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Latest pension cuts sound familiar tune in Greece

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A homeless man draws a picture next to his belongings in central Athens AFP/Louisa Gouliamaki

In Greece, thousands of angry protesters marched in Athens and other major cities in a general strike on Wednesday, as MPs prepared to approve new pension cuts that leave Greeks wondering what good has come from seven years of bailout deals between their government and international creditors.


Greek MPs are expected easily to pass a new slate of austerity measures on Thursday, in order to keep getting the funds the country needs to pay off its crippling debt.

Wednesday’s general strike, however, showed much anger remains in the country towards both the left-wing Syriza government and international creditors.

“We want to send a decisive message to the government, the European Union (EU) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) that we will not let them cut up our lives,” Alekos Perrakis, a senior member of Communist union PAME, told reporters ahead of the strike.

“The general strike demonstrates the difficult situation that every one of us, as Greek citizens, feels we are in,” says Michalis Angelopoulis, mayor of Samos Island and previously of the centre-right New Democracy party. “The impact is everywhere the same, and a lot of people are doubtful about the future.”

There is a similar sentiment from Marina Prentoulis, a senior lecturer in politics and media at the University of East Anglia who is part of Syriza’s branch in London.

“It’s good that there are strikes, because they demonstrate that the lower income people, the pensioners, cannot take any more of these measures,” she says. “[The creditors] have to, at some point, understand what we have been saying all these years, that the people are suffering and Greece’s social fabric is disintegrating.”

Familiar trends after seven years of austerity

The latest pension cuts would be the fourteenth since bailout programmes began, and would continue a familiar trend: official figures show the average Greek pension is currently 833 euros per month, 40 percent lower than what it was in 2010.

By this stage in the bailout plans, Michalis Angelopoulis says it is clear the EU and IMF are not looking to negotiate Greek government policy, but securing guarantees and timetables to ensure their money is repaid.

“It’s not a question of how the quality of the relations can be interpreted, it’s a question of how these kinds of measures can be implemented or not, what is their impact, and why the government delayed so much a reform that could have possibly changed these kinds of policies and the planning for the so-called future,” Angelopoulis says.

The left-wing Syriza party came to power in 2015 on a pledge to defy the creditors, which culminated in a referendum that saw the Greek people rejecting the bailout terms in July of that year.

But by August, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras had agreed to a new bailout, splitting the party and provoking a snap election that kept him in power with a mandate to be more cooperative with creditors.

“They are more cooperative because they have seen how difficult it is in Europe to change the neoliberal logic and to convince the institutions that this logic is not working,” Prentoulis says.

“There was a more confrontational approach at the beginning because the Greek government was waiting to see other changes in the EU, for example other left-wing governments with different proposals to come to power, but this did not materialise. So I think the government is trying to find solutions, but we still believe austerity is not working.”

The latest measures aim to reduce public spending to 2 percent of GDP, obliging the government to find more than 3.6 billion euros in savings.

In May 2016, the government passed a reform to raise the retirement age from 62 to 67, hike taxes for liberal professions and begin phasing out a welfare programme for pensioners.