on 13 June 2010
1. For some, the crisis did not start two years ago.
From the Structural Adjustment Programs in Africa and Latin America in the 1980s, to the neo-liberal looting in the countries of the former Soviet bloc in the 1990s, crisis and migration have been twin concepts.
For three decades neo-liberalism has been engineering a weakened and destabilized workforce. Capital prefers migrants because they are powerless, unorganized, badly paid workers for whom there is no need for safety in the workplace, nor for health insurance and pensions. In other words, they are much cheaper and make no demands. It has been estimated that in 2009, 3% of the world population, 200 million people, lived outside the country they were born in.
2. Immigrants, the last vestige of the welfare state
Not only do immigrants offer cheap labor, they also have absolutely no participation in the creation of the present economic crisis in Greece. Quite the contrary: They are the social security system’s last gasp:
The State uses the immigrants’ (obligatory) contributions in order to support its health insurance and pension funds. Most immigrants will never benefit from the pension funds they are helping rescue, since in Greece you do not get compensation for retirement unless you have worked for a minimum of 40 years.
The vast majority of migrants are of productive age. If they weren’t here, the balance-of-payments deficit of insurance funds between those who work and those who retire would be even greater than it already is. Even the income from taxation would be drastically reduced, since, as State sources openly acknowledge, “immigrants are much more consistent than the Greeks in fulfilling their tax obligations.”
Migrant women, in whose hands now lies the main responsibility for the care of children and the elderly, are saving the State millions of euros in public care services, such as daycare and childcare centres, public health institutions and old people’s homes.
The public health system further profits from the devalued labor of immigrants in the cleaning sector: Public and private buildings, ministries and hospitals, airports and trains, offices and homes are being cleaned largely by immigrant cleaners, who are subcontracted on utterly exploitative terms for the workers by intermediate private rent companies.
3. The money isn’t enough anymore, what’ll happen with those immigrants?
“The crisis is driving the immigrants away”, the media announce repeatedly. It is true that the first people affected by the crisis are the legal immigrants. The residence permit in Greece depends on the work permit, so legal immigrants are trapped in the legal vicious circle of blackmail – if you don’t have work, you cannot stay legally, yet if you have no residence permit, you cannot find work.
Unemployment is expected to skyrocket in a few months. Hundreds of thousands of migrants, especially from Albania, who experienced the brutality of “Greek hospitality” during the first years of working here, and gradually found themselves with children and certain consumer privileges in a state of semi-legality, are now confronted with a terrible dilemma.
Those who have children are bound to stay. This is where the new citizenship bill comes in. The fee for applying for citizenship is 700 euro – multiply that by half a million legal immigrants…
The strategic goal of Greek capital has been to keep hundreds of thousands of migrants in a state of semi-legality as cheap and easily manipulable labor.
On the other hand, the illegal migrants, the sans-papiers, cannot leave. Lacking official documents, they are trapped both in the “country of first entry into the EU” according to the Dublin II convention, and also within the unofficial and undeclared labor market. The dogma of zero-tolerance further narrows margins for resistance – let us remember the sudden drastic devaluation of the Egyptian fishermen’s work, or the ongoing slave-labor conditions of Bangladeshi strawberry pickers in Manolada in the Peloponnese. Things can always get worse…
4. The crisis of solidarity (the summer of 2009 was only the beginning)
The level of workers’ rights is regressing to where it was decades ago… That’s plain to see. Yet wasn’t it already the acceptance, over the last years, of concentration camps for the victims of global order that turned the clock back to the fascist regimes of the interwar period? What crisis is greater than the moral degradation of society? And it doesn’t seem to pay off either: When you nod affirmatively to the bosses in their war against the weak, it doesn’t mean the boss owes you anything in return. We devalued refugees and migrant workers, believing this would never happen to us. Yet it is now a fact: As long as solidarity does not prevail, everyone’s rights will spiral downwards, towards the lowest common denominator…
“…exploiting the immigrants for twenty years
now its your turn to taste some of their agony and fears…”