Tag Archives: Greek public sector

An underground resistance in Athens

metrostairsThe Athens metro is one of the cleanest, safest, cheapest, fastest and most punctual subway systems anywhere in the world. It is a precision timepiece in a country full of malfunctioning cuckoo clocks.

Used by about 650,000 passengers a day and accommodating more than 400 million rides a year, it is the 31st busiest metro system internationally and one of the few shining legacies of the 2004 Olympics. The ability of the Athens metro to operate so smoothly below ground when there is such inefficiency above ground should be a source of fascination.

Such philosophical musings have been set aside for the time being, though, as the metro has become the battleground between striking employees and a government intent on reducing their wages as it creates a single pay structure for public sector employees. Stuck in the middle of this dispute are thousands of commuters: people who have lost their jobs over the last few years as well as others with jobs but whose wages have been slashed.

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Mythmakers and problem solvers

Illustration by Manos Symeonakis for Cartoon Movement http://www.cartoonmovement.com/p/6035

A few years ago, Greece’s slogan for attracting tourists was “Live your myth in Greece.” The onset of the economic crisis seems to have given license to some people to make up their own myths about Greece. At regular intervals since 2009, they have ignored the complexities and various – domestic and international – causes of the Greek crisis to boil it down to a stodge of clichés, stereotypes, falsehoods and misinterpretations (accidental and deliberate).

It was alarming to hear an intelligent man like European Central Bank executive board member Joerg Asmussen apparently became the latest member of this burgeoning group of politicians, policy makers, journalists and experts engaging in mythmaking. “It is difficult to convince people in countries like Estonia and Slovakia, where the average wage is 1,000 euros to lend to a country where the average wage in the public sector is about 3,000 euros,” he is reported to have told an audience at the Economist conference in Athens earlier this week.

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Umbrella union: 10 myths about Greece and the crisis

Animated illustration by Manos Symeonakis

There is a wonderful short documentary doing the rounds on the Internet at the moment courtesy of The New York Times. Directed by Errol Morris, the film focuses on the presence of the so-called “Umbrella Man” at the assassination of US President John F. Kennedy. With the help of private detective and former philosophy professor Josiah Thompson, Morris paints the picture of the apparently sinister presence of a man holding a black umbrella on a sunny day in Dallas exactly at the point where Kennedy was shot.

However, Thompson goes on to point out that the Umbrella Man eventually came forward and explained that he was holding the umbrella as a protest against the appeasement policy of JFK’s father, Joseph P. Kennedy, when he was US ambassador to Britain before the Second World War. The umbrella was a visual reference to the British prime minister at the time, Neville Chamberlain, who also carried one.

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Blood, sweat, but mostly tears

Minus cigar and bulldog, Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos declared on Sunday that, like Winston Churchill, the government had nothing to offer but “blood, sweat and tears.” It was a preface to his government again demanding from the Greek people that they offer all this plus one other vital factor: more of their cash.

When we come back to look at the time line of Greece’s crisis, there is little doubt that Venizelos unveiling a new emergency property tax in a bid to plug a hole in public finances to meet the targets set by the troika will be seen as the moment the silent majority’s grudging tolerance of the austerity program crumbled under the weight of unfairness and grim financial reality.

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