Nationwide Strike in Greece While Parties Clash over Austerity Measures in Parliament

A nationwide strike has paralyzed Greece on Wednesday, while in parliament government and opposition parties have started a heated discussion over the new austerity measures tabled for voting.

Train, bus, ferry and airline services are disrupted while private and public sector employees — including doctors — are on strike protesting the new omnibus bill tabled in parliament. The bill includes several harsh measures and reforms dictated by Greece’s international creditors. The Greek government has to legislate and implement the measures in order to complete the second bailout program review and receive the next loan tranche.

The main public and private sector unions (ADEDY and GSEE respectively) have called all employees and workers in protest rallies in central Athens and a march to the Greek Parliament.

Meanwhile, inside the House, the ruling coalition lawmakers are trying to defend the new austerity measures that include pension cuts, lowering of the tax-free threshold for low incomes, higher security contributions for freelancers and labor law changes. The measures have to be ratified before the May 22 meeting of euro zone finance ministers to discuss the program review and reimburse the loan tranche of about 7 billion euros.

The government side is trying to overplay an agreement for countermeasures that would offset the impact of the new austerity measures. The countermeasures, however, would be implemented only if Greece achieves the fiscal targets of 3.5% primary surpluses for the next five years. The countermeasures include lower taxes and welfare subsidies.

Opposition lawmakers attack the ruling SYRIZA-ANEL coalition and accuse them of hypocrisy because, as many MPs noted, they came to power with the pledge that they would end austerity and now they are implementing more harsh measures than previous administrations.

Demonstrations in central Athens

GSEE and ADEDY started separate rallies in central Athens, joined by smaller unions such as pensioner, bank employee and freelancer/professional unions. The Greek Communist Party (KKE) union arm is having a separate demonstration rally in central Athens as well.

Public transport (buses and subway trains) in Athens are operating from 9am to 9pm, mainly to accommodate demonstrators and retail store employees. Ships are docked through Friday morning as dock workers and seamen hold a three-day strike. No trains are operating all day, while air traffic controllers will hold four-hour stoppages on Wednesday and Thursday.

The unions will hold new demonstration rallies on Thursday at 6:30 pm.