“We face many challenges simultaneously, but I want to express my absolute satisfaction with the way our Parliamentary Group is working. It is very important that in no case should the Government’s reform plan be halted due to Covid“
K. Mitsotakis. Prime Minister, 3 November 2020 on twitter.
– Europe is saying a very simple thing: “Spend according to your means, not all of what you have. What we are spending right now, is future taxes.
Question: In other words, is it estimated that if we deviate now, a new Memorandum —in the long run, of course— is not ruled out, meaning new fiscal adjustments?
– And it will not be in the long run because markets react strongly when they see that there is no responsible fiscal management.
T. Skylakakis. deputy Finance Minister, 21 September 2020 on the radio station “alpha 98.9fm”
The new lockdown is an aspect of an already rather miserable and suffocating reality. The much-advertised return to “normality” —capitalist normality, that is— has been interrupted again in the name of protecting the most valuable commodity for capital, our value-producing labour power, under the weight of the daily increase of covid-19 hospitalisations and after years of methodical dismantling of the public health infrastructure.
The government, after succeeding in partially consolidating the practice and ideology of “individual responsibility” and “responsible stay-at-home-ism” last spring —an ideology that even a large part of the left and the anarchist/anti-authoritarian milieu had rushed to embrace— is returning to this tactical manoeuvre to divert the debate that had already begun around the central objective of the state management of the pandemic: to shift the largest possible part of the financial costs of dealing with it onto our backs.
With one important difference, though. The current use of the confinement biopolitics is accompanied by an escalation of disciplinary measures (e.g. doubling of fines and the introduction of a curfew after 9pm). Also, an escalation of repressive violence. This is exemplified by the simultaneous evacuations of the historical Polytechnic school in the Athenian city centre (which illegal immigrants had been squatting and the “milieu” had been using for its assemblies/public events) and the students’ occupation of the Rector’s Office of the National Technical University of Athens. And by the savage attacks on demonstrators on November 17th by thousands of cops, riot police and anti-terrorist squads. This repressive violence was launched because it is now difficult to portray the state’s choice of a lockdown policy as a supposedly impartial treatment of a “public health” issue, decided in a political vacuum and regardless of the, mostly spasmodic but nevertheless existing, responses against the hygienic tightening of social discipline.
The government cannot hide the fact that even the limited proletarian demands and acts of resistance that had been expressed in recent months cannot be tolerated by the capitalist system, because they are in conflict with the ten-year-old strategy pursued by all the political lackeys of capital (today its right-wing faction, yesterday another).
It cannot also sweep under the carpet of “public health protection”, the use of the lockdown as a preventive measure against an outbreak of social unrest and the generalization of demands and practices aimed at meeting social needs. We therefore recommend that we try to keep our distance, if only once, from interpretations that mystify what the political bosses seem to know very well: the existing class antagonism that guides their choices, as well as our own when we are not trapped in the dilemmas presented to us by those professional experts in deception.
Because of this unspoken secret, which lies at the heart of this, not only heartless, but also sick world, the political staff of capital chose to temporarily close down a section of the capitalist economy, with characteristic reluctance and delay (as shown, until recently, by their declared refusal to do so, despite the increased number of covid-19 hospitalizations since September 2020 compared to that of the first lockdown in the spring of the same year). On the contrary, they exhibited a characteristic willingness to apply —after the end of the tourist season— the measure of disciplinary restriction of the proletariat’s movement in public space, especially for its section that is not about to function as a labour force.
The dystopian results of the old and the new lockdown are starting to become apparent, among other things, in the orchestrated attempt to worsen the conditions under which the working class hires itself out to capital (see below the upcoming labour bill), in the deepening of the entrepreneurial character of the university (see below the entrepreneurial university – the new enclosures and policing of universities), in the forthcoming handover of workers’ housing to the rentiers of banking capital (as exemplified by the new bankruptcy code). And of course it did not stop for a moment, from May onwards, to undermine every effort to rebuild the already fragmented and anaemic proletarian public sphere.
At the same time, however, we think that it is also becoming apparent that the government’s choice to impose a second lockdown is a product of its failure to present its policies for the management of this social crisis as strictly medical ones. It’s a product of the relative breach of compliance with the previous disciplinary measures imposed under the biopolitics of health policing, as well as the need for an authoritarian response to:
a) the struggles of sections of the working class, which were expressed mostly through demands for an increase in state reproductive expenditure on health, education and means of transport — an increase which would lead to an improvement in the level of collective consumption on the part of the working class and which would de facto negate the rigid policy of devaluation pursued by capital as a whole, in recent years;
b) the militant struggles of the young proletariat in secondary schools (see school occupations) who also put forward demands for increased state reproductive expenditure, while simultaneously temporarily blocking the disciplinary aspect of the function of education through their actions, among which, their unruly “overcrowding” in public spaces (squares), which proved that the need for social gathering is more imperative than any kind of distancing — except that which we must keep from the supporters of stay-at-home-ism;
c) the general distrust (still) caused by the contradictory invocations of “individual responsibility” and “keeping distances”, at the same time as it is becoming obvious that the bosses are stubbornly refusing to dig deeper into their pockets so as to give out not only crumbs in the form of allowances for the employees on furlough, but also to increase spending on new modes of transport, hospitals and schools.
Meanwhile, the political personnel of capital is constantly confronted even by small and medium-sized bosses, mainly those active in the food services industry, but also in retail — where idyllic exploitation conditions prevail as many of us know way too well — which found themselves in a disadvantaged position amidst the general process of capital devaluation, which eventually either led them to fall flat completely due to the temporary suspension of their business operation or caused reductions in their turnover.
The shutting down of venues of alienated entertainment and consumption would not have been tolerated for a long time by the shopkeepers, were it not combined with a restriction of movement in public space to remind us that the satisfaction of the needs of the proletariat, including its entertainment, will only be allowed when it is directly profitable for the bosses.
Faced with many open fronts, the government nevertheless proceeds with undiminished zeal with a series of legislative interventions, since, as the proverb goes, the devil is busy in a gale of wind:
● It restricts the free movement of the unruly proletariat and prevents, even with junta-like police decrees, public rallies against the state’s disciplinary monologue — be it demonstrations or leafleting and public discussion events;
● It prepares the imposition of new enclosures in the universities, accelerating the partial development of the entrepreneurial side of their activities and intensifying the (unpaid or poorly paid) labour carried out by students
● It prepares a new attack on teaching staff in primary and secondary education, through the use of an evaluations mechanism, imposing wage cuts on all who refuse to comply with the ministry’s directive to switch to disciplinary remote learning, and do regular attendance checks on students who skip remote classes.
● It prepares a new attack on the hiring conditions of our labour power, paving the way for individual employment contracts, with lower wages, unpaid overtime, (even more) flexible working hours and electronic voting in union ballots in order to make strikes even rarer than they are today.
● It prepares a new attack on our indirect salary, reducing the income of public insurance funds and paving the way for privately managed fully-funded insurance and pensions — that is, for ridiculously low pensions based on the individual contributions of each employee;
● All this, while it has already introduced the new “bankruptcy code”, through which it continues the attack on workers’ housing, or in other words, workers’ wages.
Let us look at some of these “interventions” in more detail.
The upcoming labour bill
That dismantles legal working schedules, lowers wages, and prevents strikes
«When a company agrees with its employees on the basis of a business contract to switch from a five-day to seven-day working week with the consent of employees (…) we are doing nothing more than merely acknowledging the fact that we live in a changing world and employees, companies and the state have to adapt to the new reality»
K. Mitsotakis. Prime Minister, 12th May 2019
«We will soon bring forward our proposal for the labour bill for public debate (…) I imagine few would object to allowing workers to have more flexibility, if they so wish, without this meaning the abolition of the eight-hour working day (… ) few might object to the fact that a labour law from 1982 is due for some substantial streamlining »
K. Mitsotakis, 13th September 2020
The intensification of the attacks on our direct and indirect wages is of course linked to the efforts to make the labour market even more flexible, not only through emergency legislative acts and regulations under the pretext of dealing with the coronavirus, but also with a comprehensive, new draft bill of the Ministry of (exploitation of) Labour, which will attempt to formally validate and consolidate the whole fabric of new power relations that have been formed in the workplaces throughout the period 2010-2020, which encourage employer impunity.
It is not by chance that we connect this new labour bill to the era of memoranda. Neither was, of course, the recent crude admission of the Deputy Minister of Finance, Th. Skylakakis that “the government benefits of today, given in the vortex of the pandemic, will be financed by future taxes”, coincidental, foreshadowing in this way a new, tough memorandum.
In any case, the new labour bill, according to what has been leaked so far, aims at:
● The complete dismantling of the five-day, 8-hour working week, i.e. the very foundation of the labour law, as the bosses will now be able to distribute the weekly 40 working hours at will, with a maximum of 10 hours per day without additional pay, while overtime can now be “exchanged” with breaks or leave within a period of 6 months, instead of getting paid with the increased hourly rate according to the law so far. Such settlements were already possible under Law No. 3986/2011, which, however, required relevant business collective agreements. With the new law, when no agreement is reached on the basis of a collective business agreement, the capitalist is given the opportunity to unilaterally appeal to the Supreme Labour Affairs Council. This is a 7-member body — 5 members are appointed by the government and the other two represent the General Confederation of Greek Workers and the employers’ associations respectively. One of its brilliant activities so far was that it approved collective redundancies…
At the same time, it becomes possible for bosses to abolish the Saturday and Sunday rest days, simply on the basis of business-specific employment contracts. It is obvious that such measures practically annul the concept of overtime and drastically reduce its remuneration. Let us remember at this point, that according to Law No. 4722/2020, if a worker has to spend a period of time in quarantine, they have to “repay” the boss half of that time with unpaid overtime! Based on the above, the foundations are laid for even a 66-hour working week. This measure also shows that both the state and the employers treat absence from work due to quarantine as absenteeism or an undeclared strike.
But something else is also worth remembering: according to the recent special measures, under the pretext of dealing with the pandemic, employers no longer have to immediately inform the (decimated) Labour Inspectorate about the working schedules of their staff. We can all imagine what this will mean for the already deregulated working time arrangements.1
● The levelling out of the legal overtime ceiling in all businesses (upwards) to 120 hours per 6-month period. This measure dismantles the working schedule of workers in industries and handicrafts, as for them the allowed limit per semester has been … 48 hours, i.e. their bosses will be able to impose 4 more hours of overtime per working week, regardless of the employees’ social needs, who are considered, even more blatantly now, mere “components” in the process of production, with no free time of their own. With this measure, the supply of labour is attached even more tightly to the conjunctural productive needs of each company.
● The bypassing of collective bargaining agreements, by instituting the “right” to “individual negotiation” with the boss for the determination of the “individual working hours and pay rate”. We all know very well what “individual negotiation with the boss” usually means and what kind of pressures can be exerted on workers — this is most likely what our good prime minister meant when he spoke about employees who “consent” to work more flexible hours themselves.
This “option” of individual negotiation of the working schedule will also include the time limits of on-call status for tele-workers, i.e. the time periods in which the remote employee has to be on standby status, but also the deadlines for responding upon being called to work by the boss. Again, it is easy to guess what kind of “agreements” will result from this, in the con text of the current circumstances in which working hours are pushed to be extended anyway.
● The option for bosses to impose remote working simply by invoking “public health risks”. The new bill provides for the use of control and surveillance systems of the remote employees’ work, excluding cameras, if —and here we have to laugh— a) they are compatible with the legislation “on protection of personal data” b) the operational needs of the company necessitate their use and c) their use is confined to their intended purpose, i.e. the surveillance of teleworking!
● Encouraging blackmail by employers, as the resolution of labour disputes is removed from the jurisdiction of the Labour Inspectorate —based also on the agreements set out in the 7th “enhanced surveillance report” which was recently approved by the EU Commission— and assigned to OMED (Mediation and Arbitration Organisation), which is dominated by employers, and which does not have any inspection mechanisms, while at the same time a new framework is set for submitting applications to OMED and, finally, the second stage of arbitration (i.e. appeal against the decision of the initial arbitration) is scrapped altogether.
● The isolation of dismissed employees, throughout the notice period during their dismissal, while the need to formally justify the dismissal has already been eliminated (for the bosses) and the relevant compensations, when they exist, have been dramatically reduced.
Also: new changes are imminent in Law 1264/1982 regarding union functions like declaring a strike. Specifically on that, while the terms on which a strike can be declared have already been made much stricter, during the days of SYRIZA (2015-2019), with the need to secure support from 50% + 1 of active union members, now remote participation in the voting process will be added through electronic ballots.
And while this last measure significantly hampers strike declarations, in these workplaces where these are still possible, the new bill comes to partially undercut the very essence of strikes, by imposing a policy in the so-called “vital” sectors of the private and public sector that the “minimum service personnel” during the strike must equal at least 40% (!) of the total workforce.
That is, the government pre-emptively legislates the conscription of part of the strikers, while at the same time it prohibits drastic actions, such as occupations of facilities and blocking of gates, and introduces the charge of “exerting psychological or physical violence” (to bosses; to strike-breakers; to cops, who really knows?) based on which, strikes will be declared illegal.
But that is not all: the average salary has already decreased by about 10% compared to the second quarter of 2019 (from 885 euros to 802 euros)2 and according to the latest ELSTAT (Hellenic Statistical Authority) data, the total decrease of employees’ salaries during the second quarter of 2020 amounts to 1.3 billion euros when compared to the same period last year. Now 72.9% (!) of all employees in Greece have to get by on less than 1,000 euros net per month,3 while the unemployed… can’t get by at all: even among the registered long-term unemployed, only 1 in 5 gets the, recently announced, emergency allowance of 400 euros.
In such a setting, the government plans to attack social insurance fund revenues even further: both through the forthcoming reduction of the average wage —the minimum wage has already been frozen and will only be redetermined at some point in 2021 [it eventually increased by 2% on 1-1-2022]— and through the reduction of social insurance contributions in the private sector by 3%.
According to the 2021 draft budget, which was submitted for discussion a few days ago, this reduction will reach 650 million euros and apart from the insurance funds, it will also reduce the resources of OAED (National Employment Agency) by 40% (from 1.7 billion euros to 1 billion), losses that will be covered via state subsidy, i.e. through our taxation. Respectively, the funds for the unemployed will also be reduced by 38% (from 2.15 billion euros to 1.33 billion), despite the already visible increase of the unemployment, an increase that is of course expected to continue.
State spending on pensions will be reduced. This is happening after this year’s break when they showed an increase due to the rulings for retroactive payment of certain amounts to some categories of pensioners —retroactive payments which, it should be noted, were given, yes, but scaled down. More specifically, spending on primary (state) pensions will be reduced by 2.1 billion euros, while spending on supplementary pensions will be reduced by 127 million. In fact, these reductions are such that the total pension expenditure is expected to fall below the corresponding 2019 levels.4
The above policy of pension cuts is a result of the ten-year policy of memoranda that, as we can see, continues unabated today. In fact, a new attack on pensions has been announced with the substitution of the auxiliary part of the public pension by private pension funds, via individual or business labour contracts. This measure will initially be mandatory for the “newly insured”, but will also affect the older ones, as the planned reduction of pension fund revenues coming from insurance contributions will lead to significant reductions in the current supplementary pensions (see memorandum clause stating that pension levels must guarantee the funds’ “viability”), pushing more employees to “individual insurance solutions”.
and the new “enclosures” around it
“Academic asylum, for us, has no place in the Greek public university, in the way it is applied today. The same rules that apply to every public space in the country, will also apply to the public university. The authorities will be able to intervene on their own initiative for any criminal act that takes place at the university. This is an idea we want to discuss. We are considering introducing an entry check system in the academic institutions. I am not aware of any university abroad that does not have access control“.
N. Kerameus. Minister of Education and Religious Affairs,
10th July 2019 on SKAI TV.
The state, recognizing —just like we do— the universities as potential centres of struggle against the state’s management of the pandemic, took advantage of the panic that it itself had cultivated around the pandemic, and shut the institutions down at the first opportunity, imposing remote learning as early as last March and remote examinations in the exam period of the spring semester.
The state management of the terms of operation of the universities has been totally aggressive towards our class if we consider that it completely ceased their function as reappropriated public spaces and fields of struggle, where assemblies, events and migrant squats were housed, while at the same time, every effort was made to prevent the suspension of any business activity that is carried out thanks to the unpaid labour of students or the poorly paid labour of doctoral students and research staff.
Remote learning, which has been generally implemented since March and continues to this day, is a clear weapon for further individualization of students, forcing them to stay at home, isolated.
The disciplinary-repressive dimension of remote learning is made clear by the fact that while the government had relaxed its measures from May all the way up to 6/11/2020, universities never stopped being in lockdown throughout this period. It is also indicative that during the spring lockdown period not even a week had passed since the closure of the universities that the occupation of the “Ghini” building [in the National Technical University of Athens, a space that had been a centre of struggle for years and where immigrants lived] was evacuated.
The evacuation of the Ghini building was followed by a new sequence of repressive actions, such as the attempt to evacuate the student dormitories and the aggressive eviction of all students living there, as well as the sabotage of the “espiv” server, which is housed in Panteion University. Let us note here that it was real-world, physical, in-person activism that eventually managed to repel these aggressive actions of the government. Only temporarily, of course, since with the enforcement of the new lockdown, the expulsion of students from student halls is being attempted again, as we have learnt from complaints made by students in Komotini (Northern Greece), who are even asked to collect all of their belongings with their departure.
The lack of this physical, in-person activism, the fact that university premises have been rendered lifeless and empty of students as a result of intensified student labour and the political management of the pandemic by the state and in particular the implementation of remote learning, the escalation of repressive violence during the second phase of the biopolitics of confinement, the abolition of academic asylum and the overall entrepreneurializatio of the university was what provided the possibility for the simultaneous invasion of hundreds of cops of all kinds (DELTA, OPKE, EKAM units) to evacuate both the historical Polytechnic school in the city centre and the students’ occupation of the Rector’s Office of the National Technical University of Athens, on 13/11/2020.
This attack on the gathering of workers and students at the Polytechnic School and the occupation of the NTUA Rector’s Office in the Polytechnic Campus resulted in the arrest of a total of 92 activists, who opposed the NTUA lockout and kept the university open in the middle of a general lockdown, in order to demand that the three-day celebrations and demonstration of the 17th November (landmark day for the revolt against the G reek dictatorship in 1973) should be conducted as normal.
Besides the e-learning cameras we have in our homes, they tried to introduce cameras in the classrooms and now cameras in the universities. And not only that. At the recent meeting of the rectors of the universities with the Prime Minister and the Minister of Education, the government proposed to introduce barriers and cameras at the entrances of the faculties; to establish a special police unit for their protection; as well as the toughening of the penalties imposed on students for offences committed in spaces of the “university community”. The rectors, playing the role of the “good cop”, refused the toughening of the penalties, claiming that the already strict legal framework is sufficient, but they stated that they agree with the establishment of a special police unit, as long as it answers to the university administration and not the Ministry of Citizen Protection.
Nevertheless, the government seems to prioritize the policing of the university in very specific terms. That is why, only a few days after the decision of the rectors, the Minister of Education N. Kerameus announced the recruitment of 1,500 special guards by the Ministry of Citizen Protection. The “university protection unit”, as it will be called, will have its headquarters within university premises, will be under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Citizen Protection and will be assigned to (certain) higher education institutions. Details on the exact characteristics of this unit are not yet known.
Α more recent development in the efforts of policing and imposing enclosures in the university is the decision of the Rector’s Council of the University of Athens to implement entry checks and keep records of those who enter the dormitories of the institution, supposedly for the “health protection” of the students who live there. It is no coincidence, of course, that student dormitories have in recent months become the main space where political activism and assemblies (not just of students) are housed.
With the enclosing of the universities with cops, security guards and entrance barriers and the complete control of their interior, an attempt is made to strip the function of the universities from the counterweight of any applied proletarian critique so that they are nothing more than factories producing an important commodity, specialized labour power. The latter consists of structured skills and knowledge exploitable by capital within the alienating productive-labour process, be it paid or unpaid.
So we understand very well what the police and the cameras in the universities are there to protect, using as a pretext the so-called “hooligan-terrorists”, as they have used immigrant peddlers and drug addicts in the past. The cops and the cameras protect the attempted, ever increasing entrepreneurialization of university functions, which goes hand in hand with the (pre-emptive) suppression of any prospect of antagonistic activity within them.
In other words, they try to preserve the unhampered running of universities as enterprises that profit from the exploitation of unpaid and paid student work (from the unpaid undergraduate preparation of our labour power and unpaid internships up to poorly paid research work).
Research programs —in addition to having as their main function the exploitation of students’ labour— are organised collaborations with the private business sector, the army and the police. NTUA (National Technical University of Athens) is known for its research in relation to border protection, repression, military equipment (see Ranger, Andromeda, Ingenious, Prevision research programs), but it is also known for its important collaboration with other international universities as well as with the largest companies operating in Greece. To give just one example, consider the research on the development of wind farms or the exploitation of energy reserves in natural gas and hydrocarbons. The reason we choose to cite this particular example, among many others —the NTUA alone runs more than 1,500 research projects— is that the government rushed, in the midst of a lockdown, the passing of a law that, among other things, allows hydrocarbon mining in areas protected under the “Natura 2000” network, while at the same time, it was keeping the universities closed to the students so that the corresponding research might not be challenged or hindered.
Besides research, which comprises the most important part of the entrepreneurial activity in the universities, the latter is also highlighted by a series of subcontractors that operate in the universities (see subcontracting of the canteens, restaurants and security), but also by the introduction of the industry of postgraduate courses with tuition fees and international masters or undergraduate programs. And let us not forget: the “Europeanization” and the policing of the universities was one of the main stated goals of the (currently ruling) New Democracy party, before it even came to power. Moreover, all of what is heralded now, has been a long-standing goal and pursuit of all previous governments – though perhaps not in the same rough and hasty way. At the present time, the government is cunningly reviving the “theory of the two extremes”, in the aftermath of the conviction of the one “extreme” (i.e. Golden Dawn trial) and the “fight against lawlessness in the universities”, taking advantage of the almost non-existent social resistance in the universities (due to remote learning) against the state management of the pandemic on the one hand, and of all the political speculation around a collective act of aggressive mockery towards the rector of the Athens University of Economics and Business (ASOEE), in the aftermath of a recent squat eviction in the premises of this specific institution.
Finally, the entrepreneurial character of the university is also highlighted by the efforts to discipline the students through the planned enforcement of the “n + 2” rule, which postulates the elimination of the student status 2 years after the formal curriculum duration. The “n + 2” rule, like all the other characteristics of the entrepreneurial university mentioned above, forges tomorrow’s obedient worker who has to be fast and productive, capable of combining work with studies without any time to do anything else, ready to enter the intensified, competitive and casualised labour market.
So, it is not enough that we work in universities unpaid, this will now have to be done at the pace and intensity required by the state in a space monitored by cameras and enclosed by cops.
So, while the bosses are jumping on us from all sides…
…today, we have to take advantage of the crisis for the benefit of the working class; we have to fight, in conditions of the suspension of formal, constitutional legality, for the satisfaction of our immediate needs!
1 According to GSEE (General Confederation of Greek workers) data, before the “coronavirus pandemic” the domestic labour market was already plagued by the “pandemic of unpaid overtime”, as 73% of those employed worked overtime, while in some sectors, such as manufacturing and transport, the corresponding percentage was over 80% “. See The Greek economy and employment (Annual Report), 2020, p. 73.
2 Ibid., p. 82.
4 It is not just pension expenditure that is reduced. In the midst of the pandemic, government expenditure on health is also reduced by 570 million € or 12% (from 4.8 billion € to 4.25 billion €), as is emergency expenditure for the pandemic: from 523 million € this year to just 131 million in 2021 (75% reduction). Instead, spending on military equipment has increased by 30%.