The purpose of this blog is to provide analytical commentary on formal and informal labour organisations and their attempts to resist ever more brutal forms of exploitation in today’s neo-liberal, global capitalism.

Wednesday, 13 June 2018

A Crisis of Crisis Management Continues in Greece: “Sudden Death for the Metropolitan Community Clinic at Helliniko? We Say No!”

Over a period of eight years and three programmes of financial assistance Greece has never been far from the news. Recent reporting has become more positive in outlook, dominated by discussion about whether the Syriza-led coalition government will be able to make a clean exit from its third ‘Economic Adjustment Programme’. A clean exit would mean the Greek government being able to finance spending commitments and its enormous public debt through bond markets, without any further loans from European partners or even a pre-cautionary line of credit from the IMF. Greece’s ability to go it alone after 20th August (although with regular ‘post-programme surveillance’ as the likes of Ireland and Portugal have experienced) relies on perceptions from its creditors and financial markets about the government’s ongoing commitment to the types of austerity and so-called ‘structural reforms’ that have dominated all three programmes. In this guest post, Jamie Jordan assesses the implications of Greece going it alone with a particular focus on the future of the Metropolitan Community Clinic at Helliniko.
Amongst a wide-range of ongoing reform commitments that will test the government’s resolve a privatisation programme targeting over €20bn of revenue is considered one of the most important. Whilst delays in achieving targets have been persistent, it will no doubt come as a relief to the creditors of Greece that there has been a recent acceleration of privatisations, with four deals already having been agreed in 2018 and a further five clearly progressing. These include a completed 40-year concession deal worth €1.2bn for 14 regional airports, as well the bidding process being initiated for the Public Power Corporation (PPC). However, the sale of Hellinikon, the site of the old Athens airport, is potentially the largest. Given its size (620 hectares and 3.5km of waterfront) and location (8km southwest of the centre of Athens) this is a prime piece of European real estate, reflected in the €6-8bn target sale price. It is also the location of an invaluable social organisation during the crisis, the Metropolitan Community Clinic at Helliniko.

Photo from Metropolitan Community Clinic at Helliniko

Since December 2011 this volunteer-run healthcare clinic has time and again picked-up the pieces from years of social deprivation generated by austerity, literally saving lives in the process. One of about 40 clinics nationwide (but the original and largest amongst them all), the clinic at Helliniko was initially viewed as a temporary measure by its organisers until the effects of crisis mis-management subsided. However, volunteer-run healthcare clinics have become permanent features on the crisis landscape. Therefore, it comes as a devastating blow to those that it affects that on 31st May the clinic was sent an eviction notice requesting it vacate its premises by 30th June 2018. Compounding this blow is the fact that the clinic has been given no reassurances about an alternative location being provided, having relied on the generosity of the local municipality who have supplied the building rent-free and paid for the cost of utilities.

The effects of Greece’s healthcare crisis have been well documented across media and academic outlets. The clinic at Helliniko self-reports that since December 2011 they have treated over 7,000 patients and conducted over 64,000 patient visits. These are staggering numbers for an organisation that relies on volunteers giving up their own time and healthcare professionals working pro-bono. During the Spring of 2015 – a period of high tension and stand-off between the freshly elected Syriza-led coalition government and the Troika of institutions administering Greece’s reform agenda – I was fortunate enough to be able to visit the clinic and speak to volunteers. It was an emotional mix of inspiration about what could be achieved through persistence and expertise, and sadness that such a state-of-affairs had become entrenched in what was meant to be a modern European country. 

Photo from Metropolitan Community Clinic at Helliniko

However, such had been the level of success organising effective healthcare provision that upon my arrival what struck me the most was how it did not feel all that different from being in a GPs building in the UK, provided for by Britain’s greatest ever achievement, the NHS. In fact, alongside access to GPs, primary care provision could also be provided in the areas of paediatrics, psychiatry, and dentistry. Ongoing campaigns for supplies meant that the clinic housed an incredibly well-stocked pharmacy that was maintained through donations of unused and unexpired drugs, as well as a wide-range of basic provisions to support families with new-born babies having identified a growing trend of severe infant malnutrition. And where the support required by patients was beyond the scope of what was possible on site, the clinic had developed strong relationships with other organisations, especially private hospitals, to ensure that everyone received the treatment they required. Amazingly, all of this continues to do this day.

Beyond the fundamental aim of providing an essential public service as effectively as possible, the other prominent message that emerged during my time at the clinic at Helliniko (and others across the country) was that these organisations are not based on principles of charity, but of solidarity and democracy. To the organisers, charity would reflect the creation of an ‘other’ that needed a paternal act of kindness to help them through tough times. Solidarity, alternatively, truly reflected the mantra of ‘we’re all in this together’ which had been so disingenuously used by David Cameron and George Osbourne during their own drive of implementing austerity policies in the UK. Organising on the principle of solidarity highlights that the retrenchment of essential public services is not a problem experienced by one individual at a time, but as a society as a whole at all times. This retrenchment needed be resisted not just through protest and demonstration but through a practical critique which opened alternative possibilities. If solidarity frames the purpose, then a template of direct democracy provides a management structure that empowers volunteers, most of whom would simply consider themselves ordinary citizens and denizens galvanised by the need to overcome the evident injustices generated by pernicious crisis management.

Photo from Metropolitan Community Clinic at Helliniko

It demonstrates the level of capitulation required by Greece’s creditors and the Troika that the Syriza-led government has so easily brushed aside the needs of the patients treated by the clinic at Helliniko. Finding suitable alternative accommodation prior to pursuing the requirements of Helliniko’s privatisation should have been a priority. The clinics have not been under the radar, functioning in the shadows of civil society. Speaking to government officials, including Ministers, during the aforementioned period the healthcare clinics provided a primary source of inspiration for defeating the logic of ‘There Is No Alternative’. Their ability to overcome and thrive in adverse social and economic conditions were viewed as a foundation upon which realising a pan-European anti-austerity agenda could be pursued. These clinics, along with many other types of solidarity organisations, were meant to be an integral part of the blueprint for enabling a social and democratic transition of Greek society in the aftermath of the crisis. Such priorities have clearly been abandoned.

It is heartening that the organisers of the clinic at Helliniko are not going down without a fight – no one with personal experience of the volunteers would expect anything else. However, this ongoing struggle across the eurozone’s southern periphery makes a lie of the idea that a crisis which has ravaged the political, social and economic fabric of these societies is nearing anything that could be classified as an end. For many people in Greece there is still little hope of a better future, and the hope which is provided by organisations such as the Metropolitan Community Clinic at Helliniko can ill-afford to be extinguished if a more social Europe is to be realised by those who still hold such ideals dear.

Photo from Greece Solidarity Campaign

If you would like to support the Helliniko Clinic you can write to the following officials who are involved either directly or indirectly in the eviction process:

·  Helliniko S.A., Mrs. Spyropoulou. Tel: +30 210 9820214, +30 2109856040; Fax: +30 2109820215; Emai:
·  Minister of Finance, Mr. Tsakolotos. Tel: +30-210 32 21 511; Fax +30-210-3332608; Email:
·  Minister of State, Mr. Flabouraris. Tel: +30-210-33 85 134; Fax: +30- 210-3385 109; Email:
·   Secretary General Government Coordinator, Mr. Papayannakos. Tel: +30-210-3385 150 Fax: +30- 210-3385 133. Email:
·     Office of Prime Minister. Tel: +30-2106711000. Email:

Jamie Jordan is a postdoctoral research fellow at the University College Dublin, Ireland, and can be contacted at

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