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Practical solidarity: Help Greek children suffering the impact of austerity

22 October 2014

A message from TSSA General Secretary Manuel Cortes on behalf of Medical Aid for Greece.

As some of you may be aware, outside of my role as the General Secretary of our union, I am also the President of the Greece Solidarity Campaign – an organisation to which our union has been affiliated to for a number of years. This is a responsibility which I took over following the sad death of veteran Labour politician and strong ally of working people, Tony Benn. The campaign was initiated by Tony in response to a request for solidarity from the Greek people as austerity started destroying the social and economic fabric of their society.

I recently took part in solidarity delegation to Greece (which I funded myself). It is clear that ordinary people are paying an incredibly heavy price for austerity, with the economy continuing to shrink, having already contracted by over 20% since 2008. This has resulted in an unemployment rate of almost 30% with a truly shocking 60% of young people being out of work.

Like in Britain, it was not ordinary Greeks who sat on the boards of the financial institutions whose unfettered greed brought our economies to the edge of the abyss. The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development has recently said that almost 18% of Greeks haven’t got enough food to adequately feed themselves. The campaigners we met said that this figure was in excess of 25%. In the 21st Century, this is completely unacceptable!

You won’t know it from the way the Greek people are portrayed in our popular press, but prior to the crisis, Greeks worked among the longest hours in Europe and their wages were below the EU average. Fortunately, there are strong historical links between the people of Greece and Britain stretching back a very long time. In fact, following a coup in the late 60s, the solidarity of people within our shores played a crucial role in helping sustain a viable opposition to military rule. This is a tradition we should all be proud off.

Perhaps most worryingly, Greece’s healthcare system is collapsing. In 2008 Greece had 120 public hospitals, but a government closure programme will cut this to just 80. A third of all clinical staff have also been dismissed. We heard from doctors, nurses, radiographers and physiotherapists who all told us who they can no longer cope with the demands placed on them due to the cuts.

What makes things worse is that unlike our NHS, the provision of healthcare in Greece is based on an insurance system. If you are out of work for a year you lose your access to free healthcare. Frighteningly, there are currently over 3 million Greeks with no access to healthcare - almost 30% of the population. This is the equivalent of almost 19 million people in Britain not having access to healthcare. Frankly, this simply reinforced my view that we must always fight incredibly hard to keep our NHS open to everyone and free!

Inspirationally, ordinary people have reacted to this crisis by setting up solidarity clinics. There are between 10,000 to 15,000 volunteers who provide their services for free. A large number of them are health professionals who have either recently been laid off or simply put in an extra shift during their day off or after completing a days work. I spoke to several GPs who had opted to leave paid employment to work for free in solidarity clinics. I also met professors working in university hospitals who are now providing services for free. I am humbled by the ingenuity, dedication and solidarity shown by these people.

If all of the above wasn't bad enough, the price of prescriptions has also skyrocketed. Sadly, it is the most vulnerable in Greek society who are paying the highest price. Children are not being immunised as their parents can’t afford the price of inoculations. This is where you come in. The people of Greece need our solidarity – they are not looking for charity – but a gift of just £10 can help secure vaccines for children  – and send a message of hope and solidarity. You can find out more about what you can do from Medical Aid for Greece.

I very much hope that you will feel able to show solidarity with our sisters and brothers in Greece.

Best wishes

Manuel Cortes
General Secretary, TSSA

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