Greece Jumpstarts Week of Protests as General Strike Takes on Austerity
End of austerity cuts as likely as 'Father Christmas'
Greek workers began a week of anti-austerity strikes across the country Monday as state hospital doctors, taxi drivers, Athens transport workers and journalists walked off the job. The action comes ahead of a nationwide general strike on Tuesday and Wednesday, which will grind the country's infrastructure to a halt while the Greek Parliament decides how to implement just one more round of extreme austerity measures.
Greece's conservative-led coalition government, headed by Prime Minister Antonis Samaras, presented the country's fourth austerity package in more than two years to Parliament Monday evening, which has been demanded by Eurozone creditors of the Troika. The proposal will consists of $17 billion in public spending cuts, tax hikes, salary and pension cuts, and a two-year increase in retirement age to 67. The package is also expected to weaken worker and union bargaining rights, making it easier for the public and private sectors to hire and fire people.
Greek lawmakers will vote on the proposed package Wednesday. If approved in Parliament, Eurozone lenders have promised to release Greece's next loan installment of $40.3 billion in banking and private sector bailouts; however, a deal among Eurozone leaders to continue bailing out the near-bankrupt Greece, as previously proposed, is not likely to be struck next week when Eurozone finance ministers meet in Brussels, a senior EU official told Reuters Monday.
Samaras has promised that the new round of austerity measures, which have put nearly two million people out of work, closed 68,000 businesses and shrank the economy by 7 percent since 2010, would be the last, but many find that hard to believe.
“It is easier for someone to believe in Father Christmas than to believe that these will be the last,” said Euclid Tsakalotos, a member of the major opposition party Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA).
During the general strike Tuesday and Wednesday, schools, tax offices and public administrations will shut down, and there will be no train or ferry services across the country. Flights will be disrupted for three hours Wednesday, while the national air traffic control joins the strike.
The largest rally of the week is expected on Wednesday, when all major unions, striking sectors and anti-austerity protesters meet in the center of the Athens.