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Greece's New Government Faces Fresh Strikes Against Austerity


Greel union leaders say people are fed up with spending cuts and higher taxes and warned they could seek common cause with groups in other countries. (AFP Photo/Louisa Gouliamaki)

Greece's new government will see its resolve tested Thursday as unions take to the streets against the latest austerity cuts demanded by its European peers in return for funds to keep the country afloat.

Thursday's general strike, the sixth this year, will shut down public services, disrupt train and ferriy services and see state hospitals on emergency staffing levels.

The protests, likely to see a set-piece stand-off in central Athens between riot police and demonstrators, follow similar strikes across Europe as opposition grows to spending cuts and tax increases introduced by governments fearful of getting sucked into the eurozone debt quagmire.

The two top unions, private-sector GSEE and the civil service ADEDY, say they are fighting to avoid more of the same.

"There must be no illusions, austerity will continue in 2012 and so will our mobilisation because insecurity and the threat of unemployment persist," GSEE chairman Yiannis Panagopoulos told AFP.

During two days of protests last month, Athens saw violent clashes between the police and demonstrators and then between communist and union protestors in and around central Syntagma Square.

Police said 70,000 took part in that demonstration while unions claimed 200,000 but on Thursday the protests are expected to be smaller, with people knowing that elections are due to be held early next year.

The new coalition government, headed by former European Central Bank vice president Lucas Papademos and in power since only November 11, is pressing ahead with more spending cuts and tax hikes to try and balance the public books.

The cabinet now includes members of the opposition conservative and far-right nationalist parties who previously attacked economic reforms agreed with the European Union, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund in return for bailout funds.

The coalition partners have pledged, however, to support the measures which go to a vote -- and expected passage -- in parliament just before another eurozone debt crisis summit in Brussels on December 8-9.

GSEE and ADEDY, officially with a million members, have held over a dozen general strikes in the last two years as Greece, saddled with a 350-billion-euro debt mountain, has struggled to keep its head above water.

"Greece is the guinea pig and Europe's legal and political culture is being put to the test," ADEDY chairman Costas Tsikrikas said.

Civil servants, once considered among the country's luckiest job holders, have suffered wage cuts of 40-50 percent since May last year, Tsikrikas said.

The ranks of the unemployed -- already at over 800,000 -- will swell further under a plan to oust 150,000 civil servants by 2013, he said.

A first wave of state redundancies hit this week with 20,000 civil servants nearing retirement told to clear their desks.

"This is a cursed day for the public service and state employees ... We are determined to fight to overcome these barbaric policies," the union said.

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