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   Vol.66/No.1            January 7, 2002 
 
 
Farmers in Greece rally for a livable income
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BY GEORGES MEHRABIAN  
ATHENS, Greece--"The fight of the farmers is one for survival and will overcome all the problems which the government will put before it," said Giorgos Patakis, president of the United Federation of Farmers Unions of Larisa, at the farmers rally in Larisa December 10. The protest was one of many that took place throughout the country December 1012.

In the days leading up to the actions farmers assembled their tractors in villages throughout northern Greece and much of the rest of the country. Despite heavy rain, snow, and sleet across the country, they descended into provincial capitals and major towns December 10 for rallies and other activities. Rallies on December 12 included one in Karditsa, where cotton farmers were joined by high school students who skipped school in a show of solidarity, and in Larisa, where farmers were joined by the city's trade union bodies. Several thousand farmers protested not only in the heart of the cotton-producing plain of Thessaly, but also in Thrace, Macedonia, Crete, Lesvos, Boetioa, and elsewhere.

The December mobilization were able to build on rallies in November of 10,000 tobacco farmers in Thessaloniki and several thousand cotton farmers in Trikala. Inspired by those successes farmers from a much wider geographic area joined the latest actions. Also, in addition to cotton and tobacco producers, olive farmers, fruit farmers, dairy farmers, and others participated.

The working family farmers are protesting the low prices being offered for their products as well as the cuts in subsidies by the European Union Commission--both factors are drastically pushing down farmers' income. Combined with the squeeze of rising costs of production and increasing debt owed to banks, many are being pushed off the land.

"They are trying to deceive us for one more time," one cotton farmer told Rizospastis newspaper in response to government promises that it is on the farmers' side. "We can't step back because the future of farming people will be decided by our participation in the mobilizations," he said. The Social Democratic government of PASOK, the Pan Hellenic Socialist Movement, has declared that it will fight to defend farm subsidies in the European Union.

Meanwhile, the minister of agriculture announced that for the year 2002 cotton production quotas will be cut by 1020 percent. If farmers produce above the quotas they are subject to fines. One of the demands of the working farmers is that fines not be levied against small- and medium-sized producers.

On the island of Lesvos in the eastern Aegean Sea, the December 12 rally by olive farmers was met with police violence. Two cops were injured as well as three protesters. More than 1,000 farmers rallied in front of the Ministry of the Aegean where the police attempted to keep them out. The farmers successfully occupied the lobby of the ministry.

Subsequently, ministry officials launched a red-baiting attack on the farmers blaming Communist Party of Greece activists for the clashes. However, the coordinating committee of the olive growers blamed the violence on the ministry's decision to have a heavy police presence at the action.

On December 19 representatives of farmers' groups will meet to discuss further actions. One idea raised by farmers at the Larisa rally is descending with their tractors on Athens after the holidays.  
 
 
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