More Austerity Means More Strikes Too



Striking workers marching in Greece. It hasn't moved the government.

ATHENS – Protests didn’t work. Riots didn’t work. Strikes didn’t work either, but Greek workers say they’ll walk off their jobs again this week anyway, fed up with another round of austerity measures they said have crippled their present and destroyed their future.

Although garbage collectors have given up after a three-week strike in which the government didn’t blink and rubbish piled high, a new wave of strikes is set to continue as union leaders said they will fight on although many Greeks said they believe nothing can stop the government from administering Draconian measures that Prime Minister George Papandreou said are needed to prevent the country from sliding into bankruptcy and default.

The Troika of the European Union-International Monetary Fund-European Central Bank has ordered the measures as a condition of getting $152 billion in bailout loans and a second rescue package of $157 billion.

The wave of strikes is set to continue to affect public transport, schools, taxis and even the supply of goods to many areas. Public transport workers are planning a 24-hour strike on Oct. 25, pending approval by some of their unions, with more action set to follow from the first week of November, although a series of such actions the past 18 months has failed. Owners of public-use trucks (transporting fuel and other goods) are planning a long-lasting strike as soon as the government moves to end their monopoly, another demand of the Troika which wants Greece to open closed professions, also including pharmacists, lawyers, architects and engineers who have guaranteed profit margins and set prices without competition. Previous strikes have included tax inspectors, customs officer, air traffic controllers, doctors, nurses and other sectors.

One strike is particularly troublesome for the government, that of Finance Ministry workers who continue to occupy their building, hampering the issuing of tax bills. They said they will not go back to work until Oct. 27, although by declaring their action a “symbolic protest,” instead of a strike, they were getting paid, although the government vowed that would stop.

Unions are angry over the new round of austerity measures that has cut the pay of some workers to as much as 40 percent and led to the layoff of 30,000 workers, with perhaps another 90,000 set to go in the next few years as the Troika and Papandreou said the country’s hugely bloated public sector – created by generations of political hires by Papandreou’s PASOK Socialist party and the rival major opposition Conservative New Democracy that took turns ruling. Civil servants’ union ADEDY Secretary-General Ilias Iliopoulos said the new law “will not be implemented” and accused the government of ignoring popular dissent. Greece’s main private-sector union, GSEE, was also planning new strikes.

GSEE board member Stathis Anestis said: “We plan long-running opposition to ensure that the crippling cutbacks imposed by our loan shark predators are not enforced.” As many as 70,000-100,000 people took to the streets on Oct. 19-20 during a two-day general strike that was mostly peaceful, apart from the usual riots by anarchists, but the demonstrations and walkouts failed to move the Parliament, which voted the new measures on the orders of Papandreou and the Troika.

The new measures include more pension and state salary cuts, civil service staff cuts and a cut in the tax-free threshold, which means workers making as little as $6,700 a year will be taxed while tax evaders, including the country’s rich elite, will escape again, stoking outrage at what workers call injustice. Pensioner Kleanthis Kizilis said at the protest: “That it was voted on is one thing. Its implementation is another. The people will tear it apart, they will dismiss it in practice.”

(Sources: Kathimerini, GreenLeft)