Thousands of Greek workers walked off the job on Thursday in the seventh general strike this year to protest government austerity policies after a year and a half of cutbacks.
The strike came two days after Greece’s new three-party coalition government secured European Union approval for a crucial sixth installment of bailout aid, without which the country would have faced default. Euro zone finance ministers decided to release $7.7 billion that their countries are contributing to the $10.6 billion installment. The International Monetary Fund is due in the coming days to decide on the disbursement of the remaining amount.
The latest strike was less disruptive than previous walkouts, with the police putting the crowd numbers in Athens at about 17,000, compared with 50,000 in a walkout in October, with little violence. The only moment of tension occurred when a few dozen youths clashed with riot police officers in the central Athens district of Exarchia. There were no reports of injuries. Flights operated largely as scheduled and public transportation ran a limited service to enable workers to attend protest rallies. National rail service, however, was halted, and ferries were moored in their ports. Tax offices, courts and schools closed, hospitals were operating with only emergency staff and customs officials walked off the job.
The action was called by the country’s two main labour unions, which represent about 2.5 million workers. They are demanding that austerity measures which were voted through Parliament under the previous Socialist government — including tax increases, wage cuts and public sector layoffs — be revoked. The powerful civil servants’ union, which claims the measures have pushed ordinary Greeks to their limits, has been particularly active in opposing austerity, organising regular protests and blockades of government buildings.
Prime Minister Lucas Papademos, a former vice president of the European Central Bank, emphasised in a letter to the country’s international creditors that his government would stick to the terms of a European Union debt deal for Greece, negotiated in Brussels in October, and suggested that the Greek public would endure the continued austerity needed to secure the country’s position in the euro zone.
“The Greek people recognise the need for a major economic and institutional transformation, and they overwhelmingly support euro area membership, which they perceive as crucial for the success of this effort,” Papademos said in the letter sent to the lenders late on Tuesday and distributed to the news media on Wednesday.
©2011 The New York Times News Service