Sunday

14th Aug 2022

Swift backlash to Greek austerity as workers down tools

  • The social crisis is mounting in Greece as unions protest the fresh austerity measures (Photo: mkhalili)

Backlash to fresh austerity measures unveiled by the Greek cabinet was swift on Thursday as the country was gripped by strikes by transport workers and civil servants.

Traffic was snarled in the capital as bus, metro and rail workers held a 24-hour work stoppage in protest at the government’s ramped up programme of cuts and structural adjustment.

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Air traffic controllers walked of the job for four hours on Thursday, delaying some 100 flights.

Public transit workers were joined by taxi drivers angry at government attempts to liberalise their sector, as well as teachers and municipal workers.

Some ten protest marches were held in the capital, according to local reports, while riot police were out in full force.

The actions were the first, instant reaction to the cuts agreed between the government and the so-called troika of the EU, European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund.

A rolling series of strikes and protests are planned for the coming days.

The whole of the public sector is due to shut down on 5 October while a nation-wide general strike has been announced by the two major unions for 19 October.

On Friday, metro, tram and some rail workers are downing tools for the second day, although buses, the national railway and taxis will be back in operation.

However, air traffic controllers are to hold a day-long strike on Sunday. Taxi-drivers will hold a two-day strike from 27-28 September and Athens buses and trolley buses will be out of service due to industrial action on Monday.

On Wednesday, measures agreed with the troika were unveiled, including cuts to pensions and the placement of some 30,000 public-sector workers in a “labour reserve”, where their wages will be cut by 60 percent ahead of presumptive lay-offs within a year.

Horst Reichenbach, who leads the EU Commission taskforce charged with reforming the Greek tax system, said the country’s population “is at the brink of not accepting any further pain”, according to the Irish Times.

In one concession, the government has delayed till next week a vote on a new property tax and announced that the unemployed will be exempt.

Meanwhile on Thursday speaking in Washington, EU economy chief Olli Rehn appeared to concede that Greece reneging on its debt commitments was on the cards, saying that Europe would prevent an “uncontrolled”

"An uncontrolled default or exit of Greece from the eurozone would cause enormous economic and social damage, not only to Greece but to the European Union,” he said.

“A condition for the new programme is that Greece implements all the corrective measures required, without any wavering,’’ he added.

“In the past couple of weeks, Greece has gone a long way toward meeting these demands, but we are not quite there yet.’’

On Thursday, the head of the Dutch central bank, Klaas Knot admitted that a Greek default scenario is being considered.

Business newspaper Het Financieele Dagblad asked the banker directly whether such an outcome is on the table. "It is one of the scenarios. I'm not saying that Greece will not go bankrupt," he said.

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Austerity cuts not to blame for Greek drug shortage, EU says

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The very people who have been charged with protecting the Greek parliament and politicians from furious crowds and who have even been criticised by Amnesty International for their heavy-handedness, the Greek police, have themselves now begun to protest EU-IMF austerity.

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