In June 2010, a couple of years before the term “Grexit” entered the European lexicon, a Volos-based bartering and solidarity network introduced the so-called Local Alternative Unit, or TEM.
To use this digital exchange unit, which is not printed, one has go to the TEM Magnisia website (www.tem-magnisia.gr) and sign up to become a member and get an account. Transactions are recorded online. One TEM is equal to one euro, and it is on this basis that the exchange of goods and services takes place, as well as allowing for discounts by combining the use of TEM and euros. TEM, its founders say, is not really a currency, but more a way of calculating barter.
The network, which started out with about 50 members, now numbers more than 800.
“The network has gradually evolved,” Christos Papaioannou, a computer technician and co-founder of TEM Magnisia, told Kathimerini. “It is based on trust, contribution and participation.”
In the beginning, new members signed up with a copy of their state ID. Their names were added to the database and they each received 300 TEM in credit. Members include teachers, plumbers, seamstresses and farmers. A plumber can pay in TEM for English-language lessons or receive payment in TEM for fixing a tap.
In the system’s early years, however, some members spent all their credit without ever offering anything in return. For this reason, credit for new members has now gone down to 20 TEM. Meanwhile, any member who collects a maximum of 1,200 TEM is expected to spend them inside the network.
“You are not allowed to save or earn interest on TEM,” Papaioannou said. The network allows shop owners who lost their businesses to exchange any leftover stock they may have for things they really need. Similarly, the unemployed can carry out transactions even though they are short of money.
Sotiris Tsimourtos was able to exchange his surplus stock for TEM after he had to close down his plumbing supplies store, and he has for years used the informal barter currency to pay for his children’s English-language courses. Angeliki Ioanniti repairs clothes in exchange for TEMs, while Tzina Alexiou buys clothes and food using the online market every Wednesday and Saturday.
TEM, however, cannot alone ensure survival. Rent, bills, much in the way of food and drink, fuel and many other goods and services are still paid for in euros. Also, you cannot always depend on the network’s online market for food supplies.
A group of farmers from nearby Pilio who participate in the TEM system still need euros to cover transport costs, Alexiou explains. “The network cannot ensure your survival, but it can help you. Solidarity comes before exchange,” she said.
Capital controls did not strengthen the network, in spite of increased publicity and support from activists from other countries. “No one joined because the banks were closed,” Papaioannou said. “People were numb.”