Thousands of Greek workers marched on parliament in Athens on Wednesday and a nationwide general strike was underway as public sector and other unions demanded an end to the austerity that has been imposed by the nation's foreign creditors to detriment of the economy and the social fabric.
"Today's strike action is being held for the working class to respond decisively to the measures the government is deciding against workers' rights, unemployment and the abolition of collective wage agreements," said leftist PAME union spokesman Giorgos Pondikos in a statement.
The strike comes two days ahead of a planned visit by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, whom many Greeks blame as a chief antagonist and proponent of the economic measures that have forced Greece to slash wages and pensions, privatize assets, and undermine public services. Those policies have come as conditions for foreign loans offered by the European Central Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and the European Union--collectively known as the Troika.
"It's time to save people not banks," Eleni Prokou, a 59-year old economist who joined the day's march in Athens, told Reuters. "Merkel and the troika should stop sticking their nose in our business."
In addition to outside influence and pressure from the Troika, most workers say the Greek coalition government and the nation's elite are to blame for allowing the austerity to stand despite the widespread pain they have caused to people and an economy with 28% unemployment.
"They are servants of Merkel," said protester Aggelos Mikronis, a 60-year old mechanic, of Greece's politicians. "I'm earning half of what I used to get."
In a notable development amid the striking workers, the Greek government chose Wednesday to announce that it will float its first long-term bonds on the international market as early as Thursday. The world's business pages were noting the irony of the announcement alongside the general strike. Greece has not participated in the international bond market in nearly four years, and though financiers take it as a sign that the economy is improving in the country, it is the workers in the streets and those struggling to survive amid historic poverty who are trying to tell a different story.
"This strike is our answer to the dead-end policies that have squeezed workers and made Greek people miserable," said GSEE, one of the key unions behind the work stoppage and day of protest. "We are striking and fighting to put an end to austerity."
Wednesday's strike brought public transportation to a standstill, including train, bus, and ferry services. Hospitals, schools, and other public services are operating at a limited capacity.
According to Deutsche Welle:
Wednesday's industrial action was directed in particular against Athens' plan to lay off 11,000 public servants this year, with 4,000 state workers already dismissed in recent months.
The walkout left public services and schools shut across the country. Dock workers also stayed at home, leaving tourists stranded at islands because ferries did not operate.
Doctors and nurses at state hospitals also took part in the walkout and pharmacies remained closed.