I have been watching them closely for months, since I arrived to Greece. I keep expressing my views on them every once a while, so again, this is not the main story for today. Today, let me tell you a story about resurrection.
1 The dead body of local industry
Greece is mainly a service-oriented country. Its economy consists of:
- Services: 81%
- Agriculture and fishery: 3,5%
- Manufacturing and mining industry: 16%
The manufacturing industry, especially local one, is in full decline. Overall output felt down to the 2005 level. It holds only because of transnational corporations, especially Coca-Cola.
It all results in making Greece almost totally dependent on import of goods. Small – and even medium – local producers can hardly compete with massive Chinese import (it is a universal challenge, though) and with the invasion of German and other EU products, heavily supported by the dominance of the West over economy and government of Greece.
More and more Greek companies, just to survive, turn into mere subcontractors and service providers for bigger „partners” abroad, or sell themselves out to vulture investors. This way or another, Greek industry looses ability to serve needs of the people in Greece and becomes a cogwheel of global economy machine.
As a result, distribution channels sell the cheapest imported goods, making it even harder for the remnants of Greek industry to compete. Greek manufacturing becomes limited to niche products, artisan and some „traditional” upper tier goods. It turns the large part of Greek society – previously employed and proud of their work – into jobless crowd, forced to emigrate or to took precarious jobs, mostly in the tourist industry or trading3.
2 Good intentions sometimes taste bitter
There were two astonishingly great surges of social activity in Europe and beyond, I observed during the 2015. First was the popular condemnation of the Greeks for being unwilling to follow the austerity procedures, forced upon them through international financial institutions. With the capitulation of the government of Greece, this surge is over. And I do not miss it.
The other one is even more overwhelming. It is a surge of international grassroots solidarity and help for the refugees, traveling – mostly through Greece – from Middle East. Thousands of people (let alone big NGOs and charities) are involved. As volunteers, they work extremely hard directly with refugees, along all the „Balkan Trail”4.
They spread the word (and pictures and videos). They collect and send goods from all Europe and the Americas. They raise money. They organize huge import from China, sending stuff, wherever it is needed.
Only, most of this activity ignores the Greeks. The Greeks, who – without being noticed by the global public, but still under duress of the harshest economic conditions in EU – have been dealing with thousands of refugees every month for many years5. The core people in the volunteer groups in Thessaloniki, Athens, Lesvos, Kos, Samos and elsewhere are the Greek people who were helping refugees „before it was cool”. Only nobody paid attention.
Also now, there is quite a lot of remarks about how the government behaves in that respect6. But „the locals” are only mentioned in the media if they complain, suffer or ask „somebody do something7”. Hardly any mainstream channel notices the number of goods and people gathering in Greece to support refugees. It simply doesn’t sell. So Greece is suggested to be a no-man’s land in this respect, an empty territory, where Western solidarity in generosity meet refugees from the East.
I had several discussions with people raising money for purchasing goods to help refugees. While things like food and water8 are obviously locally sourced, there is hardly an attempt to make organized purchases of durable goods. Typical reasoning is „the Chinese have it cheaper”. This is the very short term thinking. This is „white man’s burden”-type thinking. In Greece we have to deal with a long term process, not just a few months of „humanitarian crisis”. If the refugees stop flowing through, this will be because they would be blocked in Greece – and the burden for the Greeks will increase. If they will be neglected as they are, it may turn pretty bad, both for them and for the refugees. We should remember that the whole Europe is now experiencing a hike of fascist and xenophobic tendencies. The Golden Dawn Party – official Greek fascist power – will be more than happy to see more Greeks alienated and frustrated because of refugees. This is the fascist’s way to earn support.
So, in my not-so-humble opinion, we (the helpers, especially funding ones) have to find a way to support Greek solidarity economy AND refugees at the same time (preferably in synergy – to make all parties aware of their interdependence). Here is my attempt to propose a win-win-win scenario.
3 An All-win scenario
It is basically very simple. The merciless capitalist competition made local industry obsolete, based on the purely financial basis. But, when we include social and humanitarian factors into the calculation, it may – at least for some – change the result. Not always the cheapest price and the swiftest industrial machine should be preferred and fed with money. Here in Greece we have a chance to help not only refugees, but also the Greeks. It is possible, it is noble and it is inexpensive. And the money donors provide will help solve not just one, but TWO problems at the same time.
So the scenario goes like that:
- The team9. We need many of them, but one is good enough for starters. Just few people are enough to make it run. No special qualifications, only practical sense and ingenuity. And stubborn will to do what has to be done. There are many such people in Greece. They only need a bit of hope that their effort will not be wasted again. They will design and develop, whatever is needed. They will start the production and will run it. And they will teach others, to spread the idea.
- New product. Be it a Refugee SuperTarp10, EasyBed11 or chemical body warmer. It is needed, and in huge quantities. The design and documentation is open12, available for everyone to use without constraints. We are able to manufacture it in a decentralised way, without complex machinery or training. And the product in better designed, more environment friendly and more useful than most of its equivalents available.
- Investors. People who are ready to finance the development from an early prototype, or proof-of-concept to the fully developed product. They will also finance first manufacturing installation and a signal series of up to 100 units. This is needed to trigger an interest, make the product visible and to bring product funders.
- Users. Volunteers and refugees, using the product, providing feedback, helping make it better and more useful. They are in the center of this process. They make it worth all effort and time invested.
- Product funders. People who like the new product enough to sponsor batches after batches of the product being manufactured, delivered and distributed among users.
- Adopters. The idea of the open product is that everyone can start making it. No special permission or contract is needed. The best way is to make the product manufactured wherever it is needed. Local resources used, local people trained and local communities being beneficiaries of growing manufacturing infrastructure.This is the all-win scenario.
4 A cooperative resurrection
This idea is a part of bigger picture. The Greeks, struggling with the crisis, developed strong culture of solidarity, both in governance and in economy. However, without own manufacturing sector, at least rudimentary one, the solidarity economy can only go so far.
The only way to rebuild – or resurrect – the local manufacturing industry in Greece is a leapfrog approach. There is no use to follow the way of development of stronger countries. The only way is innovation: introducing new technologies, new ways of organisation. Above all, there is a need for solidarity and cooperation. And the global surge of solidarity with the refugees is a perfect wave to surf on.
This brief text by no means shows the whole problem, nor possible solutions. It deserves a series of publications, but first of all – it needs action.
If you, dear reader, believe you are keen and able to take part in this new movement, please contact us. Where’s the will, there’s a way.
If this project is not radical enough for you, I invite you to take part in Black Star Tech Group, a Liberatory Technology Special Interest Group. See it at: https://blackstartech.wordpress.com/
1 I am writing this at the end of October 2015.
2 Both terms are misnomers, and intentionally coined, but that is not the point of this text.
3 One of more optimistic examples is a (relatively) young man, who graduated a decent British university in civil engineering (CAD/CAM specialisation) and now is working in a hardware store his family owns.
6 Pitifully, if you ask me.
7 yes, I mean German TV here.
8 I do not understand the mania of bottled water being donated and distributed in the land, where almost 100% of tap water is drinkable AND tasty!
9 Initially I wanted to call this bullet „A ship of fools” but the absurd and autoironic sense of humour is very dangerous if we communicate across cultures, so I safely buried this them here, where nobody will see it.
11 Just being conceived – a lightweight bed, convertible to a tent.
12 Preferably Creative Commons CC-BY-SA