Anyone who doubts what lies ahead for workers in this country if the privatisation of the NHS is completed should take a look at the Greek experience.
Writing in the New York Times, Liz Alderman reports that Greece until recently had a health service much like elsewhere in Europe, with “employers and individuals contributing to a fund that with government assistance financed universal care”, meaning that those “who lost their jobs still received unlimited benefits”. Now however, as international monopoly capital turns the screws, “Greeks who lose their jobs receive benefits for a maximum of a year. After that, if they are unable to foot the bill, they are on their own, paying all costs out of pocket.”
In a situation where “half of Greece’s 1.2 million long-term unemployed lack health insurance, a number that is expected to rise sharply in a country with an unemployment rate of 25 percent and a moribund economy”, this banishes an increasing number of people from public health care. And even for those who can still get into a hospital, services there are on the point of collapse, with a projected further cut of €1.5bn in funding threatening to wipe them out completely.
Patients are told to bring their own drugs, stents and syringes for their treatments, and chemists are demanding cash on the nail for medication. Cancer patients in particular are hit hard, requiring as they do very long and expensive treatment. One oncologist, Dr Syrigos, points out that sufferers without benefits or private insurance “can’t access chemotherapy, surgery or even simple drugs”, concluding grimly that “In Greece right now, to be unemployed means death.”
Doctors caught treating an uninsured patient with hospital drugs are made to pay for them out of their own pockets. In revolt against this inhuman and degrading treatment, Dr Syrigos and his fellow doctors have “set up a surreptitious network to help uninsured cancer patients and other ill people, which operates off the official grid using only spare medicines donated by pharmacies, some pharmaceutical companies and even the families of cancer patients who died”.
But as another colleague puts it, “We’re a Robin Hood network. But this operation has an expiration date. People at some point will no longer be able to donate because of the crisis. That’s why we’re pressuring the state to take responsibility again.”
Dr Syrigos told it straight to the New York Times: “This is resistance. It is a nation, a people allowed to stand on their own two feet again with the help they give each other.”(‘Greek unemployed cut off from medical treatment’, 25 October 2012)
When the capitalist state will not or cannot take responsibility for the welfare of its own citizens, and penalises doctors who follow their social conscience, it clearly declares its own historical bankruptcy and is ripe for overthrow.
As the Greek parliament met to discuss whether or not to vote through the 2013 austerity budget demanded by the Troika (comprising the European Commission, European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund) as a precondition for releasing the next tranche of bail-out money (€13.5bn over the next two years), thousands of workers took their own decision out on the streets of Athens and many other cities, protesting against these new attacks on their standard of living.
This general strike, the third in six weeks, brought much of Greece to a standstill, with factories, supermarkets, airports, schools, ferries, banks, power plants, newspaper offices and public transport all paralysed. Many thousands marched beneath the popular front banners of KKE-oriented PAME to denounce the projected new cuts.
The proposed budget would see the pension age, already jacked up from 60 to 65 in 2010, jump again to 67, whilst anyone getting a monthly pension in excess of €1,000 will see it cut by 15 percent. The dwindling number of workers still in employment will see the minimum wage frozen and the wholesale abolition of numerous workplace protections. Public-sector workers will lose their protection against arbitrary dismissal. The unemployed, disabled and long-term sick will see their benefits cut back still further, and conditions for the likes of Dr Syrigos and his patients will worsen further as new cuts in health provision come into operation.
On the second day of the strike, parliament bit the bullet after 14 hours of wrangling, voting the infamous 2013 budget through. Although the Democratic Left bottled out and abstained, their coalition partners New Democracy and Pasok between them secured 153 yes votes against 128 no votes. The key role played by Pasok in this betrayal of the Greek people, acting as indispensable junior partner to the overtly reactionary New Democracy in getting the budget through, should give some food for thought to the poorly-led members of Greece’s two biggest public and private-sector federations, which still hang on to Pasok’s coat-tails.
Despite their very large memberships, neither ADEDY nor GSEE is able these days to mobilise anything to rival the scale and enthusiasm of the PAME marches and rallies – a failure of leadership that continues to weaken and divide the class.
By contrast, the KKE’s Aleka Papariga told thousands of PAME supporters in Omonia Square: “We call on the people to show in a systematic and well-organised way disobedience and defiance, not only to the government’s measures, but to the system in general. This is a good start so that the counterattack can be organised, which must have as its outcome the abolition of the monopolies and disengagement from the EU. Any other solution that is being proposed operates within the framework of the system.”