Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Greek Austerity and the Fight Back

Following on the last posting linking neoliberal macroeconomic fiscal policy with public health, it is noteworthy that the International Federation for Human Rights issues a scathing report denouncing the austerity measures imposed on the Greek population. Titled “Downgrading Rights: The Costs of Austerity In Greece” the Federation’s press release highlights the main findings:

It depicts a country where economic hardship and austerity combined have threatened human rights and democratic standards across different sectors, from social and economic rights, to civil and political ones…the report signals that what has been shrinking alongside public budgets, in Greece and elsewhere in Europe, is the space for individual rights and freedoms.

Like the institutionalization of the neoliberal political-economic model generally, the imposition of austerity generates a predictable mass response that must be controlled through increasingly authoritarian measures.

As it pertains to the issue of public health, the report notes that:

Access to basic healthcare has also been severely impaired by the cuts to the public health budget and essential public health services and programmes. Doctors revealed that they sometimes had to refuse patients or postpone important surgeries due to a reduced number in hospital beds and cuts in an already understaffed and strained workforce, amongst other things. This, coupled with increased difficulties to contract health insurance, especially for the unemployed, has severely hindered access to healthcare, despite recent reforms aimed at ensuring access to public services to the uninsured. Again, vulnerable groups including women, migrants and the youth suffer a disproportionate burden, as the report shows.

The people of Greece have not sat by passively in the face of these brutal policies. There have been protests, riots, and now the emergence of a social and political movement that may ultimately take political control. Organized originally as the Coalition of the Radical Left, the SYRIZA party which triumphed in May elections over the conservative New Democracy party and, if successful in the upcoming January 25th elections, will be able to form a new left government. The dramatic rise of the movement and the party is almost solely due to the reaction of large segments of the population to the austerity policies that have produced economic and social dislocation.

As reported by the New York Times “Greek Patience with Austerity Nears Its Limit”,

Nowhere have austerity policies been more aggressively tried — and generally failed to live up to results promised by advocates — than in Greece. After more than four years of belt tightening, patience is wearing thin, and tentative signs of improvement have not yet trickled down into the lives of average Greeks…
But at the street level in Greece, there is little debate anymore, if there ever was. The images of suffering here have not been that different from the grainy black and white photos of the United States in the 1930s. Suicides have shot up. Cars sit abandoned in the streets. People sift garbage looking for food.
About 900,000 of the more than 1.3 million who are out of work have not had a paycheck in more than two years, experts say.

The case of Greece is worth keeping an eye on since it represents a clear popular rejection of the austerity orthodoxy that has prevailed across all Western nations, including the United States, through a democratic electoral process (though a multi-party system versus the U.S. duopoly). One can only hope that it will set an example for other countries looking to put the interests and needs of the people over the global creditors.

No comments:

Post a Comment