No Middlemen Cost Cutting Networks in Greece

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By ANDREW HIGGINS:

"In their search for solutions, Greeks are tinkering with a new kind of economy with little precedent in modern Europe. The collapse of the Greek economy is challenging not only the survival of Greeks, but also some of the basic mechanisms of capitalism in a nation where the economy has shrunk by about 25 percent since 2008.

In the view of widening numbers here, Greece’s market-driven system has broken down, a victim of endemic corruption, budgetary mismanagement by the state and the overbearing demands of global financial markets.

In response, experimental ventures like the one Mr. Mavromatis joined have sprung up on the margins in towns and cities across Greece. While they may not offer a long-term solution, and are too small to alter the overall shape of the economy, they represent a bottom-up effort to address an economic crisis whose closest antecedent may be the aftermath of World War II.

Attacks on modern profit-driven capitalism are hardly new in Greece, where Syriza, a coalition of radical leftist forces, narrowly lost the last national election in 2012 and, according to opinion polls, is now the country’s most popular party. Its leader, Alexis Tsipras, decorates his party’s office in Athens with a poster of the revolutionary icon Che Guevara.

But Syriza, like many other left-wing parties across Europe, has had a hard time matching fiery criticism of “neo-liberal” economics with concrete actions to ease economic pain, including 27 percent unemployment. It has focused mostly on denouncing job cuts, particularly in the bloated public sector, and attacking austerity measures imposed by Greece’s international creditors in return for $328 billion in bailouts.

As the left remains deeply committed to much of the status quo, the task of answering calls for a new economic order and bringing some relief to Greece’s misery has fallen to people like Mr. Tsolakidis, who organizes the ranks of the no-middlemen movement in his region through a local nonprofit collective called the Voluntary Action Group of Pieria.

The movement seeks to cut out wholesalers, shop managers, state bureaucrats or anyone else between producers and consumers who once took a share of profits and added to the costs of goods. Instead, Mr. Tsolakidis’s group runs a website where orders are placed in advance and then distributed at markets to customers for a fixed price paid in cash.

His group takes a small cut to cover expenses, but it does not pay salaries to its members, more than 3,500 volunteers who have jobs or are unemployed. It is a small link in a long chain of ventures seeking to create a parallel “social” economy, starting with what became known as the “potato revolution,” a now nationwide movement that has slashed the price of potatoes by getting farmers to sell directly to customers." (http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/29/world/europe/after-crisis-greeks-work-to-promote-social-economy.html)

Directory

"These are mainly citizen networks focusing on fair transactions between producers and consumers. In particular, these networks aim to cut costs for consumers by organising and distributing products - mainly agricultural - without the involvement of intermediaries.

• The Potato Movement: A grassroots socio-agriculture movement which consists of Greek farmers selling potatoes and other goods such as onions, rice, flour etc. directly to the public (without the involvement of intermediaries). With many Greeks now living on the breadline, and with prices still impossibly high, the movement is a clever and for many, a vital way to cut costs.

• Inipirouni (http://www.inipirouni.gr/): Solidarity movement focusing on the fair transactions between producers and consumers. They collaborate with producers of organic goods and they print on the packaging of their products the maximum retail selling price in order to protect the Greek consumers from intermediaries.

• Omotrapezoi (http://omotrapezoi.blogspot.gr/): A group of citizens in Thessaloniki aiming to cut costs for Greek consumers by groups purchasing. Every weekend "Omotrapezoi" organise massive orders and buy several products (vegetables, flour, etc., directly from producers), without the involvement of intermediaries. The distribution of the goods to the consumers is done personally by the group.

• Argonauts (http://agronaftes.blogspot.gr/): Network without intermediaries for organic products in the region of Peloponnesus.

• Anosi- volunteers (http://www.anwsi.gr/): Network without intermediaries in the Region of Volos."

(source: Informal Citizen Networks in Greece )


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