ATHENS (Reuters) - Airliners will be grounded, trains halted and tax offices shut when Greek state workers strike against austerity measures on Wednesday, defying a plea by the government to rally behind its effort to fend off national bankruptcy.
Some state schools will close and hospitals will have only emergency staff in the first nationwide strike against EU/IMF-prescribed salary cuts and layoffs after a summer lull.
The country’s main labor unions ADEDY and GSEE expect hundreds of thousands of people to strike and thousands to take to the streets.
“Unfortunately the new measures are just extending the unfair and barbaric policies which suck dry workers’ rights and revenues and push the economy deeper into recession and debt,” GSEE spokesman Stathis Anestis told Reuters.
“With this strike, the government, the EU and the IMF will be forced to reconsider these disastrous policies.”
The Greek government shocked international financial markets this week by announcing that it would miss 2011 deficit targets set as conditions of a bailout aimed at staving off bankruptcy.
Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos said on Tuesday Greek finances for this year could slip still further if the country failed to rally round the reforms and show “national cohesion and solidarity.
State workers, students and pensioners will start gathering in central Athens at 0800 GMT. A few hours later they will march on Syntagma Square and protest outside parliament.
Communist union group PAME is expected to stage a separate rally. Police, fire brigade and coastguard unions said they would join the central Athens demonstrations.
The country’s main labor unions, representing about half Greece’s 5 million-strong workforce, have staged repeated strikes since Greece asked the European Union and the International Monetary Fund for a 110 billion-euro bailout.
They say a new wave of salary cuts and pension reductions, tax hikes and layoffs announced last month are hurting only the poor and pushing the economy deeper into recession. They have called a general strike on October 19.
Workers at state utilities marked for privatisation, such as dock workers at the country’s ports in Piraeus and Thessaloniki and Public Power Corporation and OTprivatizationE Telecoms employees, will join the strike on Wednesday.
“The government is panicking and has no strategy,” said Thessaloniki port unionist, Fani Gourgouri. “These measures are only extending poverty. We’d be willing to shoulder the cost and say ‘yes’ to austerity if they proceeded with reforms that would create jobs instead of cutting them.”
About 1,000 police will be deployed in central Athens on Wednesday, a police official said, fewer than in similar anti-austerity protests in June, when 100 were injured during clashes with riot police.
Analysts say the ruling Socialists, who face dissent within their own ranks and lag behind the conservative opposition in polls, must implement the EU/IMF-prescribed reforms to send a message at home and abroad that sacrifices are being made.
“I expect a lively and big protest tomorrow, but not violence like the riots in 2008,” said Theodore Couloumbis of the ELIAMEP think-tank. “The government is not expected to change course.”
Reporting and writing by Renee Maltezou; Additional reporting by Tatiana Fragou; editing by Andrew Roche