Workers paralyse Greece as MPs debate cuts


Greek workers shut down hospitals, schools and public transport again on March 5 in protest at the government's "socially unjust" spending cuts.

Thousands of members of unions affiliated to the Greek Communist Party (KKE) rallied peacefully outside parliament, where MPs were debating a new 4.8 billion euros ($7.2 billion) austerity package that will ramp up taxes on fuel, alcohol and cigarettes and slash public-sector workers' pay.

Protesters chanted, "Greece is not Ireland, the rich must pay for the crisis", in reference to Dublin's harsh austerity program.

All state schools were closed, while hospitals functioned with emergency staff and all Athens public transport was idle.

An air traffic controllers' work stoppage cancelled dozens of flights, while journalists also walked off the job for a few hours.

General Confederation of Greek Workers (GSEE) general secretary Yiannis Panagopoulos said: "We must wage a long and effective struggle — the new measures are one-sided and socially unjust."

The national walkout follows hard on the heels of a strike against cuts that brought the country to a standstill for 24 hours on February 24. A further general strike is planned for March 16.

All Workers' Militant Front union spokesperson Giorgos Skiadiotis said: "Our protests have to be long-lasting and relentless because the more rights we surrender the more they want to take away from us."

Finance minister George Papaconstantinou said the cuts would appease international speculators and European Union officials, allowing Athens to borrow money "under reasonable conditions".

On March 3, taxi drivers facing higher taxes brought traffic to a halt in Athens, converging on parliament in their yellow cabs beside marchers. They demanded, "No more sacrifices to help the rich" and "those who devoured the money should pay".

Retirees marched to the finance ministry to protest plans to increase the average retirement age from 61 to 63 by 2015.

Greece has been under intense pressure from the European Union to reduce its 12.7% deficit to the eurozone limit of 3% of GDP. It expects Brussels to respond to the austerity measures by helping to bail it out. But European officials have remained tight-lipped over any potential rescue plan.

On March 4, Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou urged EU states to firm up pledges of financial support for his indebted administration.

[This article is reprinted from .]