This film is about the Skoros collective in Exarcheia,* Athens’ infamous fascist-free zone. Skoros operates a secondhand store in rented space, unlike many Exarcheia businesses, run as squats in abandoned buildings. Skoros formed during the 2008 global economic crisis, which (owing to skullduggery by Goldman Sachs, the IMF and the European Central Bank) hit Greece especially hard. See The Real Cause of Greece’s Economic Crisis. Customers, which include many refugees housed in Exarcheia squats, are allowed to select three items per visit. The store is staffed by collective members as unpaid volunteers. Since the film was released in 2015, the store has become a tourist attraction – listed in A Guide to Shopping in Athens and featured in the Independent travel section.
*Exarcheia is a self-governing anarchist community spanning four decades. There is a recent effort by Greek authorities to evict squatters from Exarcheia’s abandoned public buildings, but it looks to be an extended process. See
At a June 15 press conference, Federal Reserve Chairwoman Janet Yellen made the surprise announcement that the Fed “might legitimately consider” using “helicopter money” in an “all-out” effort to rescue the U.S. economy from a severe downturn.
“Helicopter money,” a term coined in 1969 by late economist Milton Friedman, is money government creates by spending it into the economy.
As economist Richard Murphy describes in The Joy of Tax, government has always played a role in creating money whenever private banks generate insufficient money (by issuing loans from money they create out of thin air) to maintain the smooth running of the economy. Following the 2008 recession, the Obama administration pursued a policy called “quantitative easing,” in which the US Treasury created $500 billion (out of thin air). Unlike “helicopter” money, quantitative easing provided these funds directly to private banks, hoping they would use them to generate more loans. This, in turn, was meant to stimulate business investment and job creation.
Although it probably prevented the US economy from collapsing, Obama’s quantitative easing did little to promote business investment and job creation. This was because the banks used most of these funds for purposes other than making new loans – ie buying back their stock (to increase stock prices) and paying obscene CEO bonuses.
In contrast, “helicopter money”, a policy that has been virtually taboo for fifty years, calls for a central bank to print money and spend it into the economy for social services, infrastructure development, or even a citizen’s dividend. The idea is to put the money directly into people’s hands – rather than using banks as an intermediary – as they are more likely to stimulate the economy by spending it.
As Murphy details in The Joy of Tax, libertarian corporatists obsessed with balanced budgets, government debt and austerity are largely responsible for the taboo against public money (aka sovereign money) that the government creates and spends into the economy. Their position is that only private banks should be allowed to create money – in most cases due to immense financial benefits (from interest payments) they derive from this type of money creation.
Ironically former Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke also raised the possibility of the US using “helicopter money” as a tool to stimulate a flagging economy in an April blog post.
And in a similar move , 18 Members of the European Parliament have written to European Central Bank (ECB) president Mario Draghi requesting that the ECB should revisit its opposition to using “helicopter money” to boost the EU’s deteriorating economy.
The latest news from Greece is that Prime Minister Tsipras has resigned and called a new election. This follows a rebellion by 1/3 of Syriza MPs, who voted against the IMF bailout Greek voters rejected in the 5 July referendum. According to the The Guardian, 25 Syriza MPs have broken away to form the anti-austerity party Popular Unity, led by former energy minister Panagiotis Lafazanis. Some analysts predict the new party will call for Greece to exit the euro monetary union: see Senior Syriza MP Greece Must Exit Monetary Union
The following documentary lays out some of the economic and social realities that led to the rise of Syriza.
Greece on the Brink
Manuel Reichetseder (2014)
Greece on the Brink is a 2014 documentary about brutal living conditions in Greece that led to the rise of the left wing Syriza government. At the time the film was made, 65% of Greek youth age 15-34 were unemployed. Millions of Greeks had no income at all and were scavenging food out of garbage cans. Twenty thousand were homeless and one third had no access to privatized health care.
The film documents that only a tiny proportion of the $206.9 billion bailout Greece received between 2010-2013 went to public services:
48% went to European creditors
28% went to Greek banks
22% went into the national budget (of this 16% went to interest payments, most of the balance went to the Greek military)
In addition to bolstering Syriza’s rise to power, the Greek economic crisis has led to numerous experiments in worker self-organization: solidarity clinics run by health professionals volunteering their services, solidarity networks that provide free food, a journalist cooperative in which journalists run their own newspaper, various worker co-ops which have occupied and taken over shuttered factories, and TV journalists and engineers who took over the state broadcasting service after the Greek government shut it down.
Most of the commentators featured in the film are militant Syriza members who predicted a year ago (based on compromises Tsipras made to propel his party into power) that Syriza wouldn’t solve the problems faced by the Greek working class.
The most interesting section is a Marxist analysis by British economist Allen Woods about the real cause of the 2008 “credit crunch” that triggered Greece’s sudden economic collapse. According to Woods, debt is the mechanism capitalists use to avoid the crisis of overproduction. Marx believed that overproduction was an inevitable structural defect of so-called free market capitalism. By its very nature, capitalist production always overshoots the ability of the market to regulate it.
As Marx noted 150 years ago, capitalism tries to make up for this defect by expanding credit (ie debt). Woods gives the current 30% overcapacity of the global automotive industry as an example. This is illustrated by an article that appeared in Zero Hedge a year ago about new car graveyards – see Where the World’s Unsold Cars Go to Die
Woods predicts that there will be no solution to the current global economic crisis until overproduction (and the debt that supports it) are eliminated.
Solidarity4All (S4A) co-founder Christos Giovanopoulos is presently touring the US in his effort to grow the international solidarity movement supporting Greek workers. S4A is a collective that facilitates the development of grassroots solidarity structures emerging in response to the humanitarian crisis caused by Greece’s deep austerity cuts. It grew out of the Greek Indignados movement that formed alongside the Spanish Indignados* movement in July 2011. Both would serve to inspire the international Occupy movement that first formed on Wall Street in September 2011.
As of January 2015, there were self-governing 360 solidarity structures, representing 30% of the Greek population. The list includes social pharmacies, social medical clinics, social kitchens, social grocery stores, time banks,* a social collective of mental professionals, olive oil producers who share olive oil and the “potato movement,” where farmers cut out supermarkets and middlemen by trading directly with consumers.
All initiatives are non-hierarchical and hold weekly assemblies where decisions are made. The role of S4A is to serve as a centralized network for information, tools, and skills sharing and to build an international solidarity movement to support Greek workers and to inspire similar grassroots self-governing structures in other countries.
Although most S4A members support the left-wing party Syriza, the two are totally separate organizations. S4A chiefly derives its power from its ability to provide humanitarian services can’t deliver due to the Greek financial crisis. Nevertheless Syriza directly supports S4A by requiring each of their MPs (members of parliament) to donate 10% of their salary.
An International Movement
Already hundreds of international trade unions, community, environmental and immigration groups have signed on to the Solidarity4All movement. Ironically most are in Germany, whose government has been the most staunch in forcing debt repayments and austerity cuts on the Greek people. At present Giovanopoulos is seeking to build S4A chapters in New York, Seattle, Chicago, San Francisco, Oakland and Baltimore.
In the following video, Giovanopoulos speaks to the importance of a strong grassroots movement to counteract the pressure the EU and IMF are putting on Syriza. This is especially urgent owing to the inability of the current Greek government to address the humanitarian crisis. Thanks to Solidarity4All, the immediate needs of workers continue to be addressed. If a Grexit does occur, this will also provide a framework for Greece to look after itself – instead of relying on foreign funders.
*Los Indignados is a grassroots Spanish anti-austerity movement that first captured public attention in July 2011 through massive demonstrations in which they occupied public squares and spaces. An estimated 6.5– 8 million Spaniards have participated in these events.
**A time bank is a mutual credit system in which members earn credits for helping other members and spend them for other services.
***Syriza is a left wing political party that came to power in January 2015 based on a pledge to end the austerity cuts forced on Greece (as a condition of further bailout funds) by the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
****Grexit refers to the potential exit of Greece from the eurozone monetary union, owing to its inability to repay its public debt.