Athens crippled by anti-austerity protest
Hundreds of unionists protested in Athens on Tuesday against proposed wage cuts in Greece’s inefficient public utility services as a transport strike sparked huge traffic snarl-ups in the capital.
The protesters gathered in front of the Greek parliament as the chamber discussed salary cuts of up to 25 percent for utility staff earning more than 1,800 euros (2,387 dollars) a month, as well as layoffs.
They rallied behind a large banner reading “Strike until final victory”.
“We cannot take any more (austerity)” read another banner.
Several hundred police officers and coastguards, whose wages were targeted in a previous wave of cuts, staged a separate demonstration later in the day.
“Your profits cost human lives,” read a banner held up by uniformed security staff, some of them standing under a crossed-out emblem of the International Monetary Fund, which is participating in an unpopular Greek debt rescue.
A full-blown general strike against the Socialist government’s desperate debt-slashing measures will be held on Wednesday, the seventh this year.
The government in November announced a plan to reduce the deficit of loss-making state enterprises by 800 million euros (one billion dollars).
The adoption of such reforms will follow a first round of austerity measures aimed at reducing the Greek public deficit, which stood at over 15.4 percent of output last year, more than five times the allowed EU ceiling.
The economy overhaul is a condition set by the European Union and the International Monetary Fund for the release of a 15-billion-euro installment from a 110-billion-euro EU-IMF rescue package accorded Greece in May.
Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou called a series of meetings with fellow party leaders on Tuesday to request their support in getting the bill through parliament, where the government has a seven-seat majority.
“This is a day of shame,” said the chairman of the small Left Coalition party Alexis Tsipras, who boycotted the talks, while the Greek Communist party pledged to fight the reforms.
“We will consent to nothing,” Communist party leader Aleka Papariga told reporters after her meeting with Papandreou.
“The real war begins now,” she warned.
Both parties carry influence among worker syndicates.
The main opposition conservative party has already signaled its intention to reject the bill and some government lawmakers have also warned that they might also oppose it in the upcoming vote, scheduled to be held in the early hours of Wednesday.
“We cannot allow the troika to blackmail Greek society,” ruling party deputy Panagiotis Kourouplis told Flash Radio, using the term employed in Greece to describe the country’s three key creditors — the EU, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund.
“I will hear the labour minister’s arguments and then I will decide how to vote,” he said.