Colin Chalmers from Twinning Against Austerity explains how the scheme works ahead of its Glasgow launch on 26 May
COMMUNITY groups and activists will be meeting on 26 May for the Glasgow launch of Twinning Against Austerity – an initiative connecting community organisations in Greece and Britain so they can share experiences, practical know-how and solidarity.
While attention on Greece has diminished since the Syriza government agreed to impose austerity, the reality for most Greeks has got worse. About 60 per cent of the population live below or close to the poverty line. More than a quarter of the population is unemployed. Three million Greeks have no access to medical services because they cannot afford to pay for them.
But austerity has led to resistance – a network of hundreds of free health clinics, food banks, soup kitchens and advice centres has grown up across Greece to survive and oppose it. They use direct democracy to decide what to do about the problems facing their communities, providing food, clothing, medicine and education to Greeks and migrants with little or nothing – not as charity, but as community self-help. They have few resources. They need all the solidarity they can get.
If your group wants to twin against austerity you will be introduced to a grassroots anti-austerity group in Greece also wanting to twin.
Twinning Against Austerity puts local community and anti-austerity groups in Britain in touch with these groups through its website. If your group wants to twin against austerity you will be introduced to a grassroots anti-austerity group in Greece also wanting to twin. Your next steps could be a Skype meeting with Greece, then a public fundraising event – a Greek evening, gig or whatever – to get the twinning off to an active start.
You will quickly find out more about the reality of your twinned community and be able to tell them about yourselves, working out how best to work together. You might want to organise more events, publicise your twinning, fundraise for projects or even arrange visits. There are lots of ideas on the website about what to do next – it will be up to you and your new friends in Greece.
The first groups to twin against austerity were Solidarity Piraeus and Machynlleth Against Austerity in Wales. Solidarity Piraeus operates in Greece’s largest port, collecting and distributing food, providing free education and legal advice and clothes to hundreds of Greeks and migrants.
Machynlleth Against Austerity kicked off the twinning with a fundraising gig that raised €180 for Solidarity Piraeus which a couple from Machynlleth visiting Greece the next week took over. They have kept in touch since and one member of MAA is planning to visit Piraeus.
Your next steps could be a Skype meeting with Greece, then a public fundraising event – a Greek evening, gig or whatever – to get the twinning off to an active start.
The Social Centre Ambariza in north Athens is twinned with the Independent Socialists in Wellingborough. Social Centre Ambariza runs regular 'direct markets' where small producers and local families save money by by-passing supermarkets.
A percentage of the produce at each market is shared with people that cannot afford to buy food. The social centre makes soap that it sells at these markets. As a result of the twinning the soap is now on sale in Britain.
Another group in north Athens, the Pharmacy of Solidarity at Patisia, would like to twin against austerity with a community or women’s group in Scotland. It provides free medicine to Greek citizens and migrants who need medicine but can’t afford it. The pharmacy is run by 70 volunteers and provides medicines donated to the pharmacy to over 900 people. A leaflet in their reception reads: "We consider our initiative to be part of the greater movement of solidarity in the Greek society. We fight together with others against the abolition of social rights, against individualism and against fear. We fight for the consolidation of the principles of solidarity, justice and human dignity."
The Metropolitan Community Clinic at Helliniko (MCCH) provides free health care and medication to people unable to afford to pay for it. Growing from a meeting of six people in 2011, the clinic now has 280 volunteers including doctors, dentists, pharmacists, therapists and support staff treating more than 100 patients a day.
You might want to organise more events, publicise your twinning, fundraise for projects or even arrange visits.
MCCH also provides psychological support to the unemployed, baby food and other basic baby needs, all free of charge. All medicines are donated by fellow citizens and all staff are volunteers.
"Our social rights are under threat and we need to defend them at all costs," says MCCH volunteer Christos Sideris. "We have a big experiment being done in this country and if this experiment is allowed to continue then it will spread everywhere."
The Glasgow launch of Twinning Against Austerity will be at 7.30pm on 26 May at the Calder Baths, 99 Calder Street. Free, all welcome. Visit the Twinning Against Austerity website for more information.
Picture courtesy of Twinning Against Austerity