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.

A new beginning for Greece and for Europe starts today!

 

In Greece, the new government is bringing optimism to many. I talked with Sofia Tzitzikou the vice president of UNICEF Greece and a dedicated activist for health rights. As a pharmacist she became one of the key volunteers to run a community clinic in Athens that has served the population made destitute after the scandal of the speculative coup on Greece. The Troika was sent with no legitimacy to implement neoliberal structural adjustment program renamed austerity measures.

Sofia first said that the election of Syriza gave her a sentiment of optimism, although she was aware of external and internal powerful pressures from Capital, represented by investors and speculators of all sorts who participated to the destruction of Greece.

She described the reaction in Athens after the election as full of emotion rather than pure joy. “They could not believe what happened,” she said. The evening of the election some in the streets asked, “Is it a dream?” The crowd was not jubilant as for a soccer game. Instead of honking, there was a great lucidity that there will be no magic to recovery. Sofia senses that a new solidarity has been formed through the suffering of the past years. Actually today, 70% of Greeks are convinced that the new prime minister and his team will succeed.

Certainly the women cleaners of the finance minister were aware of this new solidarity. They resisted the pressure of the establishment and challenged the previous government of Antonis Samaras that envisioned privatization and complete removal of labor protection as the future for Greece. The Supreme Court was supposed to decide their case. Instead the new government of Alexis Tsipras re-employed them immediately. It also reestablished electricity to the 300 000 households who could not afford it and raised the minimum wage to the level it was before.

People have been unified in the darkness of unemployment and attacks against unions. In this context the health care system erased about 40 % of the population from the system, immediately depriving them of medical care. Women were not guaranteed any sexual or reproductive health. To the scandal of some, women not able to deliver their babies in a safe manner.

According to Sofia, the country is in ruins and needs to rebuild.

The new government’s first symbolic action was to remove the anti riot barricades that were placed in front of the parliament to block the anti austerity demonstrators. Another immediate measure was to stop the privatization of the public domains such as the ports of Piraeus and Thessaloniki and the electricity services. They also eliminated the co-pay in public hospitals. Then, the new government declared the end of “Xenia Zeus” a program reported by Human Rights Watch as an abusive crack down on migrants. These symbolic and people-oriented decisions brought confidence needed in order to continue the necessary changes.

Sofia’s only regret is that women don’t hold any of the key ministries of new government: “That is a handicap, I don’t want to be against but it would have been more positive.” Still, Tasia Christodoulopoulou, the new Migration Minister, wants to grant Greek citizenship to all children born in Greece to end this state of no rights for migrants’ children born in Greece.

Sofia recognized that to see Zoé Konstantopoulou becoming the youngest president of the parliament elected with the greatest number of votes in the history of Greece compensated a little for the minimal women’s representation in the government. Zoé Konstantopoulou has been active on every front since her first election at the parliament. She testified in the documentary “Canaries in the Coal Mine.”

As the president of the parliament she pledged to combat corruption. She wants to reopen judicial affairs that have been unlawfully forgotten. This would end the privileges that have degraded parliament over the past years. One example of this degradation is the armaments scandal, involving German companies, occurring while pension and salaries were being amputated. Konstantopoulou is calling for transparency and participation of the social actors and the removal of the formal elite that hold no parliamentary positions. She also will reconstitute the commission on the Nazi war reparations and German debt to Greece. Her program is ambitious but she has proven in the past that she pursues what she believes to be the best for the country.

Sofia expressed confidence but warned, “The feminist movement has even more responsibility now that it can organize. It is the right time to present propositions based on solidarity.” She recognized that solidarity in Europe is crucial against neoliberal powers. Greece is showing the rest of Europe that civil society is still alive and democratic and there is an alternative to the austerity measures and the rule of the market and its oligarchs.

Sofia explained that the urgency is the questions of women’s rights and protection as they have been the first victims of the austerity measures. This is why they are joining the European Caravan of the World March of Women that is “working to build a feminist, solidarity-based economy, one that alters existing patterns of production and reproduction, distribution and consumption”. Sofia Tzitzikou concluded, “Ca commence maintenant” (“It starts today!”)

 

(Photo Credit: Lefteris Piatarakis/AP)

Women cleaners and domestic workers confront violence against women

From Hong Kong to Qatar to Greece to the United States, domestic workers and women cleaners are under attack. They are under attack because they are women. In South Africa this year, domestic workers and women cleaners have confronted the attack head on.

Delia Adonis works as a cleaner in a mall in Cape Town. Last month, Adonis saw five men attack a sixth. She called the police, who intervened. She then went to the parking lot, where the five men encircled her, knocked her to the ground, and beat her. Throughout the assault, the men used racist and sexist epithets.

Adonis called the police and laid charges on the five men. It turns out they’re UCT students. Adonis claims that the police came to her and offered her money to drop the case. The officer allegedly said that the men were afraid of being kicked out of school. Adonis rejected the offer, and all it represented: “I’m really angry about this. I’m traumatised and still in pain. These youngsters verbally abuse us every weekend, and now this? I’m a mother of six – how would they feel if someone beat up their mothers like that? There was so much blood pouring from my face I couldn’t see. When I washed my face. I just thought to myself: ‘Boys, you can run but I leave you in the hands of the Lord’.”

Cynthia Joni works as a domestic worker in Cape Town. One morning, Joni was walking to work, when a white man leapt out of his car, slapped and threw her to the ground. She screamed, and he drove away. He was later identified and charged. His `explanation’ was that he mistook Cynthia Joni for a sex worker and `snapped.’ To no one’s surprise, it turns out that Cynthia Joni is not the first woman he’s assaulted. Now others are coming forth.

While the toxic mix in both the physical violence and then the subsequent violence that passes for explanation are important, the women’s response is more important. Domestic workers, sex workers, women workers reject the violence and call on the State to address it … forcefully and immediately.

Gloria Kente is a live-in domestic worker in Cape Town. Last year, her employer’s then-boyfriend got angry with her, allegedly grabbed her, spat in her face, and screamed a racist epithet at her. Kente called the police and had him charged with both assault and a violation of her human and civil rights. She called him out for hate speech and harassment. When the man tried to extend `an apology’, Kente said, “NO!” If an apology meant not going to court, not having the State fully involved, then Gloria Kente wanted no part of it.

Today’s stories echo the past. Over six years ago, four white students at the University of the Free State videotaped their assault on five cleaners, Mothibedi Molete, Mankoe Phororo, Emmah Koko, Nkgapeng Adams and Sebuasengwe Ntlatseng. The video went viral, as did disgust, and the cleaners, four women and one man, fought back. This June, the five cleaners launched their own company.

Today, however, domestic workers and women cleaners are making demands on the State. Domestic workers and women cleaners reject the protectionism that would see them as a separate class in need of help. They are workers with rights, women with rights, and humans with rights. As women workers increasingly demand their civil, labor, and human rights be respected, they consolidate power. The struggle continues.

 

(Photo Credit: Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust)