Greek workers strike over austerity measures


A protester holds a Greek flag during a 24-hour-general strike on February 20, 2013 in central Athens. Thousands of Greeks joined new anti-austerity protests on February 20, causing massive disruption to flights, ferries and hospital services in the debt-ridden country's first general strike this year. About 15,000 protesters took part in a Communist-organised demonstration in Athens and 20,000 more joined protests organised by other unions, according to police figures.


Louisa Gouliamaki

Greek workers took to the streets Wednesday in a nationwide general strike to protest government austerity measures.

Greece's two largest labor unions called the 24-hour strike to oppose massive wage cuts and sharp tax increases that have left the country economically hobbled.

The unions, GSEE and ADEDY, represent 2.5 million workers in a country of about 11 million people.

The unions have called several general strikes since 2009.

Ferries, flights and trains were delayed and public services ground to a halt Wednesday as up to 60,000 people poured into the streets in front of the Greek parliament, Reuters reported.

Public hospitals functioned using emergency staff, court houses were closed, as were schools and tax offices, the Associated Press reported.

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Previous strikes have been marred by clashes with riot police and the destruction of buildings and public places.

Police deployed 3000 officers Wednesday to control the crowds.

Most of the marches were peaceful with only small skirmishes between police and demonstrators, the Guardian reported.

The Greek government under Antonis Samaras has pushed forward with austerity measures to implement reforms demanded by the European Union and International Monetary Fund.

The measures are necessary for Greece to receive bailout loans that have kept the country from falling into bankruptcy.

The difficult reforms have meant rapidly falling wages and layoffs that have pushed unemployment to a record 27 percent.

The effectiveness of Greece's first general strike of the year shows public anger at the prolonged austerity measures remains strong. That discontent is not confined to Greece.

Spain's leading airline Iberia has been hit by a five-day strike disrupting the country's vital tourist industry this week and Belgian unions plan a major demonstration Thursday to shut down the center of Brussels. Even in Germany, hundreds of flights have been cancelled in recent days as security staff at several airports stop work to demand higher pay.