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Unions strike across Greece

February 20, 2013

Tens of thousands have filled city streets across Greece in protest of the government's deep-cutting austerity measures. The 24-hour general strike comes amid projections of 30 percent unemployment this year.

Anti-austerity protesters march through Athens' central Syntagma square during a 24-hour strike February 20, 2013. Greek workers walked off the job on Wednesday in a nationwide protest against wage cuts and high taxes, keeping ferries docked in ports, shutting state schools and leaving hospitals working with emergency staff. REUTERS/Yannis Behrakis (GREECE - Tags: BUSINESS POLITICS EMPLOYMENT CIVIL UNREST)
Image: Reuters

An estimated 40,000 people marched through the capital city on Wednesday in an effort to curb fiscal policies they say are damaging recovery efforts.

"We won't become slaves in the 21st century," read one banner spotted at a union march in Athens.

Unions called the strike to force the government to do more for workers, including strengthen collective bargaining rights and heal the ailing labor market.

Among the tens of thousands on Wednesday were at least 15,000 members of a union linked to Greece's communist party, carrying banners with "No to modern sweatshops, hands off collective labor agreements."

Officials in Thessaloniki estimated that 15,000 protesters were carrying out demonstrations.

While most protests remained peaceful, there were reports shortly after midday indicating that police in Athens fired teargas at hooded youths who had been throwing bottles.

24-hour strike brings life to a halt

The nationwide strike began on Wednesday morning across the public and private sectors in Greece, bringing public transportation to a halt and reducing hospital staffs to skeleton crews. Unions called on members across the country to stage walkouts as a sign of resistance to wage cuts and higher taxes.

"[This] is our answer to the dead-end policies that have squeezed the life out of workers, impoverished society and plunged the economy into recession and crisis," said the union GSEE, according to the news agency Reuters. The private sector union said it was protest action with its public-sector sister union ADEDY.

"Our struggle will continue for as long as these policies are implemented," it said.

The general secretary of the civil servants union ADEDY told the news agency Associated Press that Wednesday's protests were not just another strike, but rather a signal to Prime Minister Antonis Samaras' government from the people.

"The Greek people have no tolerance left," said ADEDY General Secretary Ilias Iliopoulos.

"For us, the time has come for a major confrontation with the government ... and policies that are taking our country from bad to worse and leading people to poverty and desperation."

The Greek government has implemented tough austerity measures over the past year to prove to foreign lenders its ability to lift the country out of debt. The widely unpopular economic policies, which sparked numerous demonstrations and strikes throughout late 2012, ultimately won over lenders.

In recent months, the EU and the International Monetary Fund separately agreed to the release of rescue funds. Eurozone finances ministers granted Greece 34 billion euros ($45.6 billion) from the Euro rescue fund ESM, as well as an additional 15 billion euros to be released during the first quarter of 2013. A few weeks later, the IMF announced the release of 3.24 billion euros.

Despite the good news for Greece, there are widespread fears that unemployment will reach 30 percent this year. Strikes have continued, prompting the government to take more extreme measures against demonstrators. Since the beginning of 2013, the government has twice invoked emergency laws that forced strikes to the end by threatening protesters to return to work or face unemployment, and in some cases, jail time.

kms/rc (AFP, Reuters)