#rbnews weekly bulletin 11-17 May 2013

The text companion to this week’s #rbnews international show is now online. You can read it after the jump.

1. Secondary education teachers’ strike

The matter of the teachers’ strike during the university entry exams evolved into a soap opera this week. The Federation of Secondary Education Teachers (OLME) had proposed last week to its constituent unions to go on strike starting yesterday 17 May to protest new austerity measures that the government is seeking to impose on the education sector. The government reacted by ordering preemptively the civil mobilization of 86,000 teachers under an authoritarian procedure which is normally intended to be used only in cases of extreme national emergency.
The preemptive civil mobilization order caused an outpouring of sympathy with teachers among unions and associations in Greece and abroad. The teachers requested publicly that the trade unions centres, the Civil Servants’ Confederation ADEDY and the General Confederation of Workers GSEE, also announce strikes on Friday as a gesture of solidarity. The trade union centres however only engaged in work stoppages and rallies on other days than the planned strike.
Following massive general assemblies of teachers at the local level, where they voted overwhelmingly in favour of the strike, the government and mainstream media engaged once again in a campaign to defame teachers, while the upcoming strike became a central issue in Greek society. Despite the many voices in defence of the teachers, the board of OLME used a technicality pushed by the factions affiliated with New Democracy, PASOK and SYRIZA to decide in the end against the strike, arguing that “the adequate conditions for its implementation are not there.” Despite the teachers’ outcry against OLME, the exams started normally yesterday.
You can read more details about the teacher’s strike and civil mobilization on our blog under the tag “education“.

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2. Golden Dawn and immigration 

The Nazi party Golden Dawn engaged in new provocations last week. On Friday morning, during a discussion on the new bill against racism in Parliament, Golden Dawn MP Panagiotis Iliopoulos made ironic and insulting comments against SYRIZA chairman Alexis Tsipras. When the deputy speaker of Parliament who was chairing the session called him to order, Iliopoulos and other Golden Dawn MPs took to a verbal assault against the speaker. Giannis Dragasakis, who was chairing the session, decided to enforce parliamentary rules and impose sanctions on Iliopoulos by reprimanding him and expelling him from the room. The Golden Dawn parliamentary group reacted by leaving altogether while throwing insults at the other MPs. As they left, the slogan “Heil Hitler” could be heard, which caused angry reactions among other MPs in attendance.
Earlier this week, three members of Golden Dawn assaulted a 14-year-old Afghan boy in downtown Athens. They asked him where he is from, immobilized him; beat him and smashed a bottle of beer on his face. A passer-by took Ismael to the hospital where doctors gave him first aid but had to let him go because he does not hold valid residence papers. Ismael reports that he could not see the faces of his attackers but that they were wearing Golden Dawn shirts. It was reported that Ismael’s mother is living in another European country and that the procedure for family reunification was therefore launched. Investigation of this attack, as well as another similar attack against a 20-year-old Syrian in Athens, have been taken over by the newly established anti-racist unit of the Hellenic Police.
Lastly, in the beginning of last week, the municipal council of Kalamata in the Peloponnese decided not to express any opposition to Golden Dawn’s intention to organize a series of public events in the city on 3 and 4 August, for the anniversary of the coup that brought the dictator Metaxas to power in 1936. The mayor stated that the authorization was a matter for the coastguard, who have authority over the area chosen by Golden Dawn for their festival; As for himself, he does not intend to ban it “because Kalamata is a free city and Greece is a free country.”

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3. Arrest of 3 women in Skouries

Clashes took place again in the morning of Sunday 12 May 2013 in north-eastern Halkidiki where residents are protesting logging activities by mining company Hellas Gold in the basin of the Karatzas stream near the Skouries forest, ahead of a meeting planned on Monday morning between the Residents’ Committees Against Mining and the local authorities to examine the validity of operational permits held by the mining company for logging activities in the Karatzas area.
Residents opposed to mining plans had been protesting for days in the Karatzas area where lumberjacks are working under police guard. On Sunday, a group of protesters asked the head of the Halkidiki police force to suspend logging activities until the meeting on the next day. Despite the officer in charge agreeing to take it up with the regional police leadership, a group of riot policemen circled the protesters and assaulted them with tear gas. On the same morning, a group of women who were walking up to the Skouries worksite were assaulted by the riot policemen who are guarding it. Three were detained and taken to the Halkidiki police HQ in Polygyros. They are charged with resistance to authority, sedition and attempt to release a detainee. One other woman was injured when a policeman grabbed her by the neck and has to wear a surgical collar.
There is considerable confusion with regard to the number of policemen who were wounded during these events. Mainstream media have been reporting 7, 8 or even 9 wounded policemen, of which one was reported to be in a serious condition. The police press release states 8, of which 7 had to be transferred to hospital for first aid. However, the manager of the Polygyros hospital, while speaking to the press, referred only to three wounded policemen, and remains vague about their actual condition. Initial claims by the police that their men had suffered buckshot wounds seem to have been dropped. The three women were released until their trial on 22 May. The meeting between residents and local authorities to reexamine the company’s logging permits was postponed sine die.
In a related development, a group of foreign tourists were detained on a police checkpoint near Polygyros and taken to the police HQ, apparently because they were wearing T-shirts reading SOS Halkidiki, which are printed by the anti-mining activists. The police gave them no explanation as to why they had to go to the precinct and let them go without further ado, after, however, making a photocopy of their passports.

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4. HIV testing suspended in referral centres
The Athens Medical Association slammed this week the decision of deputy Health Minister Fotini Skopouli not to release the approved funds for HIV/AIDS referral centres, leading to the suspension of adequate testing to confirm the presence of HIV. Furthermore, recent austerity measures imposed on the health sector have led to the suspension of free testing, meaning that patients lacking health insurance have to pay for their tests. The chaiman of the Athens Medical Association stated that “The country is unprotected against a grave danger that threatens public health. While we have observed recently that there is an AIDS epidemic among drug users, the deputy minister of heath is blowing up the country’s protection system against this disease.”
In a related development, it was reported on Friday that healthcare decree 39a was repelled by the Ministry of Health. The decree was introduced by former Minister of Health Andreas Loverdos in 2012 and allowed for forcible testing of anyone suspected of carrying an infectious disease without the patient’s consent. The decree was used in particular to arrest and parade in front of cameras a group of HIV-positive drug addicted women, who were accused of being prostitutes, just before the 2012 general elections. Radiobubble’s Zoe Mavroudi is preparing a video documentary on the story of these women, to be released in the coming weeks.

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5. Collective Labour Agreement

A majority of social partners, with the exception of the Association of Industrialists, reached an eleventh-hour deal to sign a new National Collective Labour Agreement on the day the extension period of the previous agreement expired. The new collective agreement maintains 10% marriage benefits and provisions for childbirth and maternity leave. It contains however no provisions whatsoever on basic issues pertaining to wages, thus reinforcing the risk that current, dire salary and work conditions may become permanent, with the level of the minimum wage being defined by the Minister of Labour as stipulated in the bailout agreements. At the same time, the new agreement’s validity may be extended for one year without further negotiations and it will be applicable retroactively for one year starting January 1st.
The new collective labour agreement was signed by most employers, who represent 80% of activity sectors, but not by the Associations of Industrialists. The Association proposed instead an “Agreement Protocol on Basic Issues and Principles” and was heavily criticized for it. It must be noted that the proposed protocol included marriage benefits without specifying however their amount at 10% of the basic salary.
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6. Discrimination against LGBT in Greece
 
The Athens Pride denounced on Thursday 16 May the decision by the National Council for Radio & Television to ban all Athens Pride publicity spots until the plenary session of the Council can discuss the appropriateness of their broadcast. The reason for given by the Council is the fact that the spots include a lesbian kiss. This is the second such incident of censorship and discrimination against the LGBT community on Greek media in recent months. In October 2012, State TV channel NET had chosen to edit a kiss between two men out of a episode of Downton Abbey. In both cases, the Council ignored a 2003 ruling by the Council of State which condemned the Council’s decision to censor a gay kiss scene on Mega TV channel.
This development came one day before the International Day against Homophobia and Transphobia and the publication of IGAL-Europe’s 2013 Annual Review of the Human Rights Situation of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex People in Europe. Greece ranks 25th among 49 European countries in terms of securing and protecting the legal human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and intersex (LGBTI) people. The Annual Review notes several shortcomings of the management of LGBT issues by the Greek authorities, in particular the lack of action taken against homophobic violence, physical and verbal, by Golden Dawn and related extreme-right groups.
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7. Privatization of public transportation
 
The Editors’ Newspaper reported this week that the government is preparing a bill to privatize public transportation in Athens, with investors expressing interest so far mostly in “core” lines such as those connecting downtown Athens to the airport, where fares are higher. The newspaper also reports that several problems faced by commuters in Athens are due to a shortage of funds and personnel and to arrears owed by Ministries to the public transportation company. Only 4,500 drivers are available to cover 7,500 positions, while 25% of Athens buses remain at the depot due, mainly, to a lack of spare parts and the Public Transportation Agency owes almost €700 million to its gas supplier. The government is also planning to proceed with further price hikes, despite a 40% increase in the cost of tickets in 2010.
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8. Guns, debt and corruption
The Transnational Institute’s report on Military spending and the EU crisis indicates that “High levels of military spending played a key role in the unfolding economic crisis in Europe and continues to undermine efforts to resolve it.” The report highlights the discrepancy between calls for cuts to social spending while military expenditure remains high across the continent, where the arms industry continues to profit from new orders as well as outstanding debts. TNI notes specifically in the case of Greece that levels of expenditure twice as high as the European average contributed to causing the debt crisis, while the debts caused by arms sales were often a result of corrupt deals between government officials, with up to eight arms deals signed by the Greek government since the late 1990s being investigated by judicial authorities for possible illegal bribes and kickbacks to state officials and politicians. Since the start of the crisis, despite pushing for savage cuts to social services in Greece, France and Germany have pressured the Greek government not to reduce defence spending. France is currently arranging a lease deal with Greece for two of Europe’s most expensive frigates; the surprising move is said to be largely “driven by political considerations, rather than an initiative of the armed forces”. In 2010 the Dutch government granted export licences worth €53 million to equip the Greek navy. As an aide to former Greek prime minister Papandreou noted: “No one is saying ‘Buy our warships or we won’t bail you out.’ But the clear implication is that they will be more supportive if we do”.
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