Public services in Greece were paralysed for the second straight day today as the
leading labour unions went on strike – a day before a crucial parliamentary vote on
the latest spate of austerity measures.
Athenians had to go for another day
without metro and commuter train services, while government offices were shut and
thousands of disaffected people poured into central Syntagma Square in the unseasonal
brilliant sunshine. Strong riot police forces were on hand to deal with any violence,
though by midday the demonstration was largely peaceful.
It’s the latest show
of muscle by Greece’s unions which are implacably opposed to any more austerity mandated
by the IMF and European Commission. The constant salary and pensions cuts over the
past two years, plus higher taxes, have brought many households to the brink of penury.
shouting distance of the protesters, in the Parliament building, Greece’s 300 deputies
kicked off a debate on the latest austerity measures, which include yet more salary
and pension cuts. The prime minister, Antonis Samaras, has made dramatic appeals
for the measures to be endorsed. He has raised the spectre of mass poverty and social
unrest if the measures are voted down and the next tranche of 31 billion euros in
aid, in consequence, doesn’t arrive.
But one of Samaras’s ruling partners,
the small Democratic Left party, vows not to vote for the measures, and a growing
number of deputies of the socialists also say they won’t. The big opposition leftwing
Syriza party, plus the communists and far-right Golden Dawn, will also vote no tomorrow.
This leaves Samaras’s own centre-right New Democracy party with the burden of obtaining
a parliamentary majority.
Given the pressure from an angry electorate, it’s
by no means a foregone conclusion at this stage.