Metro Strikers Defy Samaras, Road Chaos Seen

MMMStriking Greek Metro workers said they would stay off the job for a ninth consecutive day on Jan. 25 and disobey a mobilization order from the government to return or be fired or jailed.

The deadline for the strikers to return was 5 a.m. but labor union leaders said their members would not their headquarters alive if the government tried to force them back to work, setting the stage for another confrontation and another day of paralyzed traffic in Athens as workers on tram, trolleys, buses and trains said they would join the strike.

The Metro workers are protesting more cuts in their pay that would reduce their salaries by about an average of 20 percent, less than the reductions for many other civil servants as part of punishing austerity measures imposed by the government on the orders of international lenders.

“The Greek people have made huge sacrifices and I cannot allow any exceptions,” Prime Minister Antonis Samaras said  in reference to the metro workers’ insistence that they be exempted from the public sector wage structure. “Everyone should understand we will not repeat the mistakes of the past.” Parliament workers though have so far been exempted from more pay cuts and Samaras has yet to keep his vow to bring their salaries in line with other public workers.

Earlier, the head of the metro workers’ union, Antonis Stamatopoulos, proposed that employees call off their strike if the government agreed to pay them according to their collective contract, which lasts until April, and hold wage discussions in parallel.

Samaras held lengthy talks with Development Minister Costis Hatzidakis before the minister said the government would be instructing authorities to deliver civil mobilization orders to the striking metro workers as well as tram and electric railway employees, who total some 2,500 people. The employees face arrest if they don’t return to work after receiving the documents.

Stamatopoulos accused the government of being a “junta.” Greece’s main private sector union, GSEE, also backed the action. Two senior members of the major opposition party Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA) MPs, Panayiotis Lafazanis and Dimitris Stratoulis, visited the workers depot to express support for the strikers and their opposition to the government’s decision.

Coalition partner Democratic Left also voiced objections, describing the civil mobilization order as “an extreme choice,” and called for more dialogue. However, party sources underlined that the issue would not cause a rift within the three-party government. PASOK leader Evangelos Venizelos expressed support for Samaras’s decision, describing the strike as “unacceptable.”