Wednesday, December 12, 2007


In Greece today public transport and state services are shut down, while hospitals are operating with emergency staff due to a 24-hour strike launched by union groups in opposition to the government’s planned pension reforms.
Ferries were stopped across the Aegean islands, metro trains ground to a halt, and airlines were grounded.

Archaeological sites, including the Acropolis, were closed, and even telephone directory inquiry lines, motorcycle couriers and pizza delivery men walked off the job.

Journalists left work, cancelling television and radio news programs. The three state-run television stations were broadcasting only a text stating their support for the strike. No Thursday newspapers were to be published.

Even the Greek news agency is shut down today.

The General Confederation of Workers of Greece (GSEE) and the Civil Servants’ Supreme Administrative Council (ADEDY) called the nationwide general strike in protest over the country’s social security system. "Participation is almost total. There is overwhelming outrage and condemnation at the government's policies," spokesman Efstathios Anestis of GSEE told Reuters.

Workers are protesting attempts by the three month-old conservative government to overhaul the state pension system. Unions oppose the proposals to unify Greece's 170 state-controlled pension funds, saying the reforms could lead to jobs being lost, the retirement age increasing, and many workers losing their pensions.

The strike has been backed up by massive demonstrations across the country writes Up to 80,000 people marched in Athens, with striking metro and tram workers returning to work for several hours to allow strikers to join the rally. According to police, up to 30,000 marched in Thessaloniki. The protesters marched to parliament carrying a coffin with a sign reading "Social Security". They chanted anti-government slogans and waved banners saying: "The dialogue is a fraud".

Clashes between youths and police have also been reported in central Athens.

A demonstrator in Athens was quoted as saying, "All they do is take take take. They will take everything from us, force us to work from eight in the morning til midnight, like in the old days."

Giorgos Skiadotis, who handles union issues for Greece's main communist party, the KKE, said that "workers should not pay for the mistakes and mismanagement of past governments in handling the pension funds."

Skiadotis accused the right-wing government of attacking the country's social security system. "We must all stand together ... to defeat this attack," he said as he joined the demonstration.

Further action is expected next week, with more strikes planned by hospital workers, and a further 48-hour strike expected to shut courtrooms.

The following is from Al Jazeera.

Strike brings Greece to standstill

Much of Greece was brought to a standstill as tens of thousands of striking public sector workers marched through Athens to protest against proposed government changes to the pension system.

Flights were grounded and urban transport came to a halt after the 24-hour strike began at midnight on Wednesday.

An estimated 40,000 people joined the rally, the biggest in the country for three years.

Ferries were stopped across the Aegean islands, public services were closed and hospitals worked with emergency staff.

Protesters shouted slogans against the newly elected conservative government as thousands of police in riot gear stood guard.

Demonstrations were held in other cities as unions hailed what they described as an "unprecedented turnout".

Police in the capital made three arrests and used teargas after clashes between activists and officers.

Just nine trains were scheduled to run nationwide, whilst all civil air traffic was halted as air controllers joined the strike.

The country's justice system was already at a standstill as lawyers and court officials continued a two-day stoppage that began on Tuesday.

In addition to transport, other affected areas included the health, education, banking and media sectors.

'Total participation'

In the health sector only emergencies were being handled as doctors, pharmacists and dentists joined the movement.

Schools, public offices, banks as well as post offices, the energy utility and OTE, the national telecommunications operator, also shut down.

Athens' metro and bus services ran for five hours in the middle of the day - but only to guarantee that as many demonstrators as possible attended the protest in the city centre.

Efstathios Anestis of the private sector umbrella union GSEE said that "participation is almost total. There is overwhelming outrage and condemnation at the government's policies".

GSEE and its public sector equivalent Adedy, which jointly represent more than 2.5 million workers, have rejected repeated calls from the government to attend talks on pension reforms and have staged several rallies instead.

The protesters marched to parliament carrying a coffin with a sign reading "Social Security". They chanted anti-government slogans and waved banners saying: "The dialogue is a fraud."

Like other EU countries with ageing populations, Greece is struggling to restructure its pension system before it collapses.

Experts say Greece's fragmented social security system, which runs deficits twice the country's 200 billion euro annual economic output, is expected to collapse in 15 years if no measures are taken.

Government officials declined to comment on the strike.

The government of Costas Karamanlis won a second term in office in September promising no pension rights would be affected.

But shortly after winning, it proposed measures to encourage workers to stay in work beyond the age of 65 and a review of pensions for women and disabled workers.

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