Greek workers join strike in response to layoffs in the public sector by the government (Source: Reuters)
In nature, there is a phenomenon called an ant mill. In it, army ants, who use scent as a compass to guide them, lose track of the scent, and thus start moving around in circles. Because there is usually a long line of ants when the scent is lost, the amount of ants going around increase in greater numbers, only for them to die off rapidly from exhaustion and starvation. It is a loop that feeds on itself until it self-destructs.
Such is the case with the people of Greece. The first country to face austerity measures in the aftermath of the 2008 global economic collapse, Greece remains both the main country suffering most from economic depression in the 28-member European Union, but also the lynchpin that maintains the EU's survival. In the coming days, the Greek coalition government of conservatives and socialists, led by Prime Minister Antonis Samaras, will vote on a new set of measures demanded by the so-called "Troika" of creditors of the EU, the International Monetary Fund, and the European Central Bank. Primarily on the agenda: The movement of 25,000 public workers into a "mobility pool" with reduced wages, from which they must find work in another department or face dismissal in eight months' time.
In return, Greeks led by the leading unions in the country, the public ADEDY and private GSEE, protested in a general strike, the fourth in the past year, and the largest since the current coalition government entered power 12 months ago. Tens of thousands of Greeks entered Syntagma Square in Athens to protest. Their ire is drawn towards the Troika, who gave Greece €8.1 billion in aid to pay salaries and pensions last month, but with conditions attached that led to this vote. This comes after the shutdown two months ago of public broadcaster ERT, again a cut caused by conditions attached to aid sent by the Troika. Such cuts led to a small party to leave the coalition at the time.
It is only a matter of time before the cuts become too severe for any form of sustainability. More than one-third of the Greek populace now lives in poverty, and average salaries have dropped more than 25%. While Greece may survive these cuts, the continued ant mill that the austerity measures have imposed will likely destroy the country outright, for the structural issues austerity causes do not come with economic growth. Changes may yet come, however. The leading Greek opposition party, SYRIZA, which primarily favors a change of the terms imposed by the Troika, recently underwent internal changes, with voices favoring dropping the euro outright becoming a leading faction, while maintaining leader Alexis Tsipras. While such changes are limited in scope, the option is becoming a distinct possibility.