Mural in Panagi Tsaldari Street, by street artist INO.
While writing my name on Grigoris’ arm, I am aware that I will never be able to visit all the addresses he has just given me; let alone to interview all the people involved in these collectives. After all, at this moment, I only have two full days left. Grigoris works at a collective restaurant called Bread and Roses, referring to the successful 1912 Massachusetts textile riots. The words “bread and roses” are Rosa Schneiderman’s. She wrote a speech in which she proclaimed: “The worker must have bread, but she must have roses, too”. Of course, Schneiderman led a women’s movement in a specific moment of time. However, I think that her speech touches upon much larger issues that are at the centre of the resistance in Greece today.
Capitalism did not only transform labour into a commodity by presenting it on the market as any other good, but also brought along a strong belief in Homo Economicus. Or perhaps, rather than capitalism as such, it was the Austrian school that professed and promoted the idea that egotism and competitiveness are part of human nature. Without entering into a debate about the distinctive nature of Neoliberalism and how different it is from the era that Marx and the Austrian School were writing in and reflecting upon, I think that what I see here in Greece can be directly linked to the liberal spirit of free market idolatry, the atomization of the individual, but also, and simply, cruel dehumanizing, or as Marx would call it, alienating labour due to exploitive conditions. I am aware that I am referring to a lot of theories in one go, and it seems quite all encompassing.
However, it could also be put more straightforwardly: the people I have met here in Greece are resisting. And they are not only resisting low payrolls. What they seem to express is a desire to live differently, more ethically, for their own sake, but also for that of the community. There’s a powerful discontent vis-à-vis working conditions, but not criticizing the hard work and the unpaid overtime per se. What makes the working conditions unbearable is the insignificance it has; coming in at work in the morning and leaving late at night, giving up your time for something you do not really believe in, for an unknown cause you have little say in. The only use for it being: getting a pay. Because “all economic connections between individuals run through the market, each is isolated as an economic entity”. Being reduced to this state of a floating island trying to accumulate figures, you are unable to realize something else, you do not have the power to do so.
The collectives, and other groups seeking to function autonomously, are the very expression of resisting that atomized individual. Every collective seeks to find its own goals, very often political, but almost exclusively ethical. By having everyone stand on an equal footing, everyone can engage as much as they want with the projects at hand. In this manner, working is not only about adding numbers to your bank account, about forgetting what you do to get on with life, it becomes a question of creation. The work belongs entirely to the workers. The workers are no longer workers, but they are the people we know, all trying to build something for a sustainable community, which needs festivals, art, music as much as a roof above everyone’s head and three meals a day.
Bread and Roses, and the other collectives I visited are very much aware of it. They perhaps don’t even think about its necessity, it seems self-evident. During the last weekend of my stay, there were two concerts organized at Bread and Roses, a party in the social centerNosotros and a Mojito evening in the shop Lacandona. So yes, “what the woman who labors wants is the right to live, not simply exist — the right to life as the rich woman has the right to life, and the sun and music and art. You have nothing that the humblest worker has not a right to have also. The worker must have bread, but she must have roses, too”.
Solange Manche, École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales & École Normale Supérieure de Paris, Literary Theory. University of Utrecht graduate.
 This refers to Marx’s Capital. To understand commodification and commodification of labour, see chapters 4, 5, 6, 7 and 10 of Capital, volume 1.
 Gareth Dale. Karl Polanyi: The Limits of the Market. Cambridge: Polity Press, 2010.
 The way they describe their activity in the neighbourhood of Exarcheia