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Tag Archives: unemployment

Art by Anastasia Lambrou

Art by Anastasia Lambrou

Dear economists, dear policy makers, dear bankers, dear powers-that-be,

I have a message for you. It is aimed at you, but not really meant for you, rather for the rest of us who are struggling to make sense of this mess you have created.

We are not commodities.

We, the People, vote and elect individuals who are supposed to represent our interests and uphold our ideals for a fair and humane society. Just one glimpse at the news, especially the uncensored/non-sterilized news reports on the Internet, should be enough to convince anyone that we have strayed very, very far from this basic concept of Democracy.

Commodities do not vote. Commodities have no rights or voice. Commodities are bought, sold and utilised as required.

The very moment that our financial system started treating people as commodities, was the moment when democracy started to decline. And now that this very system has come to dominate politics and governance to an absolute degree, what do you suppose has happened to our precious democracy?

Commodification is nothing new. In fact, it is a fairly old concept introduced by Karl Marx. The problem is that many people will dismiss the concept without thinking, just because they might disagree with Marxist theories.

But you don’t need to be a Marxist or a communist, or even a left-wing sympathiser to understand the fundamental truth of this simple statement: people are not commodities.

No amount of reasoning, no financial theory, no argument can be used to change this. In a world which has formally renounced slavery, human labour cannot be thought of as a commodity.

Because when this happens, then the fundamental right to work becomes subject to the principles of the free market and unemployment is suddenly thought of as a financial indicator, instead of a social problem. Even worse, unemployment becomes a useful tool that can be used to force salary costs to lower and work rights to disappear.

It’s all in the name of “rationalisation”, of course. It is “good business”. “Rationalisation” is a very interesting word, used in business circles (and more recently in politics) as a euphemism for salary and job cuts. In psychology, however, it is used to describe a defence mechanism in which perceived controversial behaviours are logically justified.

Or, simply put, “making excuses”.

But we are not commodities and there is no excuse for treating us as such. No one cares what lumber thinks. What matters is that you get the best quality at the lowest price. Iron ore does not need to start a family. All it needs to do is to be good and cheap enough to be used for production.

When you drive the need to optimize production to the extreme, there would be nothing better than a worker that costs nothing, demands nothing and never stops. In other words, a robot. But robots are still pretty expensive to acquire and maintain. Humans remain a better choice for all but the heaviest and most repetitive tasks.

We are now treading on very dangerous ground. A society which places business concerns and interests over that of its own members will naturally push them to become as robot-like as possible. Is this the kind of society that we want?

Is this the crowning achievement of our technological and cultural evolution? Filling up factories and office buildings with human drones and streets with masses of starving, unemployed people?

Somehow, I do not think this is the bright future which we were promised. Somehow, I don’t think that all those billions of people living in democratic countries are voting to become slaves or beggars.

Or things to be exchanged.

Intermission #18

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I was meaning to write about something else, yet again I ended up elsewhere. But that is no wonder. No matter what our plans may be, whatever we might set our minds on for the future, everything depends on things that we cannot control. On forces that seem above us.

The key is to understand when these forces are real and when we just think that they are, and by this belief we actually make them so.

We need to know when we are really being pulled by the current, which no human-made dam can stop, and when others want us to think that the wake of their luxury boats is an unstoppable tsunami.

Luxuries which some acquired unlawfully with “borrowed” money, stolen from us. Taken from ‘lazy’ pensioners who work illegally past their 70s because their pensions are simply not enough to sustain them. From university graduates, with honours and distinction, now unemployed. From workers who go unpaid for months and could find themselves jobless at any moment.

From small children in a country with no future, from which we somehow still expect to be well-behaved and obedient like half-dead goldfish in a fishbowl.

Kids these days have no values, some say. Who would teach them values? Proud Greek citizens who curse the same politicians which they keep voting for? Underpaid teachers in understaffed and underequipped schools? Politicians who, in order to gain their precious office, have sold their souls three times already?

There are no values in our time, beyond the instinct of survival. We turn the other way so that we do not see the homeless. We nod our heads in sympathy before the unemployed (while we secretly feel fortunate to have a job, those of us who still do). We shut our eyes to avoid reading about suicides.

And when even this instinct fails in the face of despair, there is nothing left. Who would teach values to children? Those who take their own lives?

Not that I blame them. The shame and despair of having nothing to offer to those who depend on us are enemies beyond understanding.

Amidst all the general confusion of these days I read the most absurd thing. According to an online article, news of suicides should not be published on the Internet since in encourages people  to commit suicide for the sake of… publicity. It’s remarkable how obsessed Greeks have become with their post mortem reputation in the span of just two years, isn’t it?

This outrageous view is apparently shared by Mrs. Aphrodite Al Saleh, a spokeswoman of the “socialist” PASOK party, who also dismissed suicide as a “stupid thing”. It seems that apart from vain, Greeks are now also becoming increasingly stupid. The ruling parties in Greece still deny that there is any relation between the shocking increase of suicides and the fact that millions of people have nothing to support themselves with anymore.

We now live in a state of absolute absurdity. Life has ceased to seem real. It looks more like a Fellini movie clip, cut during editing.

These thoughts were spurred by the following short piece that I came across on the Internet. Concerning tax authorities in Greece, which have now become graveyards for bankrupt businesses.

Green eyes on a red background and the “Code” …

I passed by an office on the floor of the IRS. Dozens of people were furiously tearing up papers. I went to have a look and asked a strange girl with green eyes on a red background if I could help. She nodded “yes”. I started tearing. “What are we tearing?” I asked. “Invoices” she said. “Why tear them?” I asked, tearing all the while. “Because we are closing,” she said. When we had torn everything up she went to an employee who was watching people tearing up papers. She took the torn papers, checked them, put a seal on them and gave the girl a piece of paper.

“Are you done?” I asked the green eyes, now on an even redder background. “No. Now I need more papers, then I have to unregister from the Technical Chamber and after that from TEVE (Self-Employed Workers’ Insurance Organisation). ”

I did not know what to do. After we had torn her papers away I felt like I was her friend. We sat on a bench. She had started her business twelve years ago. Two years ago she began going under.  Yet she loved it, and would not give it up. She worked all day long, but there was no end in sight. Then she had to admit that it was over. “It is sort of like losing a child. I made it, I nurtured it, I watched it grow and set it on its way, but it was going nowhere”. She cried. “I owe money to TEVE too, but now they are not going to get a dime,” she said. Then she stood up, wiped her eyes and went on to finish off the rest of the paperwork.

I climbed the stairs back to the tax office. I went to the office where everyone was tearing up papers. I found out that it was called the “Code”. Now even more people were tearing up papers. I approached a gentleman, about fifty years old, with brown eyes on a red background. “Want me to tear up toof?” I asked him. He said “yes” with a nod. And then I went to another and to another. I was tearing up papers until they sent us away at 3 o’ clock. With every paper torn I threw a curse. Some of them will work. They have to… ~ by HARA

And you, oh so serious and credible politicians, you seek taxes from the dead, from torn papers and closed up shops and people who can no longer make a living. Not from those who have something to give.

And you put those uncollected taxes in your calculations. And you plan your policies based on non-existing numbers. And when your calculations inevitably fail, you will increase the death toll. You will destroy  even more shops, families, people. Even more plans for the future. A future that no longer exists anywhere. Only on torn papers.

Do not tear up just papers. Tear them up. Write them off. Delete them.

We’ve been trying in vain for years to write our future on lies, on misery, on indifference, and the crumbs and beads of their empty promises. Like a palimpsest that will one day be discovered by an incredulous archaeologist. How did this happen? Why didn’t anyone speak up?

If we do not tear them up once and for all we will never be able to turn the page. We will end up writing on the margins and nothing will make any sense. And we will be lost in time and archaeologists in the future will wonder who these slaves were who never stood for their rights?

Intermission #14

They say silence is gold. Sometimes, though, it is just compliance.