Planes grounded, buses and subways in depots: the general strike largely paralyzed greece. Tens of thousands protested in athens and other cities against the government’s new austerity package. Greeks to save around 13.5 billion euros by 2014. Protests will continue on wednesday.
Parliament is scheduled to vote on the controversial austerity program late wednesday evening. Many dissenters are expected. The opposition protested because the austerity package is to be discussed in a fast-track procedure. The deputies did not have time to read through the more than 300 pages on this, it hewed.
"With these measures, they are forcing us to our knees," said ioannis panagopoulos, head of the gross greek trade union federation GSEE. This savings program was unworkable and everyone knew it. Unions announced they would continue to fight the austerity package.
In athens alone, according to police reports, around 30,000 people took to the streets, with unions estimating as many as 45,000 participants. The head of the opposition alliance of the radical left (syriza), alexis tsipras, called for early elections. This is what the people will force the government to do.
"Revolt for the overthrow of the austerity program," chanted members of the communist union PAME. Police deployed strong units in the center of athens for fear of riots. This time, however, it remained quiet. The police did not report a single incident. Smaller demonstrations took place in the provinces.
The strikes have been called by the two main trade union federations in the private and public sectors. Especially in the state sector nothing worked anymore. All ministries and the schools were on strike. Trains, subways, buses and streetcars were also paralyzed.
Air traffic was severely disrupted because air traffic controllers were on strike between 9 a.M. And 6 p.M.00 a.M. And 12 p.M.00 o’clock (CET) the work stopped. Dozens of flights canceled. Cab drivers also went on strike, doctors only treated emergencies.
On monday evening, the government presented its new austerity program after several months of negotiations with international lenders. It provides for further cuts in civil servants’ and public employees’ pay and child benefits.
Pensioners will be hit hardest: pensions are to be cut by a quarter within three years, and christmas bonuses for pensioners and civil servants are to be cancelled. According to union calculations, the cuts mean an average of 2,000 euros less per year for pensioners. Families earning more than 18,000 euros a year are no longer entitled to child benefits. The right to dismissal will be relaxed, severance pay will be reduced.
State employees are also expected to lose up to 20 percent of their income on average. The head of a clinic, for example, is to earn 1665 euros per month in the future, while young doctors will earn only 1007 euros. "Do they really think hospitals can be run like this?" asked the head of athens’ gynecological clinic, giorgos farmakidis.
If the government of prime minister antonis samaras survives the vote on wednesday evening, there is still one hurdle to be cleared. Next sunday, the budget must still be approved by parliament.
EU commissioner for preservation olli rehn confident that euro finance ministers will soon release fresh money to greece. The finn expects a decision by department heads for the next loan disbursement of 31.5 billion euros next monday (12. November), said the spokesman for rehns in brussels.