The parable of the mountains of trash

The parable of the mountains of trash

The perennial drama of trash piling up in our cities is high on the list of Greece’s plagues. Along with the country’s endless negotiations with its creditors, with the annual farmers’ blockades on highways, the catastrophic combination of tax evasion and excessive taxes, coastal shipping strikes over the Easter holidays and the expansion of no-go areas of lawlessness, the story of trash collectors’ strikes has become a parable of our political and social dysfunction.

The citizens of this country, hostages of the clash between cynical politicians and interest groups (a clash that is often staged), are forced to bear the cost of the dispute and, of course, pay the bill for its solution.

The economic crisis is the culmination of our inability to take measures that would lead to rational policies and prevent disaster. The great dead-end is the result of many smaller, recurring crises. The game with trash collectors on time contracts is one of the most important of these.

Here we see all the cunning of politicians (at local and national level), where the “lords” bestow favors on voters with short-term positions in the broader public sector and then keep them in suspense until the hour of crisis – when the contracts expire and workers must choose between losing their jobs or, with the support of permanent workers, striking in order to be hired.

The workers, of course, need the jobs and usually fill needs that are permanent. But the municipalities, and other agencies, could not hire those whom they needed, and then deal with the cost, because the central government kept for itself the privilege of swamping the country with contract workers who would be dependent on it.

Every few years, however, these “under the table” hirings had to go on the books. Then, all contract workers, whether necessary or otherwise, would be hired, swelling deficits at every level, without the serious strategy that would improve the functions of the state.

With the refuse collectors’ strike that just ended, we again suffered the consequences of the political tactic of waiting to hit a wall before we seek solutions – so that politicians can claim to be acting under harsh necessity, avoiding blame for whatever they do.

During the crisis we saw – with the horizontal cuts to wages and pensions, with the harsh new taxes – that the bigger the group affected, the less it worried those in power.

They fear the few, not the many. And so we lurch from crisis to crisis, forgetting even the desire for a just society.

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