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x-pressed | an open journal
October 27, 2014
October 27, 2014

Interview with Antonio Cuesta Marín, author of the book “Solidarity and Self Organisation in Greece”

Author: x-pressed
Categories: Dialogues, On the crisis
This article is also available in: eles
Interview with Antonio Cuesta Marín, author of the book “Solidarity and Self Organisation in Greece”
Antonio Cuesta Marín is the author of “Solidarity and self-organisation in Greece”. You can download the book in Spanish here.

1. What motivated you to write this book about Greece?

My arrival to Greece in the summer of 2011 took place in one of the worst periods of the country’s recent history. It was the time when the labour movement and the social organisations were in full throttle. Political and trade union struggles were, in one way or another, picked up by all the major media, but that was not the case with the numerous initiatives that began to emerge at the neighbourhood level. After several attempts to give written form to an analysis that would be more extensive and in depth than a journalistic account, at the end of last year the Manu Robles-Arangiz Institutua Foundation gave me the opportunity to publish it as a book.

2. What have you seen changing in Greece, its social fabric and the initiatives towards new ways of self-organisation during these years that you have been living there?

Broadly speaking, I have seen the majority of the initiatives that I have had contact with growing and getting stronger; some of them with a surprising maturity despite their short lives and their more than obvious economic limitations. Yet the organisational capacity and the commitment of a significant part of the local population have given an unprecedented dimension to solidarity initiatives, such as social or cooperative clinics and exchange networks between producers and consumers. To get an idea of what this has meant for Greek families, last year 22% of households obtained their basic provisions through networks “without intermediaries” and 6% did so in social food shops.

3. Which initiatives have worked best, in your view?

I would say those related to social economy. The model of assembly-based cooperatives –oriented towards the self-employment of its members and aware of the threats and limitations imposed by the capitalist system– has been on an upward path since the new law was enacted, and, despite the crisis, it have managed to maintain and improve its results. Along with such organisations, we should also point at the extensive network of stores and initiatives working to bring together small producers, generally of ecological character and with end consumers from all over the country.

4. To what extent are these initiatives sustainable? Especially those based on solidarity, such as pharmacies, clinics…

With regards to economics, I think their viability depends on the skills of its members and their ability to work, along with the fact that their ethical principles create a closer proximity to local populations. The sustainability of solidarity projects has other conditional factors: the intervention on pressing problems for the neighbours is based on the collaboration and participation of many people. As far as I know, some initiatives have been modified to better suit real needs but have not disappeared. When one gets to know the level of involvement of many anonymous participants and the original proposals to provide funding to projects, then one can understand that, against all odds, they will go ahead.

5. Does the society know about them, in general? Has there been some sort of public debate on new ways of meeting these needs based on self-organisation? (I mean, by a wide audience, the average Greek).

My sense is that there are two parallel worlds running, that of institutional politics reproduced by the mainstream media, and that of the reality experienced by the citizens, which is clearly present in any initiative or social group. Of course, the corporate media have not fostered a frank and open discussion on possible alternatives or on the demands of popular movements. They have occasionally mentioned some of the projects but from a humanitarian point of view rather than claim. It is normal; the rationale of these “opinion makers” is embedded into the neoliberal system and will not facilitate any debate contrary to their interests. However, I believe that at the grassroots level there have been channels of communication opened which have helped to transfer information and calls which have worked quite effectively.

6. What do you think about the role of women? Did they need the crisis to remind them of feminism and have it put back into their lives?

Greece is a deeply sexist country and, as has happened in many other areas of society, the eruption of the crisis has served to generate alternative models in view of the failure of the existing ones. In this sense, the role of women has been fundamental in implementing and maintaining many projects of solidarity and also in reporting the double exploitation to which they are subjected. First, as workers they receive lower wages than men and face a significantly higher rate of unemployment; but also they are responsible, within the family, for the care of the children, the sick, the elderly, the disabled and even the unemployed youth who are at home. The elimination of social services has increased this burden, and has prompted them to organise in order to try to give collective answers towards the actual disappearance of the welfare state.

7. Do you believe that the initiatives you have mentioned that are focused on the most disenfranchised (primary care clinics, pharmacies, social kitchens, day care) can tackle racist and xenophobic initiatives that have been developed in parallel by Golden Dawn? Who do you think will win this fight for the disenfranchised?

No doubt, there is a major work of political education done by social initiatives in this area. I think they are on the right track and at the neighbourhood level it will pay off. At the same time, I believe that Golden Dawn is not the problem but only a symptom of a cancer generated by a socioeconomic model that collapses and is yet to cause much suffering. More damaging than the violent actions of the far right are the inhuman austerity policies that are targeting the weaker parts of the society, migrants or locals.

8. Can we compare the Greek to the Spanish case? What do they have in common and what differentiates them?

Rather than compare, I think that there are recurring events in both cases and that, despite the social and economic differences between the two countries, they have generated a major social rejection response. Both Spain and Greece were economies subordinate to the service of the German capitalist project of the European integration and they both suffered a strong financialisation of their economies. In the case of Spain, it was injected through the housing bubble, while in the case of Greece it was due to the wasteful private consumption. The crisis mainly affected the Greek economy, having a weaker productive fabric than the Spanish, but the outcome has been similar: high unemployment, actual disappearance of social coverage, privatisation of public services, dismantling of the labour law… against all that, the social response has also had similarities, although again in the Greek case the people’s organisation came rather late compared to the movement developed in Spain. However, I believe that the bases and the goals coincide in both cases with the aspirations to overcome an economic model marked by injustice and inequality and a corrupt and undemocratic political system. I hope that sooner or later the aspirations of citizens will be reflected in popular governments that put an end to this nightmare.

9. What message would you like to send to other peoples who are in the same situation as Spain? What can we learn from Greece?

First I would like to emphasise the importance of building alliances and broad convergences in order to end austerity policies within each country, but also within the Eurozone and the European Union. The peoples of the European periphery should strengthen their solidarity and support one another, otherwise the pressure against a “rogue” state will be unbearable. In that sense, I think the Greek people have shown an admirable ability for resistance without giving up their aspirations for one way or another and, also a talent to organise and propose alternatives from the base. If something has been made clear is that we should not throw in the towel, the only fight you lose is the one you haven’t given.

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