Athens metro staff forced back to work
With the help of an emergency law usually used at times of war, the Greek government last night finally cracked a strike by subway workers that had brought Athens to a standstill for a week.
After a showdown, employees gradually returned to work in the wake of the ruling coalition’s high-risk decision to forcibly mobilise them under threat of arrest.
With the strike seen as a test of the government’s resolve to take on unions opposed to austerity measures demanded by the EU and IMF, the move by the prime minister, Antonis Samaras, brought a storm of protest, with politicians and unions condemning it as resonant of authoritarian rule.
The prime minister, Antonis Samaras, said he had resorted to the emergency step because commuters could no longer be held hostage to unions who had created unprecedented traffic chaos in the capita.
“The Greek people have made enormous sacrifices and I will not allow exceptions,” said the conservative leader, referring to hostility over austerity measures that the EU and IMF have demanded to prop up the moribund Greek economy.
“Transport does not belong to the unions – it belongs to the people and they have the right to use it.”
Riot police stormed the metro’s main depot in a pre-dawn raid yesterday morning to remove protesting employees who had vowed to intensify the strike.
State-run television showed police handing strikers civil mobilisation papers. The workers, who had defied court decisions labelling the action “illegal and abusive”, face immediate arrest and loss of jobs if they refuse to return to work in the next 24 hours.
Under immense pressure to enforce unpopular cuts from international creditors – the source of funds keeping debt-crippled Greece afloat – the governing coalition has almost no room for manoeuvre in rolling back on reforms that will see metro workers’ pay fall by about 20 per cent.
But the decision to invoke emergency laws mobilising workers in a country where industrial action is regarded as a hallowed right antagonised other transport unions representing employees operating trams, trolleys, trains and buses, prompting them to take the rare step of walking off the job in solidarity.
The small Democratic Left party, which is supporting the conservative-dominated government, had likewise been put on the defensive, describing the draconian measure as an “extreme choice” and calling for further dialogue.
With both sides digging their heels in, transport unions declared mass rallies. Passions also rose inside parliament, where parties opposed to the terms of the bailouts added to the rising temperature.
Emboldened by the support, unions had stepped up the rhetoric. “The mobilisation order is tantamount to dictatorship. Let them [the government] come and collect dead bodies. Let them send in the army,” said Antonis Stamatopoulos, head of the union of transport workers.
“With its decision the government has proved its inability to reach a solution.”
– (Guardian Service)