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Greeks Walk Off the Job in Austerity Protest

Wednesday, 15 June 2011 07:47 By Rachel Donadio and Niki Kitsantonis, The New York Times News Service | Report

Athens - Thousands of Greeks joined a nationwide strike on Wednesday against sharp cuts to government spending as Parliament debated another round of painful austerity measures intended to secure more international aid and avert a financial crisis.

The police fired tear gas and scuffled with protesters in the central Syntagma Square in Athens, and some in the crowd tried to prevent legislators from entering Parliament. Police officials said they had detained 10 people.

A year after Greece received its first international bailout, the Socialist prime minister, George Papandreou, is facing his greatest challenge yet as he tries to balance the demands of the International Monetary Fund and the markets with those of his electorate.

Schools, tax offices and other public services were closed, and hospitals operated at sharply reduced staffing levels. But air traffic controllers did not join the general strike and flights were little affected.

The government’s credibility is at a low among Greeks, who feel they are unfairly footing the bill for their government’s mistakes. Opinion polls show the Socialists slipping behind the center-right opposition for the first time since the current government was elected in 2009.

“We had the first set of measures, that’s over, now they want a second,” said Angeliki Kolandretsou, 63, a retired private nurse, as she stood in the protest holding a large Greek flag. “But what will we see from this? Nothing at all. It will just go to the banks.”

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“Last year we said, ‘O.K., they’ll cut our salaries, they’ll cut our pensions, let’s see what happens,’ ” she added. “But absolutely nothing has been achieved and now we’re back to square one.”

A mother of two, Ms. Kolandretsou said that her monthly pension had been cut to 640 euros a month from 700, or to about $915 from $1,000, and that her 42-year-old son, unemployed for five years, had moved back home to live with her. “I never used to come to demonstrations,” she said, with tears in her eyes. “But I’m worried about my children and my grandchildren.”

The new austerity measures aim to raise about $9.1 billion this year through additional tax increases and cuts to public sector spending. They include a “solidarity tax,” ranging from 1 to 4 percent according to income, and an additional 3 percent tax on the incomes of civil servants — whose salaries have already been cut by up to 20 percent over the past year.

The government is expected to vote on the new measures later this month.

An emergency tax will also be imposed on owners of large properties, yachts and swimming pools. The new austerity drive also aims to slash the Greek civil service, which employs about 700,000 people, by a quarter over the next few years.

Mr. Papandreou, who has a five-seat majority in Parliament, is expected to face an uphill battle to get his government fully behind the measures amid growing rifts within his party. The center-right opposition is opposed to his austerity measures.

Critics accuse the government of saddling Greeks with deeply unpopular wage and pension cuts while failing to adequately address rampant tax evasion or take on the powerful labor unions that remain a pillar of the Socialist Party’s power base.

This article "Greeks Walk Off the Job in Austerity Protest" originally appeared in The New York Times.


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Greeks Walk Off the Job in Austerity Protest

Wednesday, 15 June 2011 07:47 By Rachel Donadio and Niki Kitsantonis, The New York Times News Service | Report

Athens - Thousands of Greeks joined a nationwide strike on Wednesday against sharp cuts to government spending as Parliament debated another round of painful austerity measures intended to secure more international aid and avert a financial crisis.

The police fired tear gas and scuffled with protesters in the central Syntagma Square in Athens, and some in the crowd tried to prevent legislators from entering Parliament. Police officials said they had detained 10 people.

A year after Greece received its first international bailout, the Socialist prime minister, George Papandreou, is facing his greatest challenge yet as he tries to balance the demands of the International Monetary Fund and the markets with those of his electorate.

Schools, tax offices and other public services were closed, and hospitals operated at sharply reduced staffing levels. But air traffic controllers did not join the general strike and flights were little affected.

The government’s credibility is at a low among Greeks, who feel they are unfairly footing the bill for their government’s mistakes. Opinion polls show the Socialists slipping behind the center-right opposition for the first time since the current government was elected in 2009.

“We had the first set of measures, that’s over, now they want a second,” said Angeliki Kolandretsou, 63, a retired private nurse, as she stood in the protest holding a large Greek flag. “But what will we see from this? Nothing at all. It will just go to the banks.”

Get Truthout in your inbox every day! Click here to sign up for free updates.

“Last year we said, ‘O.K., they’ll cut our salaries, they’ll cut our pensions, let’s see what happens,’ ” she added. “But absolutely nothing has been achieved and now we’re back to square one.”

A mother of two, Ms. Kolandretsou said that her monthly pension had been cut to 640 euros a month from 700, or to about $915 from $1,000, and that her 42-year-old son, unemployed for five years, had moved back home to live with her. “I never used to come to demonstrations,” she said, with tears in her eyes. “But I’m worried about my children and my grandchildren.”

The new austerity measures aim to raise about $9.1 billion this year through additional tax increases and cuts to public sector spending. They include a “solidarity tax,” ranging from 1 to 4 percent according to income, and an additional 3 percent tax on the incomes of civil servants — whose salaries have already been cut by up to 20 percent over the past year.

The government is expected to vote on the new measures later this month.

An emergency tax will also be imposed on owners of large properties, yachts and swimming pools. The new austerity drive also aims to slash the Greek civil service, which employs about 700,000 people, by a quarter over the next few years.

Mr. Papandreou, who has a five-seat majority in Parliament, is expected to face an uphill battle to get his government fully behind the measures amid growing rifts within his party. The center-right opposition is opposed to his austerity measures.

Critics accuse the government of saddling Greeks with deeply unpopular wage and pension cuts while failing to adequately address rampant tax evasion or take on the powerful labor unions that remain a pillar of the Socialist Party’s power base.

This article "Greeks Walk Off the Job in Austerity Protest" originally appeared in The New York Times.


Hide Comments

blog comments powered by Disqus