Greek anti-austerity strike to paralyze transport

By Ingrid Melander and Renee Maltezou, Reuters

ATHENS — Striking Greek workers will ground flights, shut down schools and paralyze public transport in a nationwide walkout Wednesday, the culmination of protests against austerity laws aimed at stemming a debt crisis.

Hospitals will work on skeleton staff, ships will remain docked and ministries shut down as civil servants and private sector workers protest the adoption of more belt-tightening measures in the 2011 budget by parliament next week.

But the Socialist government, which has agreed tough reforms in return for a 110 billion euro EU/IMF bailout, has a comfortable majority in parliament and the protests are unlikely to make it change its course.

Parliament agreed early Wednesday to adopt unpopular labor reforms, including cuts in wages in state-owned bus and railway companies and a weakening of the power of collective bargaining, with company-level deals allowed to prevail.

Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou expelled a Socialist deputy from his parliamentary team for failing to back the government in the vote. But his ruling party still enjoys a comfortable majority of 156 deputies in the 300-seat parliament.

“We won’t pay for their crisis,” said 33-year old bus driver Yannis Theodorou in a protest rally Tuesday. “I took this job seeking a better life but now our salaries will be cut.”

Bus drivers, who have been on strike since Monday and refuse to return to work unless the bill is withdrawn, marched in Athens Tuesday chanting “Thieves, thieves.” They will strike until Thursday, causing traffic jams throughout the capital.

“We want the (EU/IMF) memorandum and the anti-labor policies to be withdrawn,” public sector union ADEDY said in a statement. “They are stealing our jobs, our bread, our lives.”

Workers will also rally against austerity in other countries Wednesday, including Spain and Belgium, ahead of a summit of EU leaders in Brussels Thursday and Friday.

“European trade unions ask the governments to stop attacking wages and welfare, to act together, to stop racing from one crisis to the next, to stop destroying our social Europe,” said John Monks, from the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC).

European Union leaders meet on December 16-17 to approve a change in the EU’s treaty that should lead to the creation of a permanent mechanism for handling euro zone financial and debt crises from mid-2013.

The year-end, two-day summit will also discuss ways to prevent the euro area’s debt crisis escalating, given fears that it could soon spread from Greece and Ireland to Portugal and Spain. No firm decisions are expected on that front.