Greek workers stage mass anti-austerity walkout

AFP , Tuesday 6 Nov 2012

Mass walk-out staged by Greek workers, paralysing traffic in Athens in protest to austerity bill aimed at securing international aid; police and riot troops seen in full force with water cannons

Athens central train station empty during 48-hour nationwide general strike on Tuesday (Photo: Reuters)

Greek workers began a two-day mass walkout on Tuesday, bringing public transport in Athens to a halt, in anger at a new government austerity bill aimed at securing international aid needed to prevent the debt-crippled nation from defaulting.

Public bus workers in the capital joined taxi drivers as well as metro, tram and train workers in the strike, paralysing traffic in the capital.

Many flights were to be cancelled or rescheduled as traffic controllers held a three-hour work stoppage. Ferry lines were also crippled, as ships linking to Greece's islands remained docked.

Beyond transport, the judicial service was hit as judges and lawyers joined the strike.

Police and anti-riot troops were out in force around parliament and government offices in Athens city centre, with water cannons at the ready in case of trouble arising from a demonstration called by the country's two main labour unions, the GSEE and ADEDY.

Thousands are expected to join the rally, although the public transport strike could prevent many protesters from reaching the city centre.

In parliament, lawmakers were debating the austerity bill, which proposes 18.5 billion euros ($23.6 billion) in new cuts and other reforms by 2016.

The package, which was put to parliament late on Monday and would be voted on Wednesday, includes measures such as a rise in retirement age to 67 from the current 65, and 5 to 10 percent cuts in pensions of more than 1,000 euros per month.

Civil servants' 13th and 14th month pay would be scrapped, and further salary cuts imposed on academics, hospital doctors, judges, diplomats and members of the armed forces.

Yiorgos Patras, a banker, said: "I believe these measures will affect the people very much because everything is being abolished, the labour rights and everything else won with blood and sweat."

"From what I see they are trying to abolish everything," he added.

Implementing the austerity plan is a precondition for Greece to qualify for a 31.5-billion-euro tranche of bailout funds from the European Union, International Monetary Fund and the European Central Bank.

Without it, Greece, whose debt is expected to amount to 170 percent of output by year-end, risks bankruptcy in mid-November.

Eurozone creditors were due to make a decision on the bailout funds at a 12 November meeting of finance ministers.

While the cuts were painful in the country that is heading for its sixth year of recession, some Greeks said that there may not be a better solution.

"We are in a state of compromise and we must bear the austerity measures as there is no turning back from the memorandum," Mary Stirgepoulou, an 18-year-old university student said.

"The main opposition criticises everything that is happening, it is just that I don't believe there is another solution. It would require a great effort for the measures to be overthrown."

Yannis Levas, 34, who works in a recruitment company aimed at finding jobs for Greeks abroad, called the measures "a double-edged sword".

"On the one side they must not go through, on the other they must. There is always that dilemma if we will return or not to the drachma," he said.

Short link: