Thousands of workers march against wage freeze, tax increases
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Thousands of Greek workers are expected to go on strike Wednesday in protest against a government austerity plan including wage freezes and tax rises, as EU officials assess whether Greece is able to cut its double-digit deficit.
REUTERS - Flights were grounded and ministries and schools were shut in Greece on Wednesday as civil servants and private sector workers went on a nationwide strike to protest EU-backed austerity measures.
The 24-hour walkout is the first joint strike called by public and private unions, representing half of Greece’s workforce of 5 million, since the Socialist government won elections in October.
The participation numbers will be seen as a barometer of how much ordinary Greeks support government efforts to slash the deficit to fight a fiscal crisis that has roiled markets and worried its neighbours in the European Union.it
Central Athens was covered on Wednesday in posters and flyers calling for Greeks to strike to the slogan “People and their needs above markets!” Some shops had their shutters down and the capital’s chaotic traffic was quieter than usual.
Greeks massed at bus stops downtown complained about the disruption to public transport. All but emergency flights to and from Greece were grounded and ferries were at a standstill.
Hundreds were gathering ahead of a planned march to parliament around noon (1000 GMT).
“I am striking against the wage cuts, I am striking because others stole the money and we are the ones who are going to pay,” said 36-year old civil servant Michalis Koroleos. “They are cutting my allowances and I have two children to raise, it is difficult.”
Greeks are prone to take to the streets in demonstrations that can turn violent, but opposition to the austerity measures has so far been largely symbolic. Opinion polls show most Greeks want to give the government time.
The protesters’ main complaints are against a public wage freeze, tax rises and the raising of the retirement age that are part of the government’s austerity plan.
In central Athens some said they saw no reason to strike.
“I don’t want to participate in the strike,” 62-year old gas station owner Dimitris Makrivellios said.
“Aren’t people also responsible for this situation? Our economy’s problems concern us all. Why should we strike?” he said. He said business was quieter than usual because of the walkout.
The strike takes place during a visit by EU officials assessing whether Greece is on track to cut its double-digit deficit.
“The team of inspectors coming form the Commission, the ECB and the IMF ... will get a taste of the dynamic reaction of the Greek workers to the huge pressures from Brussels,” centre-left Eleftherotypia newspaper wrote in an editorial.
Under the scrutiny of EU policymakers and markets, the government has so far refused to give in to protesters’ demands. Finance Minister George Papaconstantinou said on Tuesday the government might decide on more measures to cut the deficit after talks with the visiting EU inspectors.
Unions say the government’s plan will only burden the poor and have threatened to stage further strikes next month.
“We ask the government not to give in to the desires of the markets, to set people’s needs as a priority and adopt a mix of economic and social policies that won’t lead to recession but to jobs,” said Yannis Panagopoulos, head of the private sector union GSEE.
Unionised workers unhappy about plans to raise the retirement age marched in Spain’s major cities on Tuesday but the main protest in Madrid seemed relatively small in a sign that the country’s unions may be weakening.
Portugal’s second largest union warned on Monday it would call more strikes if the government extended a public sector wage freeze beyond this year.it
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