* First strike since privatisation scheme was launched
* Workers fear cancelled routes
* State railway loses 1 billion euros annually
By Renee Maltezou and Yiorgos Karahalis
ATHENS, June 10 Greek rail workers walked off
the job on Thursday to protest against government plans to sell
a 49 percent stake in loss-making state railway OSE, the first
strike triggered by a new three-year privatisation programme.
Greece said last week it would sell stakes in some of its
struggling state-run firms to free up competition and meet the
conditions of a multibillion euro EU/IMF aid deal, which calls
for revenue of 3 billion euros from privatisations by 2013.
The government's privatisation plan would only go a small
way to help pay off Greece's 310 billion euro ($373.2 billion)
debt, analysts say, but seeing it through would send a signal
that the cash-strapped country is serious about economic reform.
The 24-hour strike halted trains in stations across Greece
on Thursday. About 300 rail workers rallied outside the
infrastructure ministry in Athens holding banners reading "Say
No to the privatisation" and "Stop the lay-offs".
"We won't let them cancel any route. We are here to fight
those who drink our blood and our sweat," said Nikos Koutsoukis,
head of the Greek railway union. "We won't let them put the
gravestone on (OSE's) grave they've dug with their own hands."
OSE has losses of about 1 billion euros a year and estimated
debts of some 10 billion euros. The ruling Socialists will try
to sweeten the OSE stake sale by pulling loss-making routes,
evaluating staff and restructuring the company.
Labour unions have staged repeated strikes and protests this
year against austerity steps such as salary cuts, tax hikes and
a pension reform, threatening to hinder the government's effort
to exit a huge debt crisis that has rocked the euro zone.