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Eye-opening week in Athens

I was among a group of trade union journalists visiting Athens between 4 and 8 November to report on the effects of the brutal austerity measures being imposed on the Greek government by its international lenders. Here is a snapshot of what we found.

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  1. Our trip was organised by Public Services International, a global union organisation that represents more than 20 million workers. To help us find our feet in Greece, PSI provided a series of background research papers.
  2. On the first afternoon we visited the headquarters of the national public broadcaster ERT that was shut down by the Greek government in June and replaced with a slimmed down station whose output many say is almost entirely controlled by the government. ERT journalists occupied the building and continued to broadcast TV and radio programmes round the clock.
  3. TV journalist Mahi Nikolara told us pressure from public support for the five-month occupation was building and said the Greek government would be forced to find "a political solution" because the decision to shut the station down was a political one.
  4. Greek Journalists Occupy Newsroom
  5. Little did we know that the "solution" would be to send in the riot police less than 72 hours later to evict the journalists.
  6. Police raid headquarters of Greece's public broadcaster
  7. That evening thousands of protesters rallied outside the ERT building. Independent film-maker Aris Chatzistefanou had been there for 12 hours when I spoke to him.
  8. Earlier in the week, the ERT journalists proudly told us they had not dropped a single second of airtime during the occupation. Now the screens and airwaves were blank and silent. But not for long...
  9. In response to the raid, the main opposition party in Greece, Syriza, tabled a motion of no confidence in the government that was, as expected, eventually defeated in a vote on Sunday 10 November. But it raised the political temperature.
  10. Greek government survives confidence vote but shrinks its own majority
  11. I was back in the UK at this point but being kept informed of developments with regular updates from one of our guides.
  12. During the week we met workers and union representatives from some of the key parts of the government, including doctors and other healthworkers, tax officials and people employed by the public works ministry, who told us that the department responsible for post-natural disaster restoration was being abolished. Greece is ranked fifth in the world for earthquake activity.
  13. One of our most moving visits was to a social health clinic in Elliniko, a few miles outside Athens city centre, set up to provide free healthcare for the increasing number of people with no insurance to pay for it.
  14. I spoke to one of the volunteers there, a young unemployed midwife who talked about the importance of providing this service to the community.
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