Circumventing Democracy in Greece

Odysseus Dravalas, President of the public trade union ADEDY

Greece, well known as the birthplace of democracy, has been reeling from the impact of punishing austerity measures for five years.  Deep cuts to the public sector have left wages low and unemployment high for all working people.  Austerity has created an uncertain, unstable future for Greek society. 

The Greek government faces intense pressure from the Troika.  Troika is the collective name for the European Commission, European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund, which has placed strict regulations and stringent terms on the Greek government in return for lending money during the Greek bailout. 

While mass layoffs and cuts to public services have shuttered hospitals, closed schools and left many Greek citizens out of work, a lesser known and equally troubling side effect of imposed austerity and the debt crisis has been the circumvention of traditional democracy in the Greek political parliamentary system. 

Just 50 years after dictatorship, unpopular or particularly harsh bills are being signed into law without a parliamentary vote by locally elected representatives called MPs.  Bills are passed in a process known as legislative act.  During a legislative act a government created bill is signed into law by ministers and is not taken to vote by MPs.  A legislative act by-passes the parliament, where public debate and discussion usually take place.

“This process is far removed from the normal system which is parliamentary inspection of bills,” said Odysseus Dravalas, President of the public trade union ADEDY which represents civil servant workers throughout Greece.  “Bills are passed by assistance of the Troika and outside of European decree.  This takes away the social solidarity of people needed to face the crisis.” 

Citizens in Wisconsin will notice a similar theme in state legislative process.  Since 2010, when Scott Walker was voted into office and the Republican Party won majority control in both the state house and state assembly, a new direction has taken hold in the Wisconsin Legislature.   Controversial bills dealing with attacks on workers, voting rights and women’s rights have been rushed through the legislature at rapid pace with limited debate.  Bills were passed in special session, in the dead of the night, and even on Friday afternoons before holiday weekends to avoid press coverage and public scrutiny. 

Whether in Greece or Madison, a strong democracy requires citizen participation and public debate.  When this process is limited, all workers and citizens are impacted, and it is up to the people speak out and participate to improve their democracy. 

By Karen Hickey, AFL-CIO Wisconsin, USA