EI has expressed solidarity with the unions' General Strike in Greece on 20 May, 2010, against the austerity measures that the government is under pressure to impose in exchange for a multi-billion Euro international aid package.
The Greek teachers’ unions, OLME and DOE, also joined the protest because of fears that draconic cuts in the education budget will cause teachers to be laid off and education quality to be undermined. Proposals being discussed include cutting teachers pay, which is already lower than in most EU member states, by a further 12%, while pushing up the retirement age, working hours and student-teacher ratios. EI believes that cutting back on public spending will reduce the growth that Greece needs to overcome its financial problems in the medium term, as well as increasing inequality and hurting the people least able to cope.
EI believes that a solution to the crisis in Greece and the wider EU can only be resolved through a pan-European drive to encourage economic growth. Imposing massive cuts to public services, public sector wages and pensions on a country in return for a bail-out that addresses only the symptoms of the crisis is an unwelcome return to the policies that caused serious structural problems in the developing world during the 1980s and 1990s.
The cuts being proposed by the EU threaten to push Greece into years of recession which will not only cause enormous hardship but will also damage the health of the country's public finances and further limit the capacity of the Greek Government to honour its debts. The risk of such a spiral has already been one factor behind the market's negative reaction to the bail-out package.
Speaking in Athens on 19 May, EI General Secretary, Fred van Leeuwen, criticised the Greek authorities plans to cut the education budget and disregarding teachers’ rights, “Education is a key to economic recovery. Cutting back on this expenditure at a time of economic recession is slowing down the recovery process.”
He went on to rebuke the Education Minister, Anna Diamantopoulou, for not consulting the teaching profession on a new law that was adopted on the role of teachers, and stated that, “It is of the utmost importance that teachers’ union are involved in a process of dialogue with employers and government to identify ways forward. Only through such consensus building can socially just and politically sustainable solutions be found.”
Mr van Leeuwen also warned that the 110 billion Euro rescue package with the IMF and Greece’s Eurozone counterparts could open the door to privatization and commercialization of education services, because the package included a condition that the Greek authorities take measures to implement the EU ‘Services Directive’ in key sectors including education.
While a genuine resolution to the current financial crisis goes hand in hand with the creation of a meaningful growth path for all European economies, it is also important that governments continue to explore multilateral revenue raising ideas like the financial transactions tax which could help countries reduce their deficits while protecting services and wider economies.
As the Greek unions have pointed out, tax dodging by the richest members of society must be addressed, because of its revenue-generating impact but also because it is a matter of basic social equity.