March 07, 2010

Greek workers to stage new general strike, by Tom Mellen, in Morning Star online, 03 March 2010

Unions have said that they’ll strike on March 16

Greek unions have called another national strike after PM George Papandreou unveiled yet more public-spending cuts in a bid to appease EU officials and international financiers.

After talks with visiting EU economy commissioner Olli Rehn, Mr Papandreou announced that public-sector salary bonuses at Christmas and Easter will be slashed by 30 per cent, while taxes on fuel, alcohol and cigarettes will be increased for the second time in two months. And he bumped VAT up from 19 to 21 per cent.

Mr Papandreou claimed that the cuts and tax increases "were necessary for the survival of our country and our economy and for Greece to escape the whirlwind of speculators."

But public-sector workers who have already had their wages frozen and benefits cut said that they will respond to the "anti-social" measures with a protest in Athens.

Announcing a third 24-hour strike of the year for March 16, ADEDY union confederation vice-president Illias Vrettakos said: "The EU and the government need to understand that we will keep taking to the streets until we topple the unfair and anti-social measures which burden the poor without solving our economy's problem."

ADEDY general secretary Ilias Iliopoulos said: "We have a strike planned because the reasons behind this crisis will still be there - the speculators will still be there."

Together with its sister private-sector union GSEE, ADEDY represents about 2.5 million workers - or half of Greece's workforce.

On Wednesday, taxi drivers facing higher taxes brought traffic to a halt in Athens, converging on parliament in their yellow cabs along with marchers demanding: "No more sacrifices to help the rich" and "those who devoured the money should pay."

And retirees marched to the Finance Ministry in Athens to demonstrate against plans to increase the average retirement age from 61 to 63 by 2015.

Greece, which has been under intense pressure from the EU to reduce its 12.7 per cent deficit to the eurozone limit of 3 per cent of GDP, 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.

Mr Papandreou is scheduled to meet German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin on Friday and US President Barack Obama in Washington on March 9.

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