. The movement is growing and a new solidarity is forming in which women are playing a key role.

Zoe Konstantopoulou addresses the European Forum for Alternatives

 

(Lead Photo Credit: http://kaosenlared.net) (Photo Credit: http://www.european-left.org)

Life & Times of Ms K

 

Ms K is dead. Her death was exemplary. A woman enters prison for the first time, a troublesome woman, and within weeks is found hanging in her cell. Here’s her story, as recounted in Learning from PPO Investigations: self-inflicted deaths of prisoners – 2013/14, the most recent report from the Prison and Probation Ombudsman for England and Wales:

Ms K had a history of mental ill health. After a long period of stability she was admitted to a psychiatric hospital after a number of attempts to kill herself.

She was discharged to the care of the community team but was arrested almost immediately, when she threatened to kill her former partner.

She was remanded to prison after a doctor decided she would not benefit from further hospital treatment. It was her first time in prison.

A nurse immediately began ACCT procedures and recommended constant supervision. However, prison staff set four observations an hour.

She tried to hang herself twice in the first evening, and was moved to a safer cell and constantly supervised. Nearly two weeks after arriving in prison she was referred to a psychiatrist, who did not believe she should be in prison and immediately began to organise a transfer back to hospital. Tragically, Ms K died before this could take place.

Frequent ACCT case reviews were held and most were multi-disciplinary. However, there were several occasions when prison managers chose not to follow, and sometimes not to ask, the advice of clinical staff. Clinicians said that their opinion was not listened to, which was particularly troubling for a prisoner with such severe mental health problems.

Ms K was difficult to manage and her moods were unpredictable, extreme and liable to change quickly. She made a number of serious and determined attempts to hang herself.

An enhanced case review process could have helped ensure more consistency in the staff involved in her care, and made sure all input was given sufficient weight.

For the Ombudsman researchers, Ms K’s case is “one example” of the “failure” to “consider enhanced case review process” when a prisoner’s history suggests “wide ranging and deep seated problems.” Ms K’s death was, and is, exemplary.

Last year, prison suicides in England and Wales reached a seven-year high. The majority of prisoners who engaged in suicide were White men. For men and women of all group, hanging was the preferred method of dying. Ms K’s death was, and is, exemplary.

There is no tragedy here, and, despite the Ombudsman’s best intentions, there is nothing to learn. Ms K’s death is a miniscule part of a global assembly line at which employees dutifully stand and wait for the next body to ignore. The prisons of England and Wales, with their mounting piles of prisoners’ corpses, are a tiny part of the global work of necropower: “I have put forward the notion of necropolitics and necropower to account for the various ways in which, in our contemporary world, weapons are deployed in the interest of maximum destruction of persons and the creation of death-worlds, new and unique forms of social existence in which vast populations are subjected to conditions of life conferring upon them the status of living dead … Under conditions of necropower, the lines between resistance and suicide, sacrifice and redemption, martyrdom and freedom are blurred.”

Ms K is dead. Her death is an example. Nothing more.

 

(Image Credit: Open Democracy / National Offender Management Service)

Why the number of prisoners committing suicide rose so sharply last year

 

Last year, prison suicides in England and Wales reached a seven-year high, according to the Howard League for Penal Reform, the Prison and Probation Ombudsman for England and Wales, and the House of Commons Justice Committee. For all three, this dubious accomplishment parallels cuts in prison staff, harsher prison regimes, and various `efficiencies’ imposed across the so-called justice system. Add to that cuts in public health and housing services. Austerity kills.

The Ombudsman’s most recent report, Learning from PPO Investigations: self-inflicted deaths of prisoners – 2013/14, found a 64% increase in self-inflicted deaths in custody over the previous year. While that number captured a bit of attention, here’s a paragraph that many overlooked: “There were self-inflicted deaths at 53 different prisons, 56% more than the previous year. This included prisons where there had not been self-inflicted deaths for many years, sometimes ever.” Under austerity measures, the Empire of Prison Suicides has expanded rapidly and hungrily.

The Empire has expanded both geographically and demographically. Who are the ones who perished `at their own hands’? “In 2013/14, the prisoners who died were significantly less likely to have been convicted or charged with violent and sexual offences. There was also a significant increase in deaths among those serving short sentences of less than six months.”

Most of the prisoners who committed suicide were in their first month of custody. More had spent less than two hours out of their cell in the days before their deaths. Not `hardened’ nor `violent’ nor `in for long’. In other words, more or less ordinary people.

Frances Cook, Executive Director of the Howard League, noted, “No one should be so desperate whilst they are in the care of the state that they take their own life. The numbers hide the true extent of misery inside prisons and for families. It is particularly tragic that teenagers and other young people have died by their own hand in our prisons and we should all be ashamed that this happened.”

The tragedy is in the deaths, not the ages, and we should indeed all be ashamed. The State is not ashamed. As a Justice Committee report last week noted, “The prison system in England and Wales has one of the highest incarceration levels in Europe, standing at 149 per 100,000 people.” The report noted that when Justice Secretary Grayling was presented with the rising tide of suicide, his response was to blame society. On the question of suicides, the Justice Committee report concluded, “The Ministry told us they had looked hard for evidence of factors which could be causing an increase in suicide rates, self-harm and levels of assault in prisons. Worryingly, they had not managed to arrive at any hypothesis as to why this has taken place. In our view it is not possible to avoid the conclusion that the confluence of estate modernisation and re-configuration, efficiency savings, staffing shortages, and changes in operational policy, including to the Incentives and Earned Privileges scheme, have made a significant contribution to the deterioration in safety.”

We should all be ashamed, and we should all be worried, worried about States that have looked and refuse to see, refuse to see unavoidable conclusions and, even more, refuse to see the humanity in each of us. Global leaders of incarceration, such as the United Kingdom and the United States, have gained their ascendancy by stuffing more and more people into prisons and jails, and then expressing shock and dismay when the conditions of confinement push prisoners to self-harm and suicide. A war on crime turns whole populations into `a problem’ and entire neighborhoods into lands belonging to no one. It’s a kind of genocide by erasure.

In the United Kingdom last year, almost all those prisoners who killed themselves did so by hanging. They turned the belittling spectacle of their erasure into one last spectacle of sacrifice. While the State spokespeople express dismay, and the State accountants chalk it up as another efficiency, the various gods of justice and humanity look on and weep.

 

(Image Credit: rs21.org.uk)

The experiment continues, and we are all still canaries in the coal mine

When Greek public debt exploded in 2010 some started asking, “Why Greece why now?”

The documentary “Les canaries dans la mine” (the Canaries in the Coal Mine), initially released in French in 2013, incorporates many voices from unionists, community health center managers, students, to journalists and politicians and more. They all conclude that what happened to Greece is an experiment to dismantle public services and democratic ideals. As Zoe says in the documentary: “Greece is a laboratory for those who think that human rights, human existence can be subjected to experiments.”

I recently talked with Sophia Tzitzikou on the occasion of the release of the documentary in English (with English subtitles). She runs a health community center in Athens and was interviewed in the documentary. I asked how the situation has evolved since the filming of the documentary: “It is worse.” As a result of the inhuman austerity measures that have destroyed public services and employment, poverty in on the rise. “There are no policies in favor of the poor, and public hospitals continue to be shut down.” The situation is especially dire for psychiatric hospitals: “Three of them were recently closed in Athens. The patients were simply sent to the streets.”

As a member of Greece’s UNICEF delegation, Sophia emphasized, “36% off Greek children now live in poverty, with 340 000 of them in conditions of social exclusion.” Her tone expressed her anger, as she added that the abortion rate has never been so high. Sophia explained, “Women simply don’t want to bring life into this misery.” Not to forget that in Greece giving birth used to be covered within a decent public health care system that has been taken apart by austerity measures imposed by The Troika, the financiers of Europe.

Even these numbers hardly describe the new reality. As Sophia said, “We have the feeling that our lives don’t belong to us anymore. Human rights are violated everyday, rights to work, rights to health, rights to have children, rights to live. We are now removed from all of that.”

The experiment continues. Puerto Rico is one of the last casualties of this neoliberal attack on the public and its services. This time, the order to enforce austerity measures on the US territory came directly from Wall Street with no shame. The credit-rating agencies like Standard & Poor set the tone as they “downgraded” the territory. Then, using the same tools as the Troika did in Greece, the remedy was made self-evident: cut public budgets, close public schools and reduce public services. The US financial markets have their grip on the island. Again, unions have been equally targeted. We see the same tools being used to discard public services over and over.

Watch the Canaries in the Coal Mine, it will inform you about these neoliberal attacks on workers, women and the public at large…us. We are all still canaries in the coal mine.

 

(Video Credit: YouTube/Yannick Bovy)

Convergence, tous et toutes ensemble, resistons, all together we can resist

La Maternite des Lilas

On September 23d, an important demonstration was organized in front of the Minister of Health in Paris. The demonstration was organized by the movement Convergences of the hospitals fighting against Hosterity (Convergences des hopitaux en lutte contre l’Hosterity), which gathers together personnel from public hospitals associated with numerous associations defending women’s reproductive rights. They coined the term hosterity to indicate the strong correlation between the disassembling of the public hospital and the austerity measures that have shattered public services throughout Europe.

The neoliberal grip on the European population through the implementation of austerity measures has opened the way to uncontrollable privatization of hospitals and health care services. In Germany, Greece, the Netherlands, Spain, France and beyond, public hospitals are sold to private firms or health care systems. In particular, the French health care service, once praised for its efficiency and quality, has been the target of a series of neoliberal restructurations.

In 2012, the Chairman of the European Bank, Mario Draghi stated that the European Social Model was gone. What he meant was that under the aegis of neoliberal ideologues the rhetoric of needed reforms was going to force a drastic change for the public and its services. The immediate target has been the reproductive health sector, followed by other health care services.

The story of the maternity hospital of les Lilas epitomizes the gendered techniques employed to disassemble a solidarity system and the need for an active and political convergence of resisting forces. And so the Convergence movement was created.

On September 23d the women of the maternity hospital arrived with their now famous banderole that says, “La maternité des Lilas vivra”. The Maternity hospital of Les Lilas will live. The determination of its personnel is remarkable. They know first hand the accounting manipulations that have strangled their department and have denounced this attack on public health care. Giving birth is free of charge by national law, and so the way to attack this principle was to create administrative constraints and force many local maternity departments to close down and send women to maternity “factories” with fewer and fewer midwives and ob-gyn.

I talked with head of the department Marie Laure Brival and the midwives and the nurses, and the members of the supporting collective. In 2009, said Marie Laure Brisal, the budget for the necessary renovations was agreed on by the experts and signed by the Minister of Health. Then, under the same government, the restructuration of the health administration created the conditions through this new health plan for a retroactive review of this budget. The goal was to create big health structures in which ob-gyn departments had to be rearranged in factory-like structures with fewer personnel, and more deliveries and other reproductive services. In France, maternity hospitals take care of delivering babies as well as contraception and abortion services since both are what women need.

The maternity hospital les Lilas is located in a populous suburb of Paris and provides personal non-threatening service to women. The dedication of the staff to the comfort of women has been a model for many.

“Our fight has been going on for the past four years and has taken a national dimension, we receive support from everywhere. They even come from beyond the French borders from all over Europe” said Marie Laure, adding, “They fought with obstinacy and elegance.” When candidate to the presidency of France, Francois Hollande gave his support to the fight and promised that Les Lilas would remain open. “Unfortunately,” said Maris Laure Brival, “Political statements do not last long.”

The midwives told me that they were exhausted. Besides providing an excellent and peaceful environment, they have to organize and continue the actions in every way possible. I talked with women who have been patients there and all explained that it was a memorable experience.

Having just won a battle with the guarantee that they will not be absorbed by a bigger structure, they still have to obtain the complete funds to continue to put women first in a maternity hospital.

The bureaucratic structure Regional Health Authority have been operating since April 1 2010, Although they were presented as a necessary tool to enhance the health care system efficiency, their real function was to rationalize in a financial/accounting manner the delivery of care, in other words reduce social expenditures.

The American for-profit health care system is becoming the norm. The most universal systems are being transformed with the usual neoliberal tools that have the capacity of turning social responsibility into a violent arithmetic of profitability and deficits reduction. With this logic, the rhetoric of competitive enterprise and dehumanized factory production is applied to places of care.

In this context the struggle of the maternity hospital des Lilas is emblematic of the fight of women against the impoverishment of their lives with an overall continuously contested reproductive rights and health. Women are enormously affected by austerity measures or hosterity. First, they fill the ranks of poor workers, an expanding category. Women are overwhelmingly employed in care facilities, 49.8% of the public sector employment in France. In addition, when public care services are curtailed, women become unpaid care providers with all the consequences that implies. Finally, the restructuration of the reproductive health structures that are being pushed with this Hosterity represents an enormous set back for the entire health care system.

Last week, the demonstrators reaffirmed that health and social protection are not for sale. The convergence is broad. Other movements were represented from the struggle against austerity measures in Greece to the Spanish struggle for reproductive and health rights. Solidarities are being formed against the fragmentation of the civil society that characterizes the neoliberal order with its rhetoric of competition. Marie Laure Brival took the microphone and ended her speech with Tous ensemble resistons (all together we can resist) and the crowd repeated it several times. We are not competing we are cooperating against the neoliberal order!

Cleaners: A handful of women show the way!

 

Following 11 months of relentless hard struggle, 595 public sector cleaners have become the embodiment, the symbol, the soul, the life itself of the most determined resistance against the politics of austerity in Greece. These women have become “political subjects” and the leadership of the current resistance movement in its entirety, having the guts to face up to such powerful enemies as the Greek government, the Central European Bank, the European Commission and the IMF.

For 11 months of struggle, these cleaners have set themselves against the government and the TROIKA and become their main enemy, having short-circuited the implementation of the austerity measures and having a constant presence on the political scene through the mass media. Meanwhile, the opponents of the politics of austerity still treat these fighting cleaners as though they are not political subjects.

From the moment the Troika-imposed austerity measures appeared, the women came out en mass onto the streets, and their resistance displays its own dynamic, with its own specificit rich in political lessons.

In the four years of austerity politics which have transformed Greece into a pile of social, economic and above all human ruins, few amongst us have spoken of the lives of the women and even less about their struggles against the diktats of the TROIKA. It was therefore to be expected that public opinion would be shocked by this exemplary fight, executed exclusively by women. But is this fight really so shocking?

Women have participated en mass in the 26 general strikes. In the “movement of the indignant” they occupied city squares, set out camps, demonstrated. They mobilised at the front line for the occupation and the independent running of ERT. Acting in an exemplary manner, they became the soul of the strike committees of the universities’ admin staff against the “reserve pool” policy, (ie those to be sacked after 8 months, at 75% of their normal salary). 25 000 public servants, majority women, will be the victims of staff cuts in the public services. Women alos form the vast majority of the volunteers in the Solidarity Movement and the self-managed solidarity health structures that are trying to deal with the human crisis and the collapse of health services.

The mass participation of women in the resistance movements against the demolition of the welfare state and against the politics of austerity is not surprising, and it did not happen by accident. First of all, women find themselves at the eye of the austerity storm. The dismantling of the welfare state and of its public services is damaging their lives; forming the majority of the civil servants and of the main users of public services, women are doubly hit by all cuts. They have therefore one thousand reasons not to accept this historic deterioration of their living standards, akin to a return to the 19th century.

It is true that at the beginning women were not differentiated as “women – political subjects”, participating as they were in the same demands and the same forms of action with the men within the various movements. They were simply participating in large numbers.

However, already within the framework of the pioneering struggle against gold extraction at SCOURIES in Chalkidiki, taking on the Canadian multi-national ELDORADO GOLD, the women were rapidly being differentiated through their specific forms of action and their radicalism. The press and popular perceptions ignored the significance of their gender identity in the way they were fighting, but not the police did. Quite the opposite, the MATs (Greece’s special riot control police units) targeted mainly women, using savage and selective measures in order to terrorise the whole population through them and eradicate any form of disobedience and any resistance movement.

Women were imprisoned, legally persecuted, and subjected to violence and humiliation, even “sexual” degradations specifically adjusted to their bodies and their gender.

In the following year women took more initiatives and developed their own forms of action.

It all started when, in order to implement the harshest part of the austerity program and comply with the terms imposed on it by the “lenders”, the government targeted, in advance of anybody else, the cleaners at the Ministry of Economic Development, the Inland Revenue and the Customs offices. It placed them on “reserve lists” since last August (which means that for 8 months they would be paid only three-quarters of their salary of 550 Euros per month, and then be sacked).

The government followed the same tactics as in SCOURIES. It started by targeting the weakest and those with the least chance of getting support, ie the cleaners, to be followed by the bulk of the employees, the 25,000 civil servants to be made redundant. And it was timed at the moment when the resistance movement was getting exhausted after the relentless austerity measures, with many activists getting demoralised, depleted and forced to try and solve their own problems individually.

The government believed that, with this group of workers, ie poor women, of “lower class”, pay levels around 500 euros per month and, as they assumed, not very intelligent (which explains the origin of the cleaners’ slogan “we are cleaners, not idiots”), they could sort them out quickly and squash them like worms.

The target was to privatise cleaning work as a gift to the private cleaning contractors. These mafia-like contractors, known as tax-evasion champions, would then re-employ them at c200euros per month (ie 2 Euros an hour), with almost non-existent security and no employment protection rights, practically equivalent to slave labour.

These women, sacked from their jobs, sacrificed to the man-eating tendencies of the TROIKA, these women of 45 to 57 years of age, many mothers in single parent households, divorcees, widows, over-indebted, with children, unemployed husbands, or caring for disabled dependants, with no access to “early” pensions after 20 years, and without a chance of finding another job, decided not to give in. They decided to take control of their lives in their own hands.

And so we’ve got a handful of women who decided to change the established forms of action adopted by the traditional trade unions. Some have taken the initiative and organised themselves for themselves, with a group of cleaners at their core, who had already fought battles 10 years ago and won significant victories. They have worked hard and they have woven a web that has acquired national dimensions.

 

(Photo Credit: CADTM.org)

In Greece, austerity builds its own gulag

Korydallos Prison Hospital ward

Austerity loves prisons. From the United States, where debtors prisons are seeing a return, to Australia and the United Kingdom, where immigration prisons choke with people and atrocities, austerity loves its prisons. In Greece, austerity has built its very own gulag, out of prison hospitals, immigration prisons, prisons within prisons, and the free floating fear of going to prison for indebtedness, inability, or any of the other `failings’ that are part and parcel of being human.

But this year, the State may have to start paying its debts, not to multinational agencies and stock brokers but rather to ordinary human beings.

The Korydallos Prison Complex is Greece’s main prison. The Korydallos Prison hospital is the only prison hospital in Greece. In February, hospital inmates went on a hunger strike, which included refusing medications. The vast majority of the Korydallos hospital prisoners are HIV positive. Their complaint was simple: inhuman overcrowding. Korydallos prison hospital is meant to have no more than 60. It currently houses over 200. Prisoners’ testimony, and leaked photographs and videos, describe the place as a hellhole. They’re right. People come in and get lost in the crowd and often die there: “There’s a 23-year-old who’s already been here for a month without getting a check-up. We enter the hospital with a medical condition or a disability and leave with a chronic illness. Do you know why you don’t hear of deaths in prisons? Because when someone is near death, they move him to a public hospital. That’s where his death is recorded.”

Many of those in the hospital are awaiting trial. Many others are in for minor offences, and many others are in for survival economic offenses: “We’re human beings. Many of us are in prison for financial crimes; we haven’t done anything violent. We don’t understand why we’re being treated like this.” Austerity loves prisons, and Greek austerity loves a good gulag.

On June 26, the European Court of Human Rights decided that Greece had violated the rights of Mariana de los Santos and Angela de la Cruz, two women from the Dominican Republic who had been arrested as undocumented residents. The two lodged a complaint concerning the conditions of their imprisonment in Thessaloniki and in Athens. In Thessaloniki, the cell was overcrowded, and the amount of money allocated was insufficient to purchase a meal. In Athens, along with overcrowding, “they described numerous sanitary and hygiene problems, particularly the fact that there had been only a single shower and a single toilet for all of the female detainees.” Overcrowding, hunger, debt, and no facilities: austerity loves its immigration prisons.

On June 23, prisoners across Greece started a hunger strike that went on for over ten consecutive days. Along with overcrowding and the general architecture of despair, the prisoners were, and are, protesting new laws that create a new kind of maximum-security prison, called type-C prison. These are designed to house the `most dangerous of the dangerous,’ but that’s a fluid concept. It includes “terrorists”, who more often than not are young militant anarchists; members of “criminal organizations”, such as the Golden Dawn, and “prisoners who lead mutinies or hunger strikes like the one under way at the moment.”

Prisoners call C-type prisons the Greek Guantanamo: “a Greek ‘Guantanamo Bay’, a prison within a prison, without leaves, without visits, without tomorrow”. The gulag is national and global: “We start a mass hunger strike in all prisons across Greece. We claim our rights, and we fight to remain humans, instead of human shadows locked up and forgotten into despair.”

Prison guards are also on strike because of overcrowding. According to the guards, the current average on any given shift is one guard to 500 prisoners. Austerity hates workers, loves prisons.

From the cleaning women of the Greek Ministry of Finance to the Kordyallos Prison hospital to the immigrant detention prisons to all the prisons, the cry is the same: “We claim our rights, and we fight to remain humans, instead of human shadows locked up and forgotten into despair.”

 

(Photo Credit: http://greece.greekreporter.com)