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Europe

Workers stage sixth nationwide strike to protest pension reform

Video by Rebecca BOWRING , Georja Calvin-Smith

Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2010-07-08

Thousands of protesters took to the streets in Greece on Thursday after the country’s main unions called for a sixth 24-hour general strike over reforms that would curb early pensions and raise the retirement age.

 

REUTERS - Thousands of angry Greeks took to the streets on Thursday to urge lawmakers not to vote for a drastic pension reform, but a low turnout offered a sign of growing weariness with anti-austerity protests.
 
Some 12,000 people beating drums, blowing whistles and holding banners reading "If we don't react, we will starve" marched peacefully to parliament in protest against cuts in pension benefits and increasing the retirement age to 65 for all.
 
"It's horrible. We paid all our contributions and we are not going to get anything," said private sector worker Vaso Spoulou, 54.
 
She had filed a request for early retirement fearing the reform would cut her pension. "They are destroying everything," she said.
 
Flights to and from Greece were disrupted throughout the day, ferries remained tied up at ports, public transport was frozen and public offices were shut as unions staged their sixth 24-hour strike this year against austerity.
 
The turnout for the march roughly was the same as in an anti-austerity protest last week but much smaller than the 50,000 who assembled on May 5 for the biggest protest this year.
 
Lawmakers are expected to vote later on Thursday on the pension bill, a key condition for an austerity deal agreed with the European Union and the IMF in return for a 110-billion-euro ($138.6 billion) aid package.
 
The legislation is seen by analysts as a major test of the government's ability to push through structural reforms.
 
But many are angry with the prospect of working longer for a smaller pension, particularly women who can retire as young as 55. The reform comes on top of tens of billions of euros in austerity steps and is one of the most unpopular.
 
Lawmakers agreed in principle on the legislation in a preliminary vote late on Wednesday, in a sign that the bill was likely to pass during the final vote, despite grumblings in the ruling socialist party ranks.
 
Acceptance?
 
Analysts said a mood of resignation after a spate of strikes, fear of violence and some acceptance of belt-tightening has kept people away from protests but more may take to the streets after the summer as recession, tax hikes and public wage cuts are felt harder.
 
"People have somehow accepted the situation... the huge majority believes the measures are absolutely unfair but almost 50 percent think they are necessary," said Costas Panagopoulos, head of ALCO pollster.
 
But he warned that the government must quickly offer proof that sacrifices were paying off and peoples' daily lives were improving, a huge challenge in an economy in recession.
 
Prime Minister George Papandreou told lawmakers that without this reform Greece's economy "would fall apart" under the weight of increasing pension costs. Unions vowed to continue protests.
 
"Workers will keep fighting even after the pension reform is voted on, to make sure it stays only on paper," Ilias Vrettakos, vice-president of public labour union ADEDY told Reuters.
 
The pension bill also incorporates clauses that make it easier and cheaper to fire workers and allow firms to pay young first hires less than the minimum wage.
 
"Young people who have just started working have no hope," said 24-year old unemployed protester Melina Panagiotidou.
Greece's private and public sector unions represent about 2.5 million workers, or half the country's workforce. Their repeated strikes and protests have hit tourism, a vital sector for the Mediterranean country.
 
About 82 flights were cancelled and 109 rescheduled due to the latest disruptions, airport officials said.
 
Parliament workers also joined the strike. It was not immediately clear how this would affect the voting process.

 

Date created : 2010-07-08

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