In Greece union members experience the so-called Greek crisis as a huge attack on their living standards and services. If we want to know what the NHS could look like in a few years we need look no further than Greece: Health workers pensions and salaries cut by between 40 and 60 per cent. Public hospitals routinely run out of cancer drugs and basic supplies.
Hospitals wards in Athens have 42 patients to a single nurse on duty. Because of unemployment and poverty, there are now one million people in Greece excluded from public health services altogether, pushing infant mortality up by 50% and previously eradicated diseases are making a come back. The impact of austerity on the health of people in Greece has been highlighted by research recently reported in the Lancet (Volume 383, Issue 9918, 22 Feb 2014) who called it Greece’s ‘public health tragedy’. No wonder Greeks call the austerity regime in their country a laboratory test for all Europe, with themselves as the lab rats.
The Greek far right is on the rise and has support among the police and the army. There are public campaigns by the Greek Government to scapegoat minorities, use anti terrorist laws against demonstrators and remove employment rights.
But people in Greece are fighting back. A new left party has been formed from a coalition of progressive groups that opposes all austerity and proposes a new type of economy and way of doing politics. In the latest elections show Syriza as the leading political force, winning 34 out of the 56 electoral districts, and coming first in the European elections. In Greece this is no flash in the pan. Syriza are backed by a mass movement.
One thing that frustrates Greek people who oppose austerity is any idea either that this is a Greek specific crisis or that their treatment is reserved solely for them. Greece might be in the frontline, but this is a policy being created across Europe.
In Britain we are told that cuts are barely halfway through. £20 billion has already been sliced from the NHS budget, and the UK started with the lowest health budget of any large northern European country. As in Greece further privatisation is the solution favoured by our current political leadership.
So what can we do? We can listen to our colleagues from Greece. They are asking us to let people know what they are living with and how they are fighting back. The Greece Solidarity Campaign was set up to help do this, to organise practical support, and to support direct links being created, hospital to hospital, union to union. To find out more send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Paul Mackney, Chair Greece Solidarity Campaign