Greece Hit by General Strike to Protest Austerity
By Niki Kitsantonis, NY Times, July 16, 2013
ATHENS—Thousands of Greeks walked off the job on Tuesday in a 24-hour general strike called by unions opposing a new round of austerity measures pledged by the government to the country’s foreign creditors, notably a much-delayed overhaul of the Civil Service involving thousands of layoffs and wage cuts which is to be voted on in Parliament on Wednesday.
The nationwide walkout, called by the country’s two main labor unions, which represent some 2.5 million workers, shut tax offices and other government services, reduced hospitals to emergency staff and disrupted travel. Trains remained in depots and international flights were to be suspended between noon and 4 p.m. as air traffic controllers joined the action. Public transport workers were running a reduced service to allow Greeks to join protest rallies planned for Athens and other major cities.
The upheaval came ahead of a vote scheduled for Wednesday night in Parliament on legislation bundling together a new barrage of economic reforms—including a contentious streamlining of the Greek Civil Service. The bill must be passed if Athens is to secure the first installment of $10 billion in rescue loans approved last week by euro zone finance ministers.
Greece’s troika of foreign lenders—the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund—have pledged the country two bailouts worth a little more than $300 billion since the spring of 2010 but are dispensing the aid in tranches to keep the pressure on authorities to adhere to commitments to change.
The reforms that have most angered the unions are plans to put 25,000 civil servants, including teachers and municipal police officers, into a so-called mobility plan by the end of the year, docking their wages ahead of forced transfers or dismissals. Another 15,000 workers are to be laid off by the end of 2014.
Local government employees have been occupying city buildings this week to protest the changes which, the unions say, will aggravate a deepening recession and add to the ranks of the unemployed who already account for more than 27 percent of the population.
A unilateral decision last month by Prime Minister Antonis Samaras to shut the state broadcaster ERT, putting some 2,700 employees out of work, nearly brought down his shaky coalition after the junior partner quit in protest. The debacle illustrated the difficulties the administration would have in honoring pledges to creditors to slash a Civil Service that has been cosseted for decades.