Thousands of Greek workers have mobilized against runaway energy and fuel prices in recent weeks. Although spiking fuel and energy prices are now a global phenomenon tied to inflation driven by corporate profiteering and blowback from failed sanctions against Russia, the crisis has been particularly acute for Greece due to EU-imposed privatization of its energy sector. TRNN reports from the ground as workers fight to increase stagnating wages in light of the cost of living crisis. This video is part of a special Workers of the World series on the cost of living crisis in Europe.
Producer: Christos Avramidis
Videography: Alexandros Litsardakis
Video editor: Leo Erhardt
Translation: Danai Maltezou
This story, with the support of the Bertha Foundation, is part of The Real News Network’s Workers of the World series, telling the stories of workers around the globe building collective power and redefining the future of work on their own terms.
Reporter: In Greece, thousands of people demonstrate and many of them even burn their bills, having as their main demands decreases in prices and increases in wages.
Greece has seen one of the greatest increases in the cost of living in the EU, even though Greece ranks 19th out of the 26 EU nations in terms of wages.
Greece has the highest electricity price and the second highest fuel price in the EU.
One of their main demands is an increase in wages so that at least keep pace with the rise in the cost of living.
Giorgos Stefanakis: Workers have not received an increase in salaries in 15 years. They work for reduced wages and in many cases part-time. This means that the average salary is 500 to 700 euros, a situation that a working-class family can’t afford anymore and that was the main reason why on November 9th there was a very big national strike and today it escalated into a large rally here, in Athens, in the Syntagma Square.
Antigoni Mavromati: The whole summer during the high season we have been applying pressure on hoteliers to sign our sectoral contract with substantial increases. We mobilized repeatedly in all the hotels of Athens and we escalated this struggle into the very successful strike of November 9. We will continue to react. Our sectoral convention has been signed, we are not satisfied with it, because the 5.5% that is given us for 2023 can not meet our real needs. Inflation is much higher.
Reporter: Due to inflation, the most oppressed strata of the working class cannot even fulfil their basic needs
Vaso Akrivou: Unfortunately, we avoid going to the supermarket as much as we can. We probably cut out more of our diet, and we try to buy products that are as cheap as possible. From my workplace, two cleaners, the school guard and some teachers went on a strike because they considered this strike as very important.
Reporter: The huge electricity price plays the most important role and has two main negative consequences. Firstly, many citizens are not able to pay their bills and secondly, there are price increases in the economy as a whole.
Giota Statha: The privatization of the electricity market happened under the usual pretext used for all privatizations that is to say, offering better services to citizens and lowering prices as a result of the competition. That really didn’t happen. The provision of services has dramatically decreased.
Many people were left without power for days just from a simple snow last year and the prices have increased by 300% in the first 20 years of the privatization, while it is only over the last year, that wholesale prices have been increased about five times more.
Reporter: However, the negative consequences of this situation do not affect everybody. This is the official report published by an energy company as read by the workers who demonstrated outside their offices
Activist: I am going to read to you the 9-month report for the basic financial figures of the group.
This year’s turnover, compared to last year has increased four times over from 1,6 billion to 4,5 billion with profits that increased by 121% compared to last year.
Giota Statha: Electricity in Greece has long ago ceased to be regarded as a common good. Electricity is a commodity and is subject to market rules, the law of supply and demand. 39.2% of Greek citizens say… that they are unable to warm their household 50% in Greece is unable to pay electricity bills. This is a “first prize” for Greece, in Europe as a whole
Reporter: People have been burning their bills in many different cities [People Chanting: decrease the rent prices, raise the wages] and blocking the entrance of electricity companies.
Dimitra Rompoti: In order to buy the essentials so that you can provide yourself with food, body and house cleanliness and if one has a child all of those cost at least 100 euros. Who has 100 euros to spend for the supermarket every week? Nobody.
Reporter: The cost-of-living crisis affected the already poor working-class, whose situation had already worsened due to the memorandum agreements and the basic salary reduction implemented in 2013. The basic wage today is lower than it was in 2012
Dimitra Rompoti: Ιn Greece and before the surge in inflation that we have now it wasn’t that we had a minimum wage that could help us get through the month. Austerity policies started a long time ago. The minimum wage is currently gross 713 euros, as net income, that is 611. At least 300 euros per month for the rent, 100 euros per week for the supermarket. Do the math. We’re not making it.
Nikos Nikisianis: The official inflation in Greece may be 10% but the goods that are highly important for most people namely food, housing, electricity, have even higher increases. The increases were attributed to the international energy crisis, the war in Ukraine, and so on. The reality is that they have been influenced by international circumstances, but to a greater extent, they are attributed to the recent privatization of the power market in Greece. Private energy providers have the privilege of selling power at the most expensive price that they produce it. That is, if electricity from natural gas, for example, costs 300 euros, and electricity from hydroelectricity costs 30 euros all electricity will be sold at the price of the most expensive, i.e. 300 euros. This is the policy of the “Energy Exchange” which was imposed on Greece by the European Union, and it was implemented in an even more extreme way, obviously in order to increase the profits of these private companies.
Nikos Nikisianis in an activist action: To abolish the energy exchange.
Reporter: Videos go viral with activists singing humorous birthday songs and blow out candles for the minister that privatized the network inside electricity companies’ exhibition stands
Nikos Nikisianis in an activist action: The privatization of electricity has been the biggest theft to happen in the Greek state over the last decades.
Activists [singing birthday song]: Long live little Kostas and many profits.
Nikos Nikisianis: We wanted to target private companies that speculate on the Energy Market and specifically, [Kostas] Hatzidakis who was the first Energy Minister of New Democracy [governing party] and he consciously wanted to connect his name with the privatization company of DEI (Public Electricity Company) by promising that that once the privatization phase is over, consumers will have cheaper and better services of electricity.
Reporter: As a matter of fact, many people are not able to pay their rent or their debts in order to survive
Nikos Nikisianis: An average household, an average worker, a couple, 4.00-4.04 give a large of their salary, more than half of it, about 50%-60% , 4.05-4.09 to the cost of housing, i.e. rent, if they don’t have their own house 4.09-4.12 in loan servicing, if they own a house 4.13-4.15 and to the cost of energy and heating.
Reporter: The houses are being auctioned and funds are acquiring even the first residence. The worker’s unions have disrupted many auctions of people’s houses that the banks were trying to take. On November 21 the police broke the door of a low-income woman pensioner in order to evacuate the house. Immediately after, trade unions and general assemblies held a demo and threw police out of the house. A few hours later a big demonstration in the neighbourhood of Zografou in Athens was held. Τhe demo that had the banner of the trade unions in the first line confirmed that the pensioner is going to stay at her house.
Ioanna Kolovou: Thank you. Thank you so much for everything. Solidarity is our weapon. Solidarity will always be our weapon. My friends, thank you so much.
Chanting: No home in the hands of a banker. No home in the hands of a banker.
Reporter: After the demonstrations, the pensioner has remained in her house and no one has attempted to evict it again.
Activist: They received the first message, we will not let any vultures, any fund, to grab the homes of the workers, of our people.
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