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'Take Our Undies Next!': Austerity Leaves Greek Workers with Little Left

'We can no longer live on what we earn,' say workers in Athens

- Beth Brogan, staff writer

Municipality workers hold banners and shout slogans as they march in central Athens. Photograph: Orestis Panagiotou / EPA) Thousands of civil servants, doctors, teachers and others staged a 24-hour strike in Athens on Wednesday to protest new pay cuts and anticipated layoffs required by international lenders as part of a financial bailout.

But the "austerity measures" required by the International Monetary Fund and European Union leave many in or near poverty, those who marched on Wednesday said.

"We can no longer live on what we earn, so what's the point?" said Nikos Stamatopoulos, leader of the Athens subway workers' union, whose monthly salary has been cut from €1,700 ($2,240) to €800 ($1,050) next year. "We'll keep fighting these (cuts) because we have to."

The Associated Press reports that one group of marchers held up a mock clothes line with the words "Take These Too" written across 16 pairs of underpants.

To appease the IMF and EU—have agreed to a total of €240 billion in loans and debt write-off, the BBC reported—the Greek government agreed to steep spending cuts including pay cuts, reduced pensions and social services.

Wednesday's strike halted public transportation and other services, and public hospitals were running on emergency staff, the Associated Press reports.

Doctors, teachers and municipal workers, represented by the GSEE, joined public service workers in the walkout, and the Communist-affiliated PAME group was expected to hold a separate rally, al-Jazeera reports.

Al-Jazeera continues:

Some domestic flights were grounded and about 100 workers occupied the headquarters of Athens' city train company on Wednesday in protest at planned wage cuts.

Train workers also started a 48-hour strike against the conservative-led coalition's plans to privatise Greece's national railways.

Still, Wednesday's strike was smaller than others in recent months, reports The Guardian, apparently because people could not afford to lose a day's pay.

Ilias Illiopoulos, general secretary of ADEDY, the Greek trade union, told The Guardian in Athens, "I think people thought about their Christmas meal and what they would have on the table and didn’t want to lose the money. Every time we take part in a strike we not only lose our salary for the day but have to fork out for social insurance as well.”

The Guardian continued:

But Iliopoulos cautioned that the government should not expect such an easy ride in the new year.

“The main slogan today was that we will continue, without taking a step back, to resist these policies until they are overturned,” he told me. “And we won’t hesitate to exhaust ourselves in our efforts to kick out a government that has decided to cooperate with the troika and speculators who are profiting at our expense.”