Sinking in the status quo

Nothing highlights the shortsightedness of those who govern Greece more than the disaster of our pension system. It reads like the script of a horror movie: workers and employers pay exorbitant health and pension dues, which, along with huge state subsidies, are so badly mismanaged that Greeks have pathetic state health and education systems; this forces them to pay out of their pockets for medical treatment and tuition. When half the money paid in salaries does not go into workers’ pockets (but into social security dues and taxes), then much less goes into investments and consumption – two of the driving forces of employment.

Not only are workers and their employers being bilked for substandard services, draining funds from the private sector, but the system also places endless demands on the state through subsidized services and the payment of deficits run up by security funds and hospitals. This adds to the country’s debt burden and draws an increasing amount of money away from infrastructure, social services and other foundations of a modern society.

As if this were not bad enough, a rapidly aging population multiplies the effects of the collapsing social security system. Fewer and fewer people enter the labor force, which means that not only will they have to pay intolerable amounts in dues and taxes, but these payments will not be enough to cover the pensions and medical needs of people who are already in retirement. As time passes, it appears increasingly unlikely that younger people will be able to expect pensions and other benefits when they reach retirement age. In 2050, close to 60 percent of the population will be over 65. Who will do the work? With the drain on public coffers, it is extremely difficult for the state to provide the tax breaks, subsidies, and so on, that could encourage families to have more than one or two children.

The social security system is also grossly unfair. Most workers and pensioners are covered by the Social Security Foundation (IKA), by far the largest state fund among scores of minnows. People on IKA pay high dues but receive the lowest benefits. They are also excluded from the system of one-off retirement packages – which can come to 200,000 euros, in addition to a pension. These inequalities are unjust not only to those being shortchanged now but also undermine the whole system for future pensioners.

Given these factors, one would expect that the whole nation would be mobilizing to solve the problem. But any government’s attempt to reform the social security system is met with a universal uproar. Trade unions, opposition parties (even dissidents in the ruling party), workers, professional associations, anarchists, and so on, unite in rare agreement that nothing must be done to disturb the status quo. Virulent protests greet any attempt to consolidate and decrease the large and grossly inefficient number of funds, to increase the retirement age or to raise dues. Everyone agrees that the government should just keep footing the bill. The truth is that feckless politicians and institutional mismanagement – not the size of workers’ contributions nor their retirement age – are mostly to blame for the system’s woes. But with minimal effort going into reforming the system, none of the problems are solved.

The fear of protests has kept this government’s reform effort at a minimum. It appears it has learned the lesson of Costas Simitis’s PASOK government which froze and abandoned all effort to govern when party dissidents and unionists derailed an effort at serious social security reform in 2001. The pension system is still standing because of changes instituted by a highly unpopular New Democracy government in the early ’90s. At that time, thousands of protesters were in the streets every day. Now every opponent of change wants to maintain the status quo that arose from that reform. The irony is nice – but that won’t help save pension funds nor keep the state from going bankrupt. Then, which status quo will everyone want to protect?

Editorial in Athens Plus, 12 June, 2009

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Math delusion

Easter is over, but the government is still tottering under the burden of a cross formed by the scandals that it must handle, the economy’s death spiral and the fact that it has a one-seat majority in Parliament. But even as the nation – both audience and protagonist in this sad act – is consumed by the spectacle, the dark clouds gathering above its head are a far more serious threat than Costas Karamanlis’s Calvary.
The clouds come in the form of numbers – merciless economic data from which there can be no escape, where faith in resurrection will not suffice. The country is in very serious trouble. On Wednesday alone, a host of economic figures showed how deep a hole we have dug ourselves into. Eurostat, the EU’s statistical service, confirmed that Greece’s 2008 budget deficit was 5 percent, way above the government’s figure of 3.7 percent – which was already above the eurozone’s 3-percent excessive deficit threshold. Also, the International Monetary Fund announced that it expects Greece’s gross domestic product (GDP) to shrink by 0.2 percent this year and a further 0.6 percent in 2010; unemployment is expected to rise from 7.6 percent in 2008 and 9 percent in 2009, to 10.5 percent 2010 – which means 143,000 more people unemployed. At the same time, the Bank of Greece announced that receipts from tourism in the first two months of the year were down 20.2 percent from the previous year. These are the most official figures we have had so far, with tourism sector officials estimating that visits and revenues may drop between 10 and 20 percent this year. Also, receipts from shipping fell by 25 percent in January-February. As tourism accounts for about 18 percent of GDP and employs one in five workers, we can imagine what a 10-20 percent drop means. At the same time, the government’s loan-servicing expenditures rocketed from 33.1 million euros last year to 527.2 million in January and February.
As a measure of how big these figures are, the government’s desperate one-off extra tax levied on people earning more than 60,000 euros annually and the freeze on civil service salaries is expected to net under 300 million euros. So the question is very simple: With our deficits and debt greater than expected, with our loan requirements and expenses growing, with fewer people in our work force and with fewer revenues from tourism, shipping and taxes, how on earth are we going to meet our financial obligations as a country?
This is not a philosophical question; it’s a matter of simple math. Thinking that we can carry on as we have so far – with strikes shutting down our ancient sites and museums, with youths burning the city center as a rite of passage, with various closed-shop professions feeding off  the efforts of others – will only drive tourists away and lead to a brain drain, cutting our productivity and revenues even further. Thinking that we can just ride out this storm is a mass delusion of national proportions.

Milestones&Footnotes comment in AthensPlus, 24 April, 2009

The Greeks’ migrations

The history of the Greeks is an endless river that springs up from the depths of central Asia and acquires a homeland at the bottom of the Balkan peninsula, across the Aegean and in Asia Minor. From there, like blood pumped by a powerful heart, Greeks spread out across the world. The fate of their homeland – the prosperity or hardships of little Greece – always determined the emigration or return of its children. After they conquered the area we now know as Greece, the Greek tribes quickly expanded – either through the creation of colonies around the Mediterranean and Black seas or through war (such as the Trojan War and Alexander’s conquests), or through trade. The lack of arable land and shortage of other natural riches forced the Greeks to become seafarers, mercenaries and merchants. They learned the art of survival far from friends and family – they became the first cosmopolitans, the first global citizens.  As adventurers, they opened roads and created Greek settlements, large and small, everywhere – from the deserts of the ancient Middle East to the suburbs of Melbourne.
The past century saw great developments in the Greeks’ migrations, an epic that has still not found its poet. With the opening up of the “new world” of the Americas, Oceania and Africa, hundreds of thousands of Greeks left their villages in search of a better life. They took root far from their homeland, creating new hearths of Hellenism far from the familiar coasts of the seas near Greece. But the Asia Minor Catastrophe, the persecution of the Greeks of Turkey and Stalin’s deportation of Greeks from the Crimea and the Caucasus, pushed Greeks deep into central Asia again – but also resulted in more than a million coming to Greece. This new blood (rich with the experience, wealth and inventiveness that Greeks acquire when the live abroad), strengthened the anemic Greek state, which only found its current form after World War II. At the same time, hunger and the stifling horizons of post-war Greece pushed tens of thousand of young Greeks to leave for Australia, Germany, Belgium and other countries in search of hope and prosperity. Also, many students who studied abroad realized that only outside Greece could they fulfill their expectations, that only as emigrants would they be judged according to their merit and be paid according to their worth. With the billions of euros that flowed into Greece from the European Union, it was no longer poverty that forced the more restless, the more daring Greeks to seek their fate elsewhere. Now it was the lack of opportunity and the thirst for knowledge that inspired the descendants of ancient mariners to migrate.
In the past few years, things have changed once again. Instead of poor Greeks leaving, poor foreigners are coming to Greece while it is the Greeks with the education and means to do so who have been seeking their fortune elsewhere. The foreign immigrants gave new life to Greece’s countryside, propped up the social security funds and helped complete major construction projects.
Now the global economic crisis is laying bare all the problems of Greece. In addition to the dysfunctional  social, educational and political systems, our economic problems can no longer be hidden behind borrowed prosperity. The lack of competitiveness (for which Greek workers are the least to blame) and debt are undermining the future. The problems faced by other countries are leading to a drop in tourism: the money that we were used to waiting for will not be coming, we will have to seek it elsewhere.
The solution for Greeks has always been to look beyond their country’s limits. The Balkans, the Arab states, Russia and Turkey were always favored areas for trade and settlement. In these regions the Greek presence has withered or disappeared, but the past acts like a beachhead for the future. Greek communities in foreign lands – as well as isolated professors, students, contract workers, sailors and entrepreneurs – are like firm stepping stones in history’s river. They show that for those who dare, home is not just the hard and beautiful country of their birth or ancestry, but the Earth itself.

Comment in Kathimerini English Edition, 13 April 2009

Chickens and eggs

There is sorry irony in the fact that Amnesty International accuses the Greek police of human rights violations and the use of excessive force against demonstrators and detainees, at a time when the state appears incapable of enforcing law and order anywhere. The sad thing is that Amnesty International is not exaggerating: Police and coast guard officers are often brutal when dealing with people who have fallen into their hands, whether they be violent demonstrators, crime suspects, passers-by or terrified illegal immigrants. The irony is that these strong-arm tactics do nothing to frighten the hooded youths who occupy university premises with impunity and rampage through Athens and Thessaloniki’s shopping districts at will; they do nothing to stop the rise in robberies and other forms of organized crime, which keep boring deeper into our daily lives and deepest fears.
Perhaps it is only to be expected that when officers are incapable of performing the task for which they were ostensibly hired and trained, they will take out their frustration on whoever falls into their clutches. Or is perhaps that the lack of discipline that makes officers brutal is also the reason for their incompetence? What comes first: the chicken or the egg?
But why should we be so hard on our police when all they do is reflect a much broader problem in society. Whether they be politicians, judges, professors, bureaucrats, doctors, journalists, policemen, waiters or plumbers, too many of us do not do the jobs that we have undertaken – always expecting someone else to do better than us to set things right. We are experiencing system failure, where confusion of laws and responsibilities, incompetence at the personal and institutional level, a lack of accountability and the total absence of a vision for the future conspire to break the nation down into warring tribes with no purpose but to impose their will on everyone else.
We can see the steps that brought us to the slippery slope. But, gliding effortlessly in our decline, we can only guess where all this will stop. Which individuals, armed only with personal integrity and moral duty to society, will take it upon themselves to stand against the willful destruction, to try create a beachhead of civility on what has become an enemy shore?
Last weekend, the rector and other academic leaders of Thessaloniki’s Aristotle University declared that the youths (including “hooded ones”) occupying university premises had a deadline of “Monday or Tuesday” to leave. On Saturday, in broad daylight, the youths rampaged through the city’s heart before returning unimpeded to their “asylum.” On Tuesday, at a much-anticipated debate that was expected to end the sit-in or lead to police being summoned to the campus, jeering protesters threw an egg at the rector. The meeting ended with university authorities pathetically promising to consider the protesters’ demands. The egg flew, the rector ran. But would the egg have flown if the hoodlums were not already sure that the chicken would fly?

Milestones&Footnotes comment in AthensPlus, 3 April 2009

Tigers and whipping boys

It gets a bit tedious, this continual carping in the European media about Greece’s problematic economy. Not a week goes by without some smart Alec somewhere giving vent to his rancor in an analysis regarding Greek profligacy. We keep getting lumped together with Ireland because of our deficits and the expensive money that we have to keep borrowing because international lenders are leaning on us as if we were the last suckers in a world that has suddenly gone cynical. Guys, we didn’t steal, we just borrowed. Expensively.
It’s grossly unfair to keep being lumped with the Euroskeptical Irish because – regardless of our personal admiration for them as a nation and as talented, artistic individuals – we are not in the same league: they are facing a hangover after having enjoyed a boom. From the bottom of the heap, Ireland jumped to the top through such daring innovations in their economy that they became the envy of the world. So much so that in more optimistic times we in Greece would hold conferences at which our prime minister and top aides would hold forth about how they would perform a miracle and turn our country into the Balkan equivalent of the Celtic tiger. Perhaps in their minds the Balkan equivalent meant going directly bust without wasting time on the boom part, without undercutting our competitors by abolishing corporate taxes and by creating an efficient economy with a trouble-free labor climate. Now the Irish are paying the price for old-fashioned, ancient Greek hubris: they thought that they were too good to fail, that their property prices would just keep rising. The tiger’s stripes now look like cuts and scratches.
No, we in Greece cannot be blamed for having taken anyone else’s business – we simply borrowed money in order to hide our weaknesses. But how weak are we? We have assimilated the lessons of boom and bust, knowing that history moves in cycles, great and small, important and trivial. Our history features leaders ranging from Leonidas, Pericles and Alexander the Great to the dismal constellation around the rusting hulks of today’s political dynasties. We know, through a great collective unconscious, that it’s not the boom nor the bust that matters, but the “getting by” on a daily basis – the cutting of corners, the hiding of taxes, the borrowing as if there is no tomorrow, the “let sleeping dogs lie, don’t rock the boat, this is how things have always been” approach. The country’s problems are too big and deep-rooted, our lives too short, Fortune too capricious for anyone to presume to try and sort out the mess. So let’s muddle on, with each forming his own sphere of influence at the others’ expense. At least we know that if salvation is to come from anywhere, it will be from workers in the private sector. They earn less than their counterparts in other parts of Europe, pay higher consumer prices, have worse health, education and welfare benefits, and yet they keep the country on its feet.
Being among those who have seen the country’s future mortgaged by crooks and useless politicians, our shouts drowned by the silence of futility, we can only wonder what it takes for a victim to rise up in anger – like a tiger.

Milestones & Footnotes comment in AthensPlus, 27 March 2009

Rich, poor and precious land

Last Tuesday, after months of violent demonstrations, the president of Madagascar, Marc Ravalomanana, was overthrown when the island nation’s army threw its weight behind the young leader of the opposition, Andry Rajoelina. The new president moved immediately to cancel a deal with South Korea’s Daewoo Logistics for the 99-year lease of one million hectares of land for crop cultivation. «The land of Madagascar is not for sale nor for rent,» the 34-year-old president declared, closing an issue that had provoked an outpouring of rage among the Indian Ocean island’s 20 million people. Most of the world, beset by the consequences of the global economic crisis, took little notice. But the developments in Madagascar will have caused serious headaches wherever rich countries are thinking of exploiting large tracts of land in other countries for their own benefit. In the past year, several countries that have a cash surplus but a shortage of arable land and water have been looking for ways to guarantee their food supply. The chief reason has been 2008’s sudden rise in the price of staple foods, which, though 50 percent off their peak, remain about 28 percent higher than in 2006. Worse, however, is the fact that the tight supply of food prompted many exporting nations, such as India, Ukraine, Russia, Vietnam and Argentina, to curb exports so as to safeguard their own supplies. Countries that depend on imports began to worry that they might face social and political unrest if they could not find food on the open market. Saudi Arabia, which subsidizes the price of rice for its people, started looking into the possibility of cultivating land in Sudan, Pakistan, Turkey, Egypt, Brazil, South Africa and elsewhere. A few weeks ago, the Financial Times reported that the first rice grown abroad by Saudi Arabian investors was presented to King Abdullah. The rice was grown in Ethiopia, which is experiencing serious food shortages of its own, with 11 million of its 80 million inhabitants being directly dependent on food aid from the United Nations.

Saudi investors, subsidized by their government, have concluded a similar deal with Sudan – another one of 32 countries that need direct food aid from abroad. The United Arab Emirates is examining the possibility of cultivating land in Kazakhstan and Sudan; Libya is thinking of doing the same in Ukraine; China is exploring possibilities in southeast Asia and Africa. The idea makes sense: If countries that have money but little arable land cooperate with those that have land but are short of cash, both sides stand to gain. But already we can see the danger of rich countries making deals at the expense of the population of poorer ones. Jacques Diouf, director-general of the UN’s Food and Agricultural Organization, used to be a strong supporter of such foreign investment in food cultivation, but he is becoming concerned. ‘The risk is of creating a neo-colonial pact for the provision of non-value-added raw materials in the producing countries and unacceptable work conditions for agricultural workers,’ Diouf said last August. The nightmare scenario is that rich countries will exploit the land at the expense of the native populations, which are usually closely tied to the land both emotionally and practically through subsistence farming. Tensions will therefore be high. Also, such farming is likely to focus on maximum production with minimal environmental safeguards. Furthermore, if large amounts of foodstuffs are taken off the free market through such bilateral deals, then supplies for the rest of the world will be even tighter, leading to even stiffer price hikes, at a time when 963 million people are already malnourished.According to the FAO, the increasing global population and socio-economic development demand a doubling of food production by 2050. For food prices to remain reasonably stable, this entails a 50 percent increase in irrigation and an additional 100-200 million hectares of arable land. (To appreciate these figures: In Greece, some 1.1 million hectares are under permanent cultivation.) Arable land, like water, is fast becoming a strategic asset. Every nation will have to calculate the value of its land anew and give it the protection that it deserves, showing it respect as the ultimate renewable source of wealth, power and sustenance. In the extensive redistribution of wealth being carried out across the globe these days, the value of land and its potential must be part of any new dispensation.

Comment in Kathimerini English Edition, 23 March 2009

Coming back down to earth

For at least a generation, Greece has operated as if the laws of economics do not apply – not the criminally complicated, mad laws, which turned out not to apply anywhere across the global economy, but the simple, good housekeeping rules, such as spending as much as you can afford. Greeks, as individuals, were not the biggest borrowers, having gotten into the game late and only after entry into the eurozone made loans affordable. The problem was elsewhere: in a naive, stupid or convenient inability to understand that when we demanded things of the state someone would have to pay – and that someone would, some day, turn out to be us. This ignorance was evident in polls, where we would see society overwhelmingly in favor of the demands and protests of specific groups (whether farmers or civil servants), when they confronted the state. Deficits went wild as governments caved in to everyone’s demands.

The government’s decision to levy a one-off tax on high earners and to freeze civil servants’ salaries if these are over 1,700 euros per month, is the first sign that reality is catching up with us. Society will now feel the pain caused by our overspending as a nation. And yet, the total amount expected to enter state coffers is a little less than 500 million euros – less than the amount promised to farmers a few weeks ago to get them off the roads and allow the country to function again. Perhaps the next time a group goes on the warpath, the rest of society will consider what it will cost each citizen to placate them. In that case, the government will have to weigh the cost of angering the rest of society and not just look for ways to appease the protestors so as to buy their votes.

However, even as society begins to realize that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction, various groups are still behaving as if their acts can be tolerated forever, no matter how much damage they may cause the rest of society or the economy. Banks are still depriving small and medium-sized businesses of loans, despite a 28-billion-euro rescue package; hooded youths still rampage through Athens’s center in narcissistic hysteria; Culture Ministry employees repeatedly block visitors from the Acropolis and other sites and museums. Everyone acts as if the damage they cause is not their concern: Someone else will foot the bill.

Banks are banks: They will try to get away with anything that furthers their own interests. Anarchists’ raison d’etre is mayhem. But how can Culture Ministry employees and their bosses – the politicians who work out their pay and work regime – believe that their interests are served by damaging the country’s tourism industry? Whether the employees are right or not, whether solving their problem will cost a mere 10 million euros or so, the standoff with the government is likely to cost Greece a lot more. If we consider that tourism, which brought 11.3 billion euros into the country in 2007, could drop by between 10 and 30 percent this year because of the global economic crisis, we can make a safe bet that the danger of finding important sites closed will push many people to visit other countries instead. A 10-million-euro dispute could thereby turn into a billion-euro loss.

Perhaps the only way that protestors, the government and society as a whole can find a healthy balance is if we stop believing that our demands will by taken care of by divine providence – i.e., the state or the EU or both. If every demand were met by an additional tax levied on the rest of us, maybe the government, the political parties and the population would be moderate in our demands and thrifty in our spending so that we could emerge from the crisis stronger than we entered it.

AthensPlus editorial, 20 March 2009

They agree only to clash

Our political parties have decided that the global economic crisis and domestic developments in the economy and society are not so great as to shake their confidence in each party’s ability to lead the Greek people to security and prosperity. No one expected the prime minister’s appeal for consensus to lead to an abrupt reversal of decades-old policies. That would demand that each party and each party leader abandon the illusion of infallibility and thereby also undertake responsibility for the state of the country. New Democracy and PASOK would have to shoulder the blame for the years they have traded places in power, while the leftist parties would have to face up to the fact that as opposition parties they have not only failed to make life better for the working people but have also contributed to a lack of flexibility in adapting to changes and to a trade union mentality that has held the country back in several spheres. The consequences are clear, for example, in the education system’s impasse and in the fact that vulnerable groups of workers and the unemployed do not enjoy the representation that workers with full rights do – lest unions’ recognizing the existence of workers in precarious occupations be misconstrued for blessing those occupations at the expense of the fully employed…
The main parties which have been trading places in office operate as if they have no responsibility for Greece’s plight, doing nothing but blame each other; the smaller parties act as if they live in a perfect world where they can make maximalistic demands without dirtying their hands by any contact with reality. Such “idealism” – the demand for a perfect result and nothing else – often leads to blindness and to the opposite result of that which is desired. The concept of university asylum, for example, was adopted with the best of intentions but lead to universities becoming hothouses of violence and intolerance. Also, precarious jobs are here to stay, and as the economy worsens more and more people will accept fewer rights as long as they can get work. It helps no one when parties and unions pretend that they do not exist.
The lack of consensus, however, is much more serious than the parties’ inability to cooperate in order to deal with the current crisis. However serious this problem may be, however necessary it is to tidy up public finances and carry out structural reforms, the country’s basic problems are much greater.
Where consensus is truly necessary is in any effort to overturn the client-patron system that has plagued modern Greece since its establishment. But which parties will abolish themselves, abandoning the system of favors-for-votes on which they base their existence and their pursuit of power? Which parties will clash with informal centers of power that control the parties and determine developments? Which parties will cooperate for real educational reform? Which parties will work toward fixing the National Health System? Which will agree to the creation of new conditions in the labor market, which will reduce workers’ and employers’ contributions to social security while saving money by simplifying the social security system? Which parties will lead farmers, artisans, businessmen to adopt new technologies and create an economy based on the model of “green” development? Which parties can invest seriously and carefully in our cultural heritage, establishing strict rules of behavior and cleanliness with the aim of providing the highest possible level of services?
Only such substantial changes could create new jobs and new sources of wealth. But this would take work, patience and sacrifice; it demands that we abandon the prejudices of decades. Our parties, however, neither dare to take such steps nor to demand them of the people. They behave as if being in power still provides opportunity for political or material gain. They do not understand that reality has left them behind. Agreeing to continue their disagreements, they agree only on their common retreat from the battle for survival that this nation must wage.

Comment in Kathimerini English Edition, 9 March 2009

State of the unions

Nobody here or anywhere else knows how long or how bad the economic crisis will be. The only thing that’s certain is that it will have serious consequences at a social level as people lose their savings, their assets and their jobs. Even the most developed societies are dreading what this may lead to, as greater numbers of unemployed place unprecedented demands on social security and welfare systems that will be receiving fewer funds as tax revenue decreases due to lower production and consumption. Greece, which has enjoyed relatively high employment, has a large informal sector and active family networks, has managed to avoid the worst consequences of such crises in the past. But, for the very same reasons, if this crisis lasts longer than others, it will find Greek society with its institutions unprepared to deal with the turmoil that is coming.

When economic austerity and high unemployment hit a society, two of the most important allies of the lower income groups and the unemployed are the unions and the Labor Ministry’s vocational training programs. But these programs – which have cost millions of euros in national and EU funds – have stood out for their failure to raise the standard of labor. The unions, too, for the most part, have been unable or unwilling to keep up with the challenges of the time. Immigrants, for example, make up a large part of the labor force but are woefully unrepresented by unions.

Constantina Kuneva, a 44-year-old Bulgarian immigrant who was general secretary of the Attica cleaners’ union, was seriously injured when unidentified assailants threw hydrochloric acid at her face and forced her to swallow some of it. Her plight focused attention on the woes of cleaners who are forced to work for longer hours and for less wages and benefits than stipulated by law. The police were initially indifferent to the assault, moving into action only after protests drew publicity. Behind the drama of the assault, however, is the tragedy of people who are so in need of employment that they will work for less than the minimum wage and for reduced benefits – just as long as they can get a job. And the unions, pretending to live in an ideal world where everyone has a full-time job for full wages and full benefits, have turned a blind eye to the harsh reality of the labor market. They ignore the fact that large groups of people in precarious occupations (including temporary and part-time workers,) suffer in silence without representation because the unions don’t want to acknowledge the reality of second-class workers.

So adamant are the unions in their rejection of anything new that the government, afraid of fueling their ire, is the first to quash any proposal by employers for reduced wages or benefits for first-time employees, a step that could help them get a foot in the door of the labor market. As vocational training programs (many of which were run by unions) have not lived up to expectations, it would appear that the plight of the unemployed (whether following dismissal or due to the failure to land a first job) is not a priority for our unions or government. As the economy, like society, cannot simply stop, it is increasingly likely that we will see an increasing number of people forced to work in the twilight zone between unemployment and full employment. Whether this new class will be represented by unions that will be able to avert exploitation and channel anger and despair into constructive solutions will – to a great extent – determine the stability of our society. This is the responsibility that the unions and the government will have to shoulder together.

Editorial in AthensPlus, March 6, 2009