Greece Gripped By Wave Of Strikes ahead of Crucial Vote on
New Austerity Measures
By Nicholas Paphitis
October 18, 2011
Greek railway workers and journalists joined ferry crews,
garbage collectors, tax officials and lawyers on Tuesday in a
strike blitz against yet more austerity measures required if
the country is to avoid defaulting on its debts.
The protests will lead into a general strike over the coming
two days, culminating on Thursday when Parliament holds a
crucial vote on the new painful cutbacks that follow nearly
two years of austerity. A similar strike before an austerity
bill in June was accompanied by large protest marches which
degenerated into street battles between rioters and police.
The highly unpopular new measures include further pension and
salary cuts, the suspension on reduced pay of 30,000 public
servants out of a total of more than 750,000 and the
suspension of collective labor contracts.
Meanwhile, European countries are trying to work out an
overall solution to the continent's deepening debt crisis,
ahead of a weekend summit in Brussels.
"The situation is exceptionally difficult, because there is
great uncertainty in Europe, great uncertainty
internationally," Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos said
in a meeting with the country's president, Karolos Papoulias.
"People ... are making big sacrifices. We are carrying out a
patriotic duty because we have to save the country."
Venizelos also tempered expectations for reaching a
definitive deal on a second rescue package for Greece at a
European Union summit this weekend. The second bailout, worth
euro109 billion, was initially agreed in July, but crucial
details remain to be worked out.
"We must not have great expectations for Sunday's summit,"
Venizelos said. "We will seek what is best for the country
and the eurozone. Everyone understands that if Greece is
saved, the eurozone will be saved too. And the reverse is
also true: if the Europeans fail on Greece they will not be
able to safeguard themselves."
Greece's embattled Socialist government needs to pass the new
measures - which some of its own backbenchers have
threatened to block - to receive the next euro8 billion ($11
billion) installment of the original euro110 billion package
of international rescue loans that have been keeping it
afloat since May 2010.
"It must be understood that we are fighting a war here," the
finance minister said, adding that a "national fight" must be
waged against tax evasion. "If some people think that we live
under normal circumstances and we are implementing a policy
we want to implement of cutbacks and austerity, they are very
The bailout was needed after the country's borrowing rates
soared on international markets upon revelations that Athens
had misrepresented its financial data for years. Rating
agencies cut Greece's credit grade to the lowest in the
The country has maintained a market presence through regular
sales of short-term debt - up to six months - and on Tuesday
successfully auctioned euro1.62 billion worth of 13-week
treasury bills. The country had to offer buyers a slightly
higher yield, 4.61 percent compared with 4.56 percent at the
previous sale last month. Investor interest was slightly
higher, with the auction 2.86 times oversubscribed.
The government has said it will run out of cash in mid-
November if the next bailout loan installment is not
Tuesday's strikes kept island ferries in port for a second
day, while stinking mounds of rotting garbage remained
uncollected for the 17th day on the streets of Greece's
cities, carpeting sidewalks and forcing pedestrians to make
detours through speeding traffic.
Tax collectors and lawyers joined the strikes, while civil
servants occupied the finance and labor ministry buildings.
The new austerity measures were announced after the
government failed to meet its savings targets, despite some
22 months of austerity that saw a record loss of jobs during
a deep recession.
In July, unemployment rose to 16.5 percent, from 16 percent
in June and 12 percent a year earlier, according to data
provided Tuesday by Greece's statistical authority. The total
number of unemployed exceeded 820,000.
On Wednesday and Thursday, teachers, doctors, taxi drivers
and bank employees will be on strike, together with air
traffic controllers - whose walkout will halt all flights for
The country's two main labor unions have also called rallies
and protest marches to Syntagma Square outside Parliament in
central Athens during the general strike, while a Communist
union has urged members to block off the assembly building on
the day of the vote.
Vans mounted with loudspeakers did the rounds of central
Athens Tuesday, urging workers to "flood Syntagma Square and
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