Wave of demands

The prospect of a new strike by the university teaching staffs appears almost certain following the failure of talks between the academic representatives and Deputy Economy Minister Nikos Farmakis. The sector is asking for a 20 percent wage increase, invoking, on one hand, the big gulf dividing them from their European peers and, on the other, past promises by the State made in order to terminate previous strikes. The government has responded with a proposal for a 7.5 percent rise that is not enough to bridge the gap. Politically speaking, the looming mobilization of academic staff appears to be the first link in a long chain of similar acts. Although it would be unfounded to claim that the burgeoning demands are the direct result of the government’s so-called «social package,» the two issues are undoubtedly related. By launching a series of handouts, the prime minister has opened a can of worms. Sectors that consider themselves underpaid and have long sought higher wages will not let such an opportunity pass them by. They will seek to exploit the current timing which renders the government vulnerable to popular mobilization. The premier obviously wants to avoid confrontation with labor groups over the next few months. On the other hand, however, there is the funds issue. According to all current estimations, the increased spending will fatten the budgetary deficit. But at times of pre-election fever, few seem to care about fiscal stability. The fiscal strain is expected to increase in the coming year. National Economy Minister Nikos Christodoulakis is at pains to gloss over the economic reality, but the so-called «creative accounting» has been stretched to its limits. The already huge public debt will swell even more, further undermining attempts at economic reform. There is no question that during pre-election periods, all democratic states tend to witness a relaxation of fiscal austerity. But the Greek government has overstepped the mark, and the current state of the economy leaves little, if any, room for slackening. The government must show self-restraint. Helping lower-income people is warranted on moral and political grounds. But the government should not interpret this too freely. Should it yield to the demands of middle-income groups, it will not only harm the economy but its electoral prospects as well. There will always be more demands than what it can fulfill.