[MGSA-L] Three Generations of Greek Workers

June Samaras june.samaras at gmail.com
Sun Mar 3 17:13:31 PST 2013


The Greek Catastrophe: “Economic Progress” Built on Rotten Political Foundations

Three Generations of Greek Workers

By Prof. James Petras
Global Research, March 03, 2013


As Greece enters the sixth year of Europe ’s worst economic
depression, with 30% of its labor force unemployed and over 52% of its
youth jobless, the entire social fabric is unraveling; a suicide rate
are skyrocketing and close to 80% of the population is downwardly
mobile.  Family and inter-generational relations are deeply impacted;
previous certainties evaporate.  Uncertainties, fear and anger evoke
daily mass protests.  Over a dozen general strikes have drawn Greeks
from middle school pupils to octogenarians in a desperate struggle to
conserve the last shreds of dignity and material survival.

The European Union and its Greek collaborators pillage the treasury,
slash employment, salaries and pensions, foreclose on home mortgages
and raise taxes.  Household budgets shrink to one half or one third of
their previous levels.

In a growing number of households, three generations are living under
one roof, barely surviving on their grandparents’ shrinking pensions;
some households on the brink of destitution.  The prolonged – never
ending and worsening – capitalist depression has caused a deep rupture
in the life cycle and living experiences of grandparents, parents and
children.  This essay will focus on grandfathers, fathers and sons due
to greater familiarity with their life experiences

The intergenerational rupture can best be understood in the context of
the contrasting ‘life experiences’ of the three generations:  The
focus will be on work, political, family and leisure experiences.

Work Experiences:  The Grandfathers

The grandfathers’ families in most cases migrated from rural areas or
small towns during the post-civil war period (1946-49) and many
settled in the poor suburbs of Athens .  Most barely finished
secondary school and found poorly paid employment in textile,
construction and public enterprises.  Trade unions were non-existent,
‘semi-clandestine’ and subject to harsh repression by the US -backed
rightist regimes into the early 1960’s.  By the mid to late 1960’s the
grandfathers gravitated toward the ‘center-left’ parties and the
revival of trade union activity.  This was especially the case among
the growing assembly plant and public sector workers in the
electrical, telecommunication, seaports and transport industries.  The
US-backed coup in 1967 and the resulting military junta (1967-1973)
had a dual impact:  Outlawing trade unions and collective bargaining,
on the one hand, and stimulating foreign investment-led economic
growth and corporate style clientelism on the other.

The clandestine anti-dictatorial struggle, the student uprising and
infamous massacre at the Polytechnic University (1973) and the
collapse of the military dictatorship following its abortive coup in
Cyprus , radicalized the grandfathers.  Legalization of political
parties and trade unions led to a surge of trade union organizations,
struggles and social advances.  Wage increases accompanied the fall of
junta.  Entry into the European Union and the large-scale influx of
‘social cohesion funds’ led to an expansion of public sector
employment and increased political party clientelism extending well
beyond the traditional right-wing regimes.

Job security, pensions and increases in severance pay created a
relatively secure and stable labor force except in the manufacturing
sectors, which were harmed by imports from the more industrialized EU

With the election of the Pan Hellenic Socialist Party (PASOK) in 1981,
populist welfare legislation and wage increases served as a substitute
for any consequential socialization of the economy.  The economic and
social security gains were steady, cumulative and led to rising living
standards.  The grandfathers joined trade unions, their leaders
negotiated wage and workplace improvements and they faced the future
with relative optimism:  A comfortable retirement, better educated
children and a modest paid-up apartment and small automobile.  They
looked forward to enjoying leisure time with family, friends and
neighbors.  Or so it seemed in the run-up to the Greek Catastrophe of

As we shall see Greece ’s economic progress was built on rotten
foundations – on EU loans that were secured through fraudulent
accounts, a public treasury pillaged by bipartisan kleptocrats and
public ‘investments’ in large-scale unproductive clientelistic
activities with corrupt business ‘partners’.  In a word, the ‘golden
years’ of the grandfathers’ comfortable retirement was based on the
illusion that a half-century of work and social advances would
translate into a respectable dignified life.

The Fathers:  Work and Play and Play Later

The fathers were urban born, better educated than the grandparents and
highly influenced by the consumer ethos that permeated Greece .  They
entered the labor market in the early 1990’s.  They saw themselves as
more ‘European’, less nationalist, less class conscious and less
involved in social struggles than the previous generation.  Interest
in sports and celebrities and their own social advancement precluded
any engagement in the great social struggles of the grandfathers.
They experienced rising salaries through top-down negotiations.  They
paid no attention to the grotesque enrichment of the kleptocratic
socialist political elite and they ignored the growing debts, both
personal and public, which ‘funded’ their overseas vacations, the
second home and the imported German cars.  They paid handsomely for
tutors to prepare their children for the University entry exams.
Their future was assured by ever more optimistic (falsified)
government data and the positive assessments by EU experts.  Trade
unions and business associations focused exclusively on current
increases in salaries, revenues, cheap credit and access to the latest
techno toys.

The fathers spoke English, welcomed ever-greater European integration
and discarded the doubts and criticism that the grandfathers directed
at NATO and Israeli wars, inequalities within the EU and the effects
of economic liberalization.  They ignored the criticism of the close
ties between the PASOK kleptocrats, local and overseas bankers, ship
owners and millionaire plutocrats.

Cynicism was their ‘modernist response’ to pervasive corruption and
growing indebtedness.  As long as they got theirs why challenge the
status quo?  With the onset of the 
Greek Catastrophe, the fathers
lost it all – jobs, social security, homes, cars and vacations.  The
‘Europeanists’ among them suddenly became virulent critics of the Euro
bankers – ‘the Troika’ –, which mandated that the fathers should
sacrifice everything they possessed in order to save the kleptocratic
rulers, the millionaire tax evaders and the indebted bankers.  The
economic catastrophe gradually eroded and finally shattered the
‘modern European’ consumerist consciousness of the upwardly mobile
middle and working class fathers.

First they suffered successive salary cuts and then they lost their
job security, followed by massive firings with and without severance

Dismay, fear and uncertainty were followed by the recognition that
they were facing the financial firing squad.  They realized they were
trapped in an unending free fall.  They took to the streets and
discovered that their entire generation and their entire class was
uprooted and discarded.  The fathers discovered they were worthless
and they had to march and struggle to reaffirm their self-worth.

Sons:  ‘Who Works?’

The vast majority of sons are unemployed:  Over 55%, by the beginning
of 2013, have never had a job.  Each day and each week their numbers
grow as entire families are impoverished and households disintegrate.
School attendance has fallen off, as the prospects of employment
disappear and the specter of long-term large-scale unemployment haunts
everyday life.  The prospects of establishing stable couples and new
families among the young are non-existent.      ‘

Street culture’ has multiplied and the video arcades are more often
places to meet rather than to play.  Attendance at ‘pop concerts’ has
fallen while the sons now turn out in greater numbers at mass protest
marches.  The growing politicization and radicalization of the sons
now begins in the middle school and deepens in secondary and technical
schools and the university.

Many, by their late 20’s, have never had a job, never moved out of
their parents or grandparents home and cannot envision a future
marriage or family.  The lack of work experience means a lack of
workplace comradeship and union membership.  In its place is the
centrality of informal, peer group solidarity.  Perspectives for work
focus on emigration, hustling for a miserable odd job or joining the
struggle.  Today they wander the streets in anger, despair and deep
frustration.  As the years pass, the sons increasingly vote for the
Left (Syrian) but are fed-up with the ineffectual parliamentary
opposition, the ritual marches and the inconsequential social forums,
featuring local and overseas radical lecturers who spin theories about
the crisis but who have never lacked a job or missed a paycheck.  The
vast majority of the young unemployed feel that ‘words are cheap’.
The intellectuals, new-left politicians and overseas Greeks do not
resonate with their day-to-day experience and offer no tangible
solutions.  Sons have joined with anarchist street fighters.  So far
few of the unemployed sons have responded favorably to the neo-Nazi
appeal of the Golden Dawn.  But they are hardly enthusiastic over the
Left’s embrace of immigrant job seekers, especially when their
neighborhoods are victimized by Albanian, Middle Eastern and Balkan
drug dealers and pimps

Political Experience:  The Grandfathers and the Radical Legacy

The grandfathers’ political trajectory differs sharply from their
progeny.  Many of their own parents were partisans in the
Communist-led million-member national liberation movement (ELAS-EAM).
They fought the Italian fascists and the German Nazi occupation army
and took an active part in the civil war.  Following the
Anglo-American intervention and defeat of the insurgents, hundreds of
thousands of Greeks were sent to slave labor/concentration camps,
where many died.  Villagers and farmers were savagely repressed and
driven off their land.  Property was confiscated and millions migrated
to the cities in search of anonymity and employment.  When the
Communist Party was outlawed, many members and ex-members joined
‘progressive parties’, the United Democratic Left (EDA) in search of
an alternative.

The grandfathers came to political age with the revival of ‘populist
politics’ in the early 1960’s, promoted by the Center Union Party.
After the 1967 coup, they faced six years of US-backed military rule
(1967-73).  Under junta rule, some grandfathers engaged in clandestine
political and trade union activity.  With the collapse of the junta,
most grandfathers joined the newly formed Socialist Party led by a
radicalized Andreas Papandreou.

The post-junta 1970’s were a period of intense political debate and
the proliferation of previously suppressed Marxists books, lectures,
journals, forums and popular cultural events.  Mikis Theodorakis, the
great Communist composer, drew tens of thousands to his concerts, many
of them workers, evoking scenes similar to Pablo Neruda’s poetry
readings to the thousands of workers and peasants in Chile .  In the
election of 1981, the grandfathers voted overwhelmingly for the Left:
PASOK won over 50% of the vote and the Communists received close to
15%.  Almost two-thirds of Greeks, and over 80% of Greek workers,
voted for socialism (or so they thought!).

The grandfathers celebrated the defeat of the far right and over a
half century of Nazi , US and right-wing military rule.  The
grandfathers had great hopes that Papandreou would fulfill his promise
to ‘socialize’ the economy.  They saw the electoral ascendancy of the
Left as a prelude to a break with NATO and as a transition to an
independent socialist welfare state.  Despite several massive
socialist and trade union conferences on ‘worker self-management of a
socialized economy’ and the bankruptcy of scores of indebted private
firms, Papandreou argued that ‘the crisis’ precluded an ‘immediate
transition to socialism’.  He argued the right wing’s capitalist
recovery and only afterward could ‘socialist’ policies be implemented.
 He ignored the fact that it was the very capitalist crisis, which led
to his election!  Many grandfathers were disappointed but,

Papandreou, with the skilled speeches of a populist balcony demagogue,
proposed a series of substantial wage increases legalized and expanded
labor rights and implemented and increased social welfare and pension
payments.  The grandfathers settled for the populist reforms and the
de-radicalization of the political process.  From mid-1980 onward, the
grandfathers continued to vote Socialist, but now exclusively with the
goals of economic gain and expanding social coverage in health and
pension benefits.

Under Papandreou, PASOK degenerated into an inconsequential ‘gadfly’
within NATO.  Its enthusiastic entry into the EEC and its maintenance
of US military bases eroded the last vestiges of anti-imperialist
activity among the grandfathers.  They narrowed their focus and looked
toward PASOK as a clientelistic political machine, necessary to secure
employment and guarantee their pensions.

With the onset of the Economic Catastrophe in 2008 and the savage
social cutbacks implemented by the utterly inept, corrupt and
reactionary George Papandreou, Jr., the grandfathers felt the first
shockwaves of instability and the threat of losing their secure and
living pensions.  By 2010, the grandfathers totally abandoned their
support for PASOK.  Revelations of corruption and the slashing of
pensions by 35% drove the grandfathers into the streets in massive
protests.  Later, a majority voted for the new leftist SYRIZA Party.

The grandfathers have come full circle: Re-radicalization has
accompanied the return of authoritarian rightwing rule under the
colonial dictates of the European Troika.

But now the grandfathers’ pensions have to support three generations.
Once again, the search for a new political party is as urgent as
during the period immediately after the fall of the military junta.

The Fathers:  The Politics of Downward Mobility

The fathers came to political age at the height of electoral
clientelism.  During the 1990’s they voted PASOK, without any of the
ideals or illusions of the grandfathers; nor did they engage in any
historic struggles.  They voted the candidates and parties who
provided access to credit and low interest loans and offered lucrative
concessions or promotions within a highly politicized public
administration.  The fathers rarely addressed larger ideological
issues.  They saw the ‘capitalist versus socialist’ debates as an
anachronism of the past.  They studied English and Anglicized their
speech and writings.  They no longer paid attention to the negative
consequences of Greece ’s affiliation with NATO and the European
Union.  The big issues were Greece ’s sponsorship of the Olympics and
how to cash in on the spending spree and cost overruns.  PASOK leaders
set the example by taking their cut off the top of every building
contract, cooking the books, evading taxes and consulting with Goldman
Sachs on how to accumulate debts and convert deficits into surpluses.

When the economic crisis hit, the fathers were caught unprepared.  At
first, they rationalized it, hoping ‘the crisis’ was temporary; that
new loans would flow in to the rescue; that they – especially those in
the public sector – would not be affected.  As the Catastrophe ensued,
the fathers abandoned their apathy and indifference:  Political
decisions now affected their salaries, their wages, their social
benefits and their ability to pay their mortgages and credit card
debt.  Cynical conformity was replaced at first by uncertainty and

As the PASOK regime lowered the boom and signed off on the massive
layoffs of public sector workers and salary reductions, the fathers
first protested to ‘their’ leaders to no avail and then punished them
via the ballot box.  Most turned to the Left, joining SYRIZA, in hopes
of regaining the past as much as constructing a new socialist future.

Sons:  The Politics of No Future

The sons have come to political age having no prior experience of
struggle or of upward mobility.  They are stuck at the bottom or are
in perpetual descent.  Never having a job or any opportunity, they
take action to affirm their existence, their presence and their
capacity to act against wave after wave of savage EU-sponsored
assaults on their everyday life.  They join their fathers and
grandfathers in the huge marches:  inter-generational solidarity.

But they alone carry the burden of never having been a member of a
political party or a trade union and never having experienced ‘the
good life’.  They never received loans or political favors, but they
are now expected to sacrifice their future in order to enrich the
creditors, the tax evaders and the kleptocrats.  Their political
wisdom is rooted in their gut recognition that the entire political
class is rotten; they have their own doubts about those politicos who
abandoned PASOK, joined SYRIZA and now claim to be their saviors.

They turn away from those academic political philosophers and
journalists who speak a language and elaborate a discourse totally
divorced from their everyday experience.  They frankly question
whether the Aesopian language of a dead Italian philosopher (Gramsci)
can lead them out of this catastrophe.  The overseas theorists may
come and go, but life becomes ever more desperate.  Some sons believe
that only those who hurl a Molotov cocktail can bring temporary light
into the dark tunnel of their everyday life.  The most combative of
the sons engage in street fighting and join the black bloc.  The less
audacious scan the Internet for ways to relocate, to emigrate:  They
reason that it would be better to emigrate to the imperial centers
than to suffer a lifetime in this ravaged and plundered colony.

Family: Grandfathers and the Return of the Extended Family

The Sunday dinner was a hallmark of Grandfather’s time:  A family
gathering with roast lamb and potatoes, a peasant salad with feta
cheese and olives and sweets for desert.

The grandparents upheld that practice until the Catastrophe put an end
to another ‘fine family tradition’ – like everything else that was
pleasurable.  Three generations living together, under one roof, on
one source of income (grandfather’s shrinking pension) is a situation
not conducive to sustaining good relations.  Savings diminish, debts
accumulate and frustration leads to conflicts and resentments.  Anger
is occasionally directed against those closest to one’s heart.  The
loss of independence leads to arguments; family loans never get paid
back.  Meal times become moments to relate hardships.  The easy
banter, good humor and storytelling disappear in a miasma of worries
over the next meal, the precarious household budget and the fruitless
search for employment.

Meals have become a time to mull over the stresses of everyday survival.

Fathers: Families – A Precarious Safety Net

The fathers ask:  ‘What will happen when my father dies and his
pension disappears?’  ‘How can five of us survive when the regime,
under orders from the Troika, has reduced my father’s pension by
half?’  ‘How can two families live on 500 Euros a month?’  The last
barrier to utter destitution for many fathers is the extended family,
as social cuts reduce unemployment payments and savings are exhausted.

Prior to the Catastrophe, the fathers took their wives out to a
taverna with other couples on Friday or Saturday night to hear the
bouzouki and enjoy a full meal with mezedes, a carafe of good wine and
plenty of laughs. Unlike the grandfathers, who patronized the
neighborhood butcher and baker, the fathers shopped in multinational
supermarkets and at malls, signs of European modernity and ‘cost
effectiveness’ and paid with their credit card.

The vacations to London have become a distant memory.  The family
house in the Aegean is long sold, the proceeds spent to pay off debts.
 At most they can hope for a trip to the crowded, polluted beaches of
Attica to escape a sweltering August weekend.

The Sons:  Families are Where You Find Them

Family has become a grim affair, not a relief from the hopeless
outside world:  At home, it’s always ‘grieving time’.  The sons come
and go.  They listen to music alone.  Who wants to bring a girlfriend
into a cramped bedroom with a grandmother’s disapproving look and sour
faces everywhere.  They walk to the corner, take a trip downtown to
Exarchia and hang out in a doorway, a video arcade or shoulder a black
flag in a march against the entire rotten mess, against the thieves,
bankers and creditors.  If their teacher dares to talk about
‘democracy and civic duties’ – and very few do, because even their
jobs are in jeopardy – a lone giggle turns into a tsunami of laughter
and insults; classes break-up and schoolmates meet to share a few
moments of intimate friendship so lacking in the grim austerity of
their disintegrating households.

Who cheers for their football team? Who jeers at the phony Papandreou,
the porky face of Venizelos, the blood-sucking Stournaras and Samaras
… Politicians smell like the putrid fish that even a starving cat
wouldn’t touch.  The sons attend meetings of SYRIZA.  It’s all high
minded and fierce denunciations with calls to action – but another
march?  Another call for ‘engaging the youth’?  But the sons think:
Here we sit; we are never in the front rows; we listen to them; they
seem to know each other; they talk in codes that only they understand…
 So we wander out and smoke a joint or cadge a beer or meet friends
and talk our own talk.

Paternalism, patriarchy and filial piety are all dead.  Casual
relations with no long-term perspectives are the new reality.

Leisure:  Grandfathers:  The Café as Refuge

The grandfathers have their own favorite neighborhood cafés.  They
walk past boarded-up businesses – over 160,000 bankruptcies since the
onset of the Catastrophe.  Nowadays, a cup of black coffee is the
ticket to a table, a deck of faded cards that still show some of the
colors of the kings and queens.  There was a time, when in the course
of an afternoon, a grandfather could order glasses of ouzo and plates
of mezedes – Kasseri cheese and olives – for his card-playing
comrades.  Then the crack of the dominoes and the rapid movement of
the backgammon chips would echo in the noisy, smoke-filled café. Now a
waiter moves among the clientele looking for a stray tip.  Even
professional waiters are at a loss to survive in a crowded room of
survivors.  Where is the generation that will replace the
grandfathers?  The fathers won’t have any pension to pay their way to
a cup of coffee and a seat in the café.

The Fathers:  The End of European Leisure Time

The fathers once spent endless hours on the Internet, reading consumer
ads to a background of pop music with English lyrics while planning
weekend excursions.  They watched televised football games on Sundays
for discussion at Monday lunch with workmates or colleagues.  It was
not a luxurious life but it was a comfortable routine.  Leisure time,
spent with friends or family, with workmates and neighbors, was an
enjoyable break from the stress of everyday work, a drive to the shore
or to a pleasant outdoor country inn for a weekend dinner.

With the Catastrophe, leisure time is now enforced and plentiful:
There are no stressful jobs; there are no jobs and no cash.  Coins
jingle deep in the pocket, perhaps enough to buy a liter or two of
petrol to knock on closed doors that do not answer – or have nailed
bankruptcy notices.  So whom do you see and where do you go?

There is another political meeting where one can wave at friends,
envious of those who still hold a job or those who pass out flyers for
a meal.  There are protest marches and the warmth and solidarity of
the moment.  There are the explosions of jeers at the well-dressed
kleptocrats, holed up in the Congress or creeping out the backdoor
after signing another death warrant – called an Order of Austerity –
condemning another dozen to suicide for the coming week.  Leisure-time
now is not pleasure, it is worry:  Who will pay the grandparents
medical bills, the insulin injections, the son’s school fees, the car
payments?  Right, the mortgage payments are no longer an issue:  The
apartment has been repossessed.  The father is ‘free’ from that
obligation which is why he sleeps with his wife in a spare room at the
grandparents. Those evenings of lovemaking are now sleepless nights of
deepening anxiety.  Restless sleep evokes nightmares of paranoid – or
real- pursuit through dark labyrinths, running everywhere without
direction or familiarity with the streets, the buildings or the
people!  The purpose in life is gone, along with the memories of happy
excursions and future plans.  Now, the overriding reality is finding a
job – that dominates everything.  The father faces the end of his
unemployment payments.  Will he and his family join a soup line:  Will
it be SYRIZA’s or the Golden Dawn’s?  Whichever party offers a piece
of chicken leg in the soup?

The Son:  Leisure:  Light, Blight and Street Fights

It was great fun, hanging out after school: The jokes, the joints, the
public hugs and kisses.  The ferry trips with back packs and the time
spent studying with friends … the exams, difficult courses and the
anxiety of having to choose a career in a few years.  Those ‘worries’
have disappeared:  The catastrophe eliminated the ‘problem course’,
the difficulty of career choice … now even the teachers have left the
classrooms – involuntary release – firings have thinned the offerings.
 The sons face a blighted future … any ‘career’ will do.           ‘

The biggest crooks do not rob a bank, they own one’ – a philosophy
student told a crowd of sons as he demonstrated how to make a Molotov
cocktail.  A math major calculated the number of times local and
overseas revolutionary scholars have mentioned the ‘crises’ in an hour
and come up with an equation, which equaled zero positive outcomes.
The loss of future perspectives and the burden of a grim home life are
eroding all respect for a political and legal system that imposes
destitution, indignities and humiliation in order to pay foreign
creditors.  ‘We pay them, so they can squat in the sun on our beaches,
buy up our homes, eat our food, swim bare-ass in our ocean and then
tell us we are lazy and deserve what misery we are getting.’

The timid, playful or fearful sons are growing up fast.  Maturity
begins at fifteen.  The marches started earlier.  Radical political
loyalties followed.  What next, ‘little man’?

The sons are a growing army of unemployed and maturing quickly. Today
they are dispersed.  Some want out – leave Greece … But most will stay
… Will they organize and move beyond the current electoral opposition
and fashion a new radical movement breaking with the rotten repressive
electoral system?

Can they become the militants for a new heroic resistance movement?
Whose grandson will climb the walls of the Parliament and defy the
colonial collaborators and their Troika masters.

Who will raise the flag of a free, independent and socialist Greece ?

June Samaras
2020 Old Station Rd
Canada L5M 2V1
Tel : 905-542-1877
E-mail : june.samaras at gmail.com

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