Social climate undermined

Unions and employers naturally differed in their estimation of the size of Wednesday’s nationwide strike. After all, the effect of a strike is not measurable by numbers alone, since everyone knows that unions and employers put pressure on workers to either strike or work, as the case may be. The success of a strike can only be measured in political terms, by the extent to which workers believe they should actively protest a government policy that they believe threatens their way of life. Judging by the polls and by participation in the strike, Wednesday’s action was by no means a people’s uprising as in 2002, when tens of thousands took to the streets of Athens to protest then-prime minister Costas Simitis’s attempt to change legislation on social security. The overwhelming majority of people supports the government’s reforms and believes Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis is capable of solving the country’s economic problems. But Karamanlis should realize that the climate of dissatisfaction and insecurity, fed by sectors of the media, is not unfounded. For example, banks and most firms are reaping huge profits (35 percent for listed firms), yet the government allows the head of the Federation of Greek Industries (SEV) to suggest a paltry 2.8 percent rise for the lowest monthly wage, which stands at a mere 600 euros. Second, the prime minister should ask the leader of the opposition to state his positions on issues such as social security and unemployment. The fact remains that PASOK has no particular position on the economy. It accuses the government of austerity, but stops short of proposing wage hikes or ways to reduce the debt. It is simply indulging in populism in an attempt to escalate passions ahead of this fall’s local elections.