December 5, 2013 Sections
The Canadian Press - ONLINE EDITION
ATHENS, Greece - Unions opposing austerity measures in Greece staged their fourth general strike this year on Tuesday, as the government prepared to start axing public sector jobs.
Several thousand protesters, most wearing caps to shield themselves from the midsummer heat, joined a march to parliament, as the 24-hour walkout disrupted flights, public transport, state hospitals and other services.
More demonstrations are planned later in the day, while local government offices remain closed for a second day.
Although the march ended peacefully, protest organizers directed angry rhetoric at the government and the "troika" of debt inspectors from the European Union, European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund.
"You politicians, kowtowing to the troika, have raped our souls, destroyed our lives," Nikolaos Kioutsoukis, general secretary of Greece's largest union, the GSEE, told gathered protesters.
"Do not test our patience any longer ... We are hungry, jobless and poor. We have nothing to fear and nothing to lose."
The public sector has so far been spared from the job cuts that have hit the rest of the Greek economy — and pushed unemployment up to 27 per cent — since the country got its first international bailout in 2010.
However, the government has been forced to launch the cuts — 15,000 firings by the end of 2014 and 12,500 transfers this year — so it can continue receiving rescue loans from the IMF and the other countries using the euro.
Parliament began a debate on the new measures before a vote expected late Wednesday.
"It's a disgrace for the government to say that things are getting better with unemployment at such a high level ... It is clear that with the economy still shrinking that we need a change of course," Efklidis Tsakalotos, a lawmaker from the left-wing main opposition party Syriza told parliament.
"The people running this country live in a different environment. They go to different hospitals. Their kids go to different schools. And they don't understand what people are going through."
Syriza lawmakers later stood on the steps of parliament and unfurled a banner that read "Fire the government, not workers in the public and private sector."
Formed after elections last summer, the conservative-led government lost a junior coalition partner last month following a sudden decision to shut down state broadcaster ERT.
"The general strike is unlikely to succeed in its aim of forcing the government to withdraw its latest reform bill or convincing enough MPs to vote against it," said Martin Koehring, an analyst at the Economist Intelligence Unit.
"(But it) once again demonstrates the strong anti-austerity sentiment among the population."