Some might be surprised but there are people that work in days of nationwide strikes in Greece. They can not be absent from work or do not want to participate in mass protests. GRReporter talked to Greeks and foreigners who believe that despite the difficult economic conditions and hardships of life the outcome of the crisis is work rather than chanting of slogans.
Nikos is middle-aged and works as a salesman at a kiosk for newspapers and cigarettes. It is open from seven in the morning to eleven at night. The salesmen work in shifts and his friend Angelos works in the second shift. The monthly rent they pay for the booth to the owner is three thousand euros but now they seem out-of-reach. He told that they covered the rent and the expenses for approximately two weeks once but today the situation is quite different. "They ruined us with these strikes," he said. "All the city life stops. I do not know how long this will go on."
He says that since the beginning of the year after excise duties on cigarettes were increased twice as well as the income VAT their work has dropped very much and they work just to cover their costs. "We only turn the money into goods. We earn nothing and on top of that there is a strike every day in Athens this year." He said he is also discontent with the government policy but also believes that trade unions are "sold" and that all protests and riots have the sole purpose of opening the public outrage rather than achieving any particular results.
"I do not go on strike because the business is mine and if I do not work there will be nothing to eat," said the 38-year-old Anastasia, who works in a flower shop in downtown Athens. She said that she would not have gone to work on the day of national strikes if she was employee and had the chance to do it, but would not come out cheering in the streets either. "I work from eight in the morning until eleven at night. If I had the opportunity, I would stay home. It is neither logical nor efficient to chant slogans outside the Parliament and to be sprayed tear gas in the face. Some people have real problems."
Dina, who is 34 years old and works as a lawyer in an international company, said: "The strikes do not make sense, because the small man pays the cost of change ultimately." She said that ideally even all are absent from work on the day of national strike as a sign of disagreement with the policy pursued, Greece will not change.
Wry smile was the answer to the question "But aren’t on strike today?" I asked the two girls behind the counter in one of the coffee shops from the Grigoris fast food chain in the heart of Athens. The owner was at the other end of the shop arranging the sandwiches. He smiled and said: "We have no time for strikes" and it really looked like that. People in a hurry who wanted warm cappuccino or freshly baked pastry were coming in and out. And they worked as a conveyor in Grigoris. Then I remembered what a friend of mine that also works in a cafe had told me: "Unionists do pay me neither the salary, nor the electricity bill."
Dimitris is 29 years old. He works in a motorbikes service and said that strikes do not make any sense. "Strikes are for civil servants who do not bother that will be fired." He works in the service nearly three years and claims to get well with the owner. The salaries of four of the five employees in the company had to be cut a month ago. "My salary wasn’t cut because it is the lowest, but other colleagues’ salaries were cut by about 15% not to lay off any of us."
Dimitris said he understands the problems the owners of the service experience. Work has declined after the increase in VAT and excise duties and the prospects, according to him, are that things will only get worse. "I see no reason to be absent from work and to shout in the streets for rights that no one would give me. Of course, I want higher salary and fewer working hours, but now it's unreal. I would do the same if I were the owner of the service shop."
While the central square of Athens is burning, life in the country goes on. The Bulgarian Diana, which has been living in Greece in the past 15 years and is currently working in the accounting department of a medium company in the northern suburb Kifisia, said: "The Greeks do not know what they want - they have everything and behave like spoiled children. They do not seem to understand that there is no easy way out. The state will not move forward until we all begin to work responsibly - from street cleaners to the Prime Minister." She was explicit that protests are not a decision for the way out. The answer is the work. "I'm not happy with the working conditions, but I know that there is no choice at the moment." According to her, most people who go on strikes and protests have a secure income and do not worry that if they lose their jobs they will remain on the street. "Obviously a lot of things in Greece must be changed and this process is not easy, but with arson, pogroms and blocking the public infrastructure there will be no progress in the near future."