This is what "savage austerity" looks like

Let's avoid the euphemisms

Today and yesterday, Alphaville put up a pair of posts detailing the terrifying lengths that the Greek state has been forced to go to in order to meet their austerity targets:

The country’s pharmacies are owed €500m by the state-backed healthcare insurer, according to reports. From next week patients will have to stump up the cash for their medicines upfront, and then claim a reimbursement from the National Organization for Healthcare Provision (EOPYY).

Greece: when the drugs run out

The desperate cunning scheme to get Greeks to pay property taxes by bundling them with electricity bills didn’t last long. You guessed it, people stopped paying their electricity bills and now it looks like the power company – which had to be bailed out last month – has stopped even trying to collect the levy.

Greece: when the lights go out

If the state healthcare company can't pay the pharmacies, it seems somewhat unlikely that it will be able to reimburse patients either. Meanwhile, the nationalised power company looks like it will run out of money again towards the end of June, unless customers start paying their bills again.

All of which goes some way to explaining the curious result that is seen time and time again in Greek opinion polls: contrary to what their actions – and their votes – suggest, the Greek people are actually overwhelmingly in favour of staying in the euro. They know how much membership of the single currency has benefited their country, and they don't want to lose it.

But they also know that the path they are on now – which, if it only involved Russian-style shock doctrine privatisation, would be getting off lightly – is unsustainable. They are losing healthcare, power, they have been paid negative salaries, and the word coming from Germany is that this will get worse, not better. Well, they're mad as hell, and they're not going to take it anymore.

That said, the latest news out of Greece indicates that preferences may be swinging back to the devil they know. Joe Weisenthal reports a Nomura briefing which says:

Opinion polls are looking more constructive from a market perspective.

Which is a very euphemistic way of saying the pro-austerity New Democracy party may win the election.

Lighting over Athens, but the power's out. Photograph: Getty Images

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

Photo: Getty Images
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The Fire Brigades Union reaffiliates to Labour - what does it mean?

Any union rejoining Labour will be welcomed by most in the party - but the impact on the party's internal politics will be smaller than you think.

The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) has voted to reaffiliate to the Labour party, in what is seen as a boost to Jeremy Corbyn. What does it mean for Labour’s internal politics?

Firstly, technically, the FBU has never affliated before as they are notionally part of the civil service - however, following the firefighters' strike in 2004, they decisively broke with Labour.

The main impact will be felt on the floor of Labour party conference. Although the FBU’s membership – at around 38,000 – is too small to have a material effect on the outcome of votes themselves, it will change the tenor of the motions put before party conference.

The FBU’s leadership is not only to the left of most unions in the Trades Union Congress (TUC), it is more inclined to bring motions relating to foreign affairs than other unions with similar politics (it is more internationalist in focus than, say, the PCS, another union that may affiliate due to Corbyn’s leadership). Motions on Israel/Palestine, the nuclear deterrent, and other issues, will find more support from FBU delegates than it has from other affiliated trade unions.

In terms of the balance of power between the affiliated unions themselves, the FBU’s re-entry into Labour politics is unlikely to be much of a gamechanger. Trade union positions, elected by trade union delegates at conference, are unlikely to be moved leftwards by the reaffiliation of the FBU. Unite, the GMB, Unison and Usdaw are all large enough to all-but-guarantee themselves a seat around the NEC. Community, a small centrist union, has already lost its place on the NEC in favour of the bakers’ union, which is more aligned to Tom Watson than Jeremy Corbyn.

Matt Wrack, the FBU’s General Secretary, will be a genuine ally to Corbyn and John McDonnell. Len McCluskey and Dave Prentis were both bounced into endorsing Corbyn by their executives and did so less than wholeheartedly. Tim Roache, the newly-elected General Secretary of the GMB, has publicly supported Corbyn but is seen as a more moderate voice at the TUC. Only Dave Ward of the Communication Workers’ Union, who lent staff and resources to both Corbyn’s campaign team and to the parliamentary staff of Corbyn and McDonnell, is truly on side.

The impact of reaffiliation may be felt more keenly in local parties. The FBU’s membership looks small in real terms compared Unite and Unison have memberships of over a million, while the GMB and Usdaw are around the half-a-million mark, but is much more impressive when you consider that there are just 48,000 firefighters in Britain. This may make them more likely to participate in internal elections than other affiliated trade unionists, just 60,000 of whom voted in the Labour leadership election in 2015. However, it is worth noting that it is statistically unlikely most firefighters are Corbynites - those that are will mostly have already joined themselves. The affiliation, while a morale boost for many in the Labour party, is unlikely to prove as significant to the direction of the party as the outcome of Unison’s general secretary election or the struggle for power at the top of Unite in 2018. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.