Transport Strikes Grind Athens to a Halt

With transport strikes nearly every day, a car is the only way to get around Athens - kind of

ATHENS – Growing rage – and fear – over the loss of jobs, pay cuts and tax hikes led transportation workers to continue their strike in Greece on Sept. 27, making downtown Athens a sea of stopped vehicles clogging the streets.

Massive traffic jams, some stretching for miles, were compounded by a large protest of administration workers who went into the streets, driving to Parliament on motorcycles, cars and dump trucks as lawmakers were to debate an emergency property tax that would be put into electric bills as part of a scheme to raise revenues in return for the next loan installment of $11 billion in a $152 billion bailout from international lenders.

They demanded more austerity measures in return, including the immediate layoffs of scores of thousands of workers and that has created a simmering anger by workers upset that the country’s rich elite have been protected from sacrifice.

The underground Metro, that shut down last week, was closed again, while bus drivers organized a rally in one of the main city centers of Omonia, a main chokepoint for the whole downtown. Also shut down were the tram, trolleys and suburban railroad that goes to the international airport, making it arduous for people trying to get there. A planned strike by air traffic controllers was blocked by the courts. Taxi drivers said they may strike on Sept. 28-29 as well and another 48-hour transport strike is planned this week by workers and nationwide strikes are set for Oct. 5 and 19.

Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou said without the next loan installment that the country will run out of money in mid-October and be unable to pay workers or pensioners. Greek police held their own protest, with the Special Guards unit hanging a giant black banner from the top of Lycabettus Hill in the capital reading “Pay day, day of mourning.”

The strikes are hurting downtown businesses, thousands of which have already closed because of a recession brought on my the austerity measures, their troubles compounded by the inability of people to get to them. Deliveries are being stalled, business has fallen off in restaurants and small shop owners are angry that illegal immigrants are openly allowed to sell counterfeit goods on downtown streets.

Air travelers to and from Greece have endured delays of up to four hours due to go-slows by air traffic controllers. Tourists have been forced to replan their excursions because of wildcat work stoppages. “It’s normal that people are fed up, we want them to understand,” railway unionist Dinos Sourmelis told Reuters. “We are not fighting for ourselves, we are also fighting for them and our children’s future.” The frustration is showing. “When we opened less than a year ago, we didn’t expect it to be like this day after day,” 28-year-old pharmacy employee Irene Stefanatou told Reuters. “We can’t work like this. There is no business. People avoid coming to the center and when they want to come, transport is on strike.” As she spoke, a march of transport workers passed by, but no customers.

(Sources: Kathimerini, AP, Reuters)


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