By Satur C. Ocampo
At Ground Level | The Philippine Star
Last Wednesday militant Filipino trade unionists rallied in front of the Greek embassy in solidarity with a two-day general strike in financially-prostrate Greece. The strike aimed at blocking the Parliament from approving a package of austerity measures that the Papandreou government had pushed to satisfy foreign creditors.
It was a valiant fight for the Greek people, led by the unions. It was, a news report noted, the first time the unions rose up like this since 1974, when democratic rule was restored after a seven-year military dictatorship.
The contentious legislation was passed with a close 155-138 vote. The package includes 28 billion euros ($42B) in budget slashes on social benefits, tax hikes, public-sector job reductions, wage cuts, plus the privatization of $72-billion worth of state assets, including the Public Power Corporation.
No wonder the people rallied with the unions. These austerity measures, they say, would wipe out the Greek middle class, called “society’s great connector.”
The measures were conditions set by the International Monetary Fund, the European Union, and the European Central Bank in exchange for the 110B euros ($165B) in emergency loans given to Greece last year, plus another loan of 12B euros ($17B) to enable the government to meet its payroll and pension payments in the coming months.
Without these measures, warned EU economic affairs chief Olle Rehn, Greece would automatically default on its 355B-euro ($532B) debt. This prospect spawned fears of negative impacts on eurozone financial markets.
The creditors’ pressures and the government’s inflexibility, which clashed painfully with the stand of its union supporters, may have won the parliamentary vote. But it has spurred widespread bitterness among the Greeks.
Pavlos Antonopoulos, a teacher who in 1990 staged a 25-day hunger strike to demand school reforms and enhanced teachers’ rights, may have articulated the popular condemnation with this lament:
“After a year of austerity what have we got? What have politicians done to earn this debt? We live in a country with no productive base, whose economy is in tatters, which, after 30 years as a signed-up member of Europe, has no infrastructure to speak of.”
“That’s why,” he added, “we are now demanding that the government goes, that the debt be written off, and that Greece leaves the EU. Otherwise, generations will be forced to live under a regime of austerity on the povertyline.”
That lament resonates in the Kilusang Mayo Uno, which organized Wednesday’s rally in front of the Greek embassy. It also resonates among ourpublic sector employees and the other politically-aware marginalized sectors whose members marched in protest on the first anniversary of P-Noy’s administration last Thursday.
Although the Philippines has not suffered from the global financial-economic crisis as badly as Greece, we share with the Greeks the same economic woes worsened by three decades of neoliberal globalization policies. These include: lack of a viable production base, onerous external debts, rising unemployment and depressed wages, and deepening impoverishment.
Just take a look at these Philippine economic data, courtesy of IBON Foundation Inc.:
De-industrialization: The number of manufacturing firms (with 20 or more employees) fell from 7,500 in 1999 to 4,600 in 2008. The number of workers dropped, in the same period, from 1.1 million to 860,000.
Unemployment: From 2001 to 2010, average unemployment was at 11.2 percent, the worst in our history. In 2010, there were 4.4 million jobless and 16.5 million engaged in poor-quality work (4.2 million unpaid family workers, 12.3 million with own-account or informal-sector jobs).
Poverty rate: In 2009, the government estimated that 23.1 million or 27 percent of the population were poor, using an income of P46 per day per person as the official poverty line. (IBON notes that P46 is equivalent to the price of a liter of Coke, or a kilo of rice and an egg. It asks: “How could one with such income pay for his daily needs: food, clothing, housing, utilities, health care, and education?”)
Using a more reasonable poverty line of P104 per day would classify as poor 65 million Filipinos, or 7 of every 10. Yet, IBON points out, the poorest 30 million Filipinos live on incomes of P45, P35, or even P22 a day!
Income inequality: In 2010, the poorest 50 percent of families accounted for less than 20 percent of household incomes, whereas the richest 20 percent took more than 50 percent of the income. Ironically, these were the same figures 22 years ago (1988).
Looking farther back to 1947, the IBON study observes:
“After six decades of independence, we still do not really make much of anything. The largest part of the goods we consume is imported [we have become the world’s biggest rice importer – SO], and so is virtually all our capital equipment and machinery. To get these, we exchange our unprocessed raw materials and, most of all, our cheap labor — cheap labor in foreign-owned factories and call centers here, and exported abroad. This is a colonial-era exchange in the 21st century.”
Except for their backbreaking debt burden, apparently we are worse off than the Greeks.
Published in The Philippine Star