Autonomies in greece

La révolution socialiste vise la transformation de la société par l’action autonome des hommes, et l’instauration d’une société organisée en vue de l’autonomie de tous.

Cornelius Castoriadis, L’institution imaginaire de la société

Ce qui nous fait le plus défaut est une prise de conscience.  Reconstruire notre vie et notre environment est la seule façon de détruire le monde de la marchandise qui nous détruit.

Raoul Vaneigem, Un changement radical est à notre portée

Successive greek governments, with the onset of the economic “crisis” of 2008, pursued one of the most savage politics of cuts in public spending of any european country, cuts aggravated when it agreed to a series of measures imposed by the European Commission, The European Central Bank and the IMF for the financing of its public debt. The cuts touched every area of society: salaries, pensions, public services, in conjunction with a progressive increase in taxes and a vast privatisation of state-public wealth.

The response of the population has been resistance, but a resistance not only in the form of protest, but also in the creation of autonomous, self-managed activities and collectives that prefigure possible forms of life outside State-Capital.

What follows is a translation of a modest chronicle (Periódico Diagonal 03/10/2014) of such endeavours …

After a first period of strikes, demonstrations and occupations of public buildings, the ebb in political contestation has been accompanied by a growing organisational activity. In just a few years, Greece has seen the birth and the establishment of a myriad of projects and initiatives that seek to respond to material, affective and cultural needs on the basis of cooperation, constituting a veritable emergence of a new social and solidarity based economy that situates people and their well being at the centre.

Although the arrival of the crisis enriched the ground for the germination of small projects, it was the politics of austerity, put into place as of 2010, that multiplied the growth of such groups that embrace direct democracy, egalitarianism and solidarity as mechanisms to overcome the economic recession and social decomposition.

To the dozens of small cooperatives, fair trade shops and restaurants-cafes organised by assemblies and self-management, without hierarchies or owners, came to be added new initiatives born of the protests of the Greek indignados developed in Syntagma Square in Athens in 2011. Their impulse proceeded from the same social fabric of the neighbourhoods, neighbourhood assemblies, groups of women and unemployed workers who staked on cooperative formulas to put into place small companies or re-launch failed ones.

Those that had the greatest resonance from the first moment were those created to respond to the debacle that loomed over the more disadvantaged, who began to find themselves with work, without an income and without basic social services. First aid clinics and pharmacies for who found themselves outside the public health care system, popular kitchens, child care … and, with time, exchange networks of goods and services, collective urban gardens and what was originally called the “potato movement”, in all of its varieties. Many municipalities lent themselves to the organisation of weekly or fortnightly gatherings in which local producers put on sale, without intermediaries and at prices much lower than those practiced in supermarkets, all manner of food of first necessity, such as potatoes, olive oil, milk, cheese, etc. The distribution points began to grow, as well as the list of products sold, reaching the point today of constituting an extensive network in which, under the guise of consumer cooperatives, an extensive variety of products are sold.

A notable aspect of within this organisational activity has been the role of women and the time of setting up and then maintaining numerous projects. As was explained to us in the Women’s Movement against Debt and Austerity, the effects of neoliberal polices “touch especially women in all aspects of our lives. And thus the need that we have to organise ourselves to resist, for no one is going to do it for us. With the elimination or privatisation of public services, the State frees itself from its commitments to citizens, passing on responsibilities to families”. In other words: “Women find themselves obliged to substitute, or better replace, the welfare state”. And, furthermore, for free.

It has been necessary for a structural crack to open at the basis of the free market system for many economic alternatives to demand space and pre-eminence before an unsustainable and exhausted system. Their claims are based on a re-reading of social relations and a re-interpretation of new relations between productive activity and the urban or natural ecosystem. The waring of the “social contract” by the welfare state has come to revive instruments that the working class movement constructed in other times – mutual aid societies, support networks – thereby transforming citizens into active subjects.

But in what way can the alternative economic projects contribute to a change of paradigm that is being applied in Greece? For one, the implication of workers as equals in process of the construction of cooperative models – even if for the production or commercialisation of goods and services – brings to the fore the principles of participatory democracy, so distant from the representative model at the level of politics and in labour union decision making. The adoption of such practices not has influence in the domain of decisions taken inside companies, but also touches the common spaces of local politics, an indispensable step for the advance of an alternative model. Undoubtedly a great deal remains to be done in the struggle of the social movements in Greece, but it is equally the case that the time of alternatives has arrived.

Cuts in the financing of public hospitals, as well as in the volume of their staff, and the introduction of user fees for health services has left about a third of the population outside of the public health care system. Consequently, social health clinics have had a rapid and broad expansion through Greece.

One of these centres, perhaps with the greatest experience and resources, is the Metropolitan Community Clinic of Helliniko, on the outskirts of Athens. As they explained to Diagonal, the slogan “no one is alone during the crisis” is not only a phrase for the 200 people who work daily, as volunteers, but an ethical code. The clinic offers some twenty specialties and includes a pharmacy that offers medication, fundamentally to chronic patients without means. The surgical interventions or grave illnesses which cannot be treated at the centre are addressed freely both in the public as well as private sector by professionals who have accepted to work outside the norms. It is estimated that in the first two years of operation, the clinic has effected more than 22,000 consultations.

The development of initiatives for the commercialisation and exchange of products and services has run parallel to the diversification and strengthening of the social movements that have generated them. With the idea of fomenting non-consumerist relations, the Network of Exchange and Solidarity of the city of Volos, of 100,000 inhabitants, was created. One of its promoters, the engineer Jristos, expressed it as follows: “Our initiative was not motivated by the economic crisis, but by the need to apply our values and change the actual economic system”. Another of the founders, Marita Hupis, explained to us the basis of the project: “equality, parity, transparency, solidarity and participation”. Based on an alternative currency – the TEM – and an advanced computer program, as simple in its operation as it is efficient is its results, the Network facilitates the exchange of products and services that range from fruit and vegetables to clothes, as well as opticians, butchers, mechanics workshops, and other, diverse professional services (doctors, lawyers, electricians).

On the 11th of June of 2013, the Greek government closed in a matter of hours the Radio Television of Greece (ERT), in an illegal and anti-democratic action. Five television channels, 28 radio stations, as well as the orchestra and choir of the ERT were closed, while 2,600 employees found themselves in the streets. From the first moment, the workers occupied all of the installations of the ERT and began to transmit without interruption information and interviews. After more than 15 months, one television channel and 16 radio stations continue on air thanks to free internet and the self-management of a significant part of the staff, and with economic support from thousands of people. Not even the eviction by force, on the 7th of November of 2013, of the central studios of the channel were able to put an end the model of free, social and quality information.

“The workers have demonstrated that they can keep the channel working, without the need for bosses”, Babis Kokosis tells us, one of the radio voices, without this being a easy task, for “the majority of those who continue with the project had to find other jobs, or alternative sources of income”. For Loukas Panourgias, another of the participants, the initiative not only offers information and entertainment, but also “preserves goods, installations and a radio space that belongs to the Greeks and for the politicians that ordered its closure, this does not seem to be important”.

The “potato movement” …

The Metropolitan Community Clinic of Helliniko

… and the story is to be continued …

For a cartography of autonomous projects in the greece, see the work of omikron project.

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