Thursday 26 March 2015

Iron fists in rubber gloves

The 595 women cleaners, employed by the Greek Ministry of Finance, who have been resisting and demanding that their jobs should be reinstated, have become legendary and the symbol of the resistance of the Greek people against austerity.

The first attack on their working conditions was a 75% cut in their wages, reducing their income to 325.88 euros per month. They then were told that they would be replaced by contract workers which would not only result in a loss of their jobs, but also losing access to a pension and healthcare. They would consequently join the 62.8% of unemployed women in Greece.
This is part of the statement they issued in May 2014:

'We are 595 women who have been working for many years for the Ministry of Finance. Since 18 September 2013 we have been suspended from our work and on 18 May 2014 we will lose our jobs, we will be fired.

We are all women, and the gender discrimination is obvious. Most of us are over 50. We may never get a pension. Many of us are single parents and the lives of our families depend on our salaries.

The memoranda of austerity policies have deprived us of the right to work and life. Today in Greece unemployment stands at 27% and for women at 62.8%. Until 2005 we were working on short term contracts. After an EU directive and a fine imposed on Greece, our contracts were turned into permanent ones. The Government now claims that we are being fired in order to decrease the public deficit. The truth is that the Greek state pays far more to the private subcontractors which replaced us. For the Greek government and the Troika we are numbers and not human beings.

For 8 months now, since the 18th of September, we have been protesting every day outside the Ministry of Finance. We have gone through an immense struggle that has been dealt with by violence and repression from the Greek government.

They thought we would be an easy target and a weak link because we belong to the lower strata of the working class and because we are women. But, together with ordinary people, together with thousands of fired employees, we've been fighting everyday against the measures of the Greek government and the Troika'.

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One of the first announcements of the new Syriza government two months ago was that the cleaners who had been protesting, would have their jobs reinstated. The announcement came on their 268th day of protest.

I was therefore totally amazed to see that their protest is still going on.

I stopped and talked to them, asking why they were still there and wondering whether I had misunderstood the situation. They confirmed the Syriza government's statement that their jobs would be reinstated, but apparently a bill has to go through Parliament and a whole bureaucratic rigmarole before this can take effect.
My first thought was 'only in Greece....'
I wished them good luck and I hope that they can go back to their jobs soon. They are truly inspirational.


  1. I agree that they should be reinstated, and despite the tardiness, I agree that it should be done legally - but without too much bureaucracy. However, my first thought had been: why on earth does one government ministry need so many cleaners?!
    Also, you said that those who have been protesting will get their jobs reinstated. What about those who quietly had to get on with their lives and were not part of the protest, even if they suffered similarly?

    1. They are all being reinstated Olga - they have all been united in their protest. I agree with you that the whole process should be done legally, but what I don't fully understand is why a bill has to pass through Parliament for that to be achieved: I can think of no other situation or country where that would be necessary. Unless, the only way they could have sacked them would have been to pass a bill through Parliament and consequently they have to reverse that. I really do not know - the workings of the Greek State are a mystery to me. (And to the State itself, given that until 2 years ago they had no clue how many people they were employing!!!)

      Which brings me to your other question, and again, I do not know the answer, but it's a good question and one I have not seen being asked before, but maybe I have been missing things. I have no idea why a Ministry would need so many cleaners. I could hazard a guess: the Greek State employs more people than any other state in Europe -(I think that's right, but it certainly employs more people than most - for instance, if I remember rightly it employs twice as many people as the French state, I remember reading a while ago). One of the Troika's demands is that a lot of public servants get sacked because there are too many. People on the left think that this is totally unfair to people who are employed and who would lose their livelihoods - the fair way to do it is through natural wastage, e.g. as people retire they don't get replaced, and I agree with that. But I do not know if that answers your question or if that is the right answer. As I said, the Greek State is one of the mysteries of the universe. Syriza's main task is to sort all this out but in a fair way where common people don't lose out. I hope they succeed.

  2. Yes, it is unfortunate that Syriza has to start from this point. My experience of relatives who had employment with the state is that there was a convention of 'jobs for the boys' each time a new government got in, and that nepotism was rife - so that the children of employees easily were found positions with the vaguest of job descriptions. One cannot really blame the employees for the lax, even ludicrous, systems - but they should not be astonished to be in the state they are in now. As to how to recover from such a tangle - to redress fairly a situation which arose unfairly, .... I guess in olden times there would either be a revolution or a war. Generally, after 60-some years' experience, I am confirmed in my early impression that life is far from fair.

    1. That's the situation exactly, Olga. Not only nepotism in terms of family members, but also 'jobs for votes' so that each new government would employ its own people and add to the huge bureaucratic apparatus: the people who had got in with the previous government would be pushed aside, not given work, but not sacked either, as in the Greek State, jobs are for life. A totally absurd, corrupt system that does not work. But, the only way to change this is to stop the nepotism and corruption, and then shrink the public sector through natural wastage. Anything else, would be too unfair on people who would lose their livelihoods, and this is what the Troika have been demanding. Change will take a long time to be effected, as will attitudes. It's all such a mess, but it has to be done sympathetically and sensitively without increasing the hardship that already exists in the country. Syriza has a huge task ahead, and unfortunately, with too much resistance from the ruling elite and Europe - caught between Scylla and Charybdis indeed.