Violent scenes as 70,000 protest over Greek austerity package


TENS OF thousands of protesters took to the streets of Athens and other Greek cities yesterday in a general strike in protest at a forthcoming €13.5 billion package of austerity measures.

The smallest partners in the country’s three-way coalition said it would not vote to abolish labour rights, a demand from the troika lenders. “There is absolutely no chance we will support these changes in labour relations because they have no economic benefit and in no way involve structural changes,” said Andreas Papadopoulos, spokesman for Democratic Left.

The main demonstration, called by the country’s main public and private trade union confederations, received strong support from small trades and businesses associations. Among the estimated 70,000 marching in Athens were beauty therapists from Greece’s largest cosmetics chains who said they were alarmed that the new austerity package would dismantle hard-won labour rights.

Make-up artist Georgia Dimopoulou (26) said her company, Notos Com Holdings, which in January put workers on a four-day week of 32 hours, now wants to reduce hours even further, to six or less a day.

The shorter week has already meant losing €200 from her previous gross monthly wage of €860, she said, and will drag pay down further to about €520. Her union leader, Metaxia Stekoulea of the Greek Federation of Private Employees, accused large businesses of profiting at the expense of their staff.

“Most businesses are using the crisis as an opportunity to continue their expansion in the Balkans, where they are opening new stores, while they dismantle labour rights here,” she said.

Ahead of them was a group of Belgian metalworkers, who were supporting Greek colleagues who are on trial for storming the defence ministry compound a fortnight ago. The Greek shipyard workers have not been paid for six months, during which they’ve worked one day a week.

Violence erupted between riot police and masked, black-clad demonstrators as the protest neared Syntagma, Athen’s central square.

As stun grenades exploded in the distance and tear gas wafted into the street they were on, the beauty therapists decided to stand their ground, smearing white Maalox cream on their madeup faces to protect them from the tear gas wafting down from Syntagma.