Greeks strike over spending cuts before crucial vote

ATHENS Tue Nov 6, 2012 8:59am EST

1 of 13. A protester stands in front of a banner during an anti-austerity rally in front of the parliament in Athens November 6, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Yorgos Karahalis

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ATHENS (Reuters) - Hundreds of thousands of Greeks began a crippling 48-hour strike on Tuesday to protest against a new round of wage and pension cuts that parliament is expected to approve by a narrow margin.

The parliamentary vote on Wednesday is the biggest test yet for the government of Prime Minister Antonis Samaras, which needs victory to secure aid from foreign lenders but has failed to convince its smallest coalition partner and the public to back the reforms.

The strike, called by Greece's two biggest labor unions representing half of the four million-strong workforce, brought public transport to a virtual standstill and shuttered schools, banks and local government offices.

A crowd of about 16,000 protesters - fewer than is usual during Greece's frequent strikes - gathered outside parliament in Athens, waving flags, beating drums and chanting "People, don't bow your heads!" and "This strike is only the beginning".

It was the third major walkout in two months against the package of public spending cuts and reforms making it easier to hire and fire workers, which many Greeks feel penalize the poor and spare a wealthy elite.

"The measures are wrong, the politicians and the rich aren't paying their taxes and the only ones paying are those on 300 and 500 euros a month," said Dimitris Karavelas 42, who has been forced to shut down his small construction company.

Successions of strikes since Greece fell into crisis in 2009 have so far failed to prevent parliament from approving the international lender-prescribed cuts, which have inflicted misery on the country and kept the economy in a deep recession.

"TO HELL AND BEYOND"

The government has implored Greeks to endure the cuts to avoid national bankruptcy and promised this will be the last round of pain. Greeks, who have seen many such promises broken before, have responded with a mix of resignation and anger.

"They should go to hell and beyond," said Anais Metaxopoulou, a 65-year-old pensioner. "They should ask me how I feel when I have to go to church to beg for food. I wouldn't hurt a fly but I would happily behead one of them."

Parliamentary approval for the package - which includes cutting pensions by as much as a quarter and scrapping holiday bonuses - is needed to ensure Greece's European Union and International Monetary Fund lenders release more than 31 billion euros ($40 billion) of aid, much of it aimed at shoring up banks.

With 16 deputies from the small Democratic Left planning to vote against reforms and a non-committal response from at least five Socialist lawmakers, Samaras can count on the support of only about 154 lawmakers in the 300-seat parliament.

Any further defections from the Socialist PASOK party could put the government at risk of falling below the 151 votes needed to pass the measures, ushering in political chaos that would once again raise fears of a Greek euro zone exit.

NOTHING LEFT TO CUT

Exasperated by years of broken promises to reform, Greece's lenders have warned Athens that it cannot afford to fail again.

"Our Greek friends have no options or choice. They have to do it," said Jean-Claude Juncker, the head of the Eurogroup of euro zone finance ministers. "I am very optimistic."

Trains, buses and the subway came to a halt as the strike began. Many flights have been cancelled, ships remained in port and taxi drivers stayed off the streets.

The opposition anti-bailout Syriza party, which polls show is leading in popularity, called for a big turnout in rallies against measures it said would deal a "final blow" to society.

Police beefed up security to prepare for clashes with hooded protesters that usually mark demonstrations.

But by 1330 GMT demonstrators had peacefully dispersed from Syntagma Square, where protesters have frequently clashed with police in front of parliament.

Greece's economy has shrunk by a fifth since the debt crisis exploded. Public debt is seen at 189 percent of gross domestic product next year and Athens is expected to be widely off track from targets under its latest bailout agreed with the troika of the IMF, the European Commission and the European Central Bank.

Many Greeks say the latest cuts will do little to solve the country's debt problem and instead could tear society apart.

"Someone needs to tell them there's nothing left to cut," said Vassilis Dimosthenous, a 50-year-old construction worker who has been without a job for 10 months. "They've made our daily lives unbearable. If only I was 10 years younger I'd leave this place."

(Additional reporting by Kevin Lim in Singapore, Writing by Deepa Babington; editing by Janet McBride)

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Comments (2)
ALALAYIIIAAAA wrote:
spending cuts? most people are jobless they dont care except of the pensioners.those who are on strike today are the public servants.i should be the reporter i am more close to reality even though i am far from greece.
my prediction is that greece will leave euro-europe and will make coallition with russia.greeks really hate the germans for being treated harsly,unfairly on the contrary to russians who supported them with a great amount of tourists this summer.there is a german-russian war over the greek body,germans are rulling at present but greeks prefer the russian people- investments and so does the cypriotics as i have heard

Nov 06, 2012 3:36am EST  --  Report as abuse
Sanity-Monger wrote:
“The ironies of a German giving lessons in debt repayment have not been lost in Greece. Under the Nazi occupation, a hefty monthly payment was extracted from the Greek central bank to cover the Wehrmacht’s expenses; in March 1942 an additional forced loan of 476 million Reichsmarks was levied by the Axis powers. Greek partisans put up some of the toughest military resistance to the Nazis in Europe; the damage wreaked by the occupiers’ revenge was commensurate. Reprisals were exacted on the civilian population at a rate of fifty Greeks for every German killed. Much of the country’s infrastructure was destroyed; forced exports and economic collapse helped bring about one of the worst famines in modern European history. [15] Nazi rule was followed by a three-year British and American counter-insurgency operation to stamp out the Communist-led partisans.

After the War, ex-Nazi German leaders and their American conquerors were quick to salve their consciences by negotiating reparations for material damage with Israel; the Luxembourg Agreement was signed in 1952. The following year, the us, Britain and France wrote down the debts of their new Cold War ally and deferred the question of Second World War reparations until the two Germanies were re-unified. Greek claims were excluded from the 1990 ‘2+4’ agreement on reparations signed by the Bonn and Berlin governments with Washington, Moscow, London and Paris. Legally, however, the rm476 million loan should count as credit, rather than war damage, and Greece is entitled to be repaid. Without interest, it would amount to $14 billion in today’s money; with interest at 3 per cent over 66 years, over $95 billion. Since German reunification, Athens has made persistent attempts to table the question: the then Foreign Minister, Antonis Samaras, raised it with Hans-Dietrich Genscher in 1991, Andreas Papandreou with Kohl and Hartmann in 1995, Costas Simitis with Schroeder and Fischer in April 2000; in each case they met with peremptory German dismissal. ”

http://newleftreview.org/II/75/susan-watkins-another-turn-of-the-screw

Lesson learned: if you want to borrow money and not pay it back, be sure to lay waste to an entire continent while you’re at it.

Nov 06, 2012 2:28pm EST  --  Report as abuse
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