Strikes bring Greece to a standstill
Masked protesters throw rocks at policemen following an anti-austerity march during a 24-hour strike in Athens today. Photograph: Costas Baltas/Icon/Reuters
Thousands of Greek workers walked off the job today in the first nationwide protest against austerity this year, shutting schools, reducing staffing at state hospitals and disrupting transportation.
The 24-hour strike was called by the country's two main labour unions which represent about 2.5 million workers and have led public resistance to three years of austerity measures that have raised taxes and cut salaries and pensions.
The unions called on Greeks to join them in protest rallies in Athens and other cities today to oppose "dead-end policies that have squeezed the life out of workers and impoverished citizens," slashing average incomes by a third and pushing unemployment to 27 per cent.
Transport employees were to run a limited service to allow Greeks to join protest rallies. In Athens, the police were out in force to guard against violence that frequently accompanies demonstrations near parliament.
Ferries remained moored in ports, trains stayed in depots and air travel was disrupted. Tax offices and courts also closed.
The action came just days before representatives of Greece's international creditors - the so-called troika of the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund - were to return to Athens to assess the country's progress in implementing reforms.
After a revenue shortfall of 7 per cent last month, the shaky coalition government of prime minister Antonis Samaras will have to convince foreign auditors that it can boost tax collection and impose state sell-offs vehemently opposed by trade unions.
The government has taken a tough line in recent weeks, using emergency laws twice to force Athens metro workers and seamen back to work after protracted strike action. It has resisted demands from farmers who have been blocking roads in a bid to obtain tax breaks.
But authorities have yet to proceed with layoffs in the civil service that the troika has been demanding for two years. This week, authorities announced that nearly 2,000 public workers facing possible dismissal would be transferred to other parts of the civil service where a wave of early retirements has left vacancies.
Recently troika officials indicated that a failure by Greece to meet revenue targets through improved tax collection and lower public spending could require another round of cuts to salaries and pensions, a prospect the government has ruled out, warning of a social explosion.
New York Times