Greek workers strike over austerity, bailout reform

DW — Getting around Greece proved a challenge on Wednesday as a nationwide labour strike gripped the country.

Public transportation was disrupted; some flights cancelled and ferries were left in their docks.

Led by both the private and public sector unions, workers protested ongoing austerity measures as well as looming new cuts expected this summer.

Striking workers, pensioners and students were expected to march through central Athens around noon local time.

“The government, which implements the same policies that have destroyed the people and the economy, is loading the back of workers and pensioners with new unbearable measures,” GSEE union said in a statement.

Successive governments since 2010, including that of current Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, have been forced to impose onerous austerity measures. They have slashed pensions, welfare provision, reduced the number of public sector workers – which in Greece includes doctors nurses and teachers and hiked taxes.

Prime Minister Tsipras signed-up the country for the latest international bailout in 2015, despite strong public opposition. The bailout programme is supposed to come to an end in August.

The current government gave in to lenders’ demands for extending pension cuts and tax hikes in 2019 and 2020, measures that were approved by an overwhelming majority in the Greek parliament. However, the government has promised to reinstate collective bargaining, a right enshrined in European labour law, and increase the minimum wage in the post-bailout period, subject to approval by the lenders.

Despite an economic rebound in 2017 a broad segment of the public remains angry and has vowed more protests are coming.

“For workers, pensioners and the unemployed, the end of the bailout in August 2018 is not an automated process which will bring prosperity, but the beginning of new struggles,” according to a statement put out by the dockworkers’ union, which also joined the walkout.