Calling the latest round of austerity measures “unbearable” and “unfair,” strikers in Greece shut down everything from transportation to shopping as they demonstrated in the first major protest since the accession of the coalition government in June. Even hospitals ran on an emergency-only basis in the first major action against it since the new government came to power.
Reuters reported Wednesday that the strike was called by the two largest unions in the country as the troika of the European Union (EU), the European Central Bank (ECB) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) required a new round of cuts to Greece’s already tight budget.
"The new measures are unbearable, unfair and only worsen the crisis. We are determined to fight until we win," said Costas Tsikrikas in the report. Tsikrikas, who is head of the ADEDY public sector union, was quoted saying, "We call on all workers to join us in the march against the policies that the troika is imposing."
Ships stayed in port, trains did not run and air traffic controllers walked off the job. Shops and museums were shuttered for the three-hour shutdown, in advance of marches planned for later in the day. Police presence was doubled over concerns that the demonstrations might turn violent, as they had back in February.
The latest round of cuts, amounting to nearly 12 billion euros ($15.55 billion) over the next two years in exchange for the next round of bailout money, is the focus of the strike. The cuts target wages, pensions and welfare benefits, even as Greece battles massive levels of unemployment.
According to a survey conducted last week by the MRB polling agency, over 90% of Greeks say that the planned cuts are unfair and target the poor. Most also believe that additional austerity measures will be imposed in years to come.
"What people want to tell Samaras is that they are hurt and Samaras could use this to demand concessions from the troika," MRB polling director Dimitris Mavros said in the report. He added, "The people are willing to give the government time, but on certain conditions like cracking down on tax evasion and securing a bailout extension. If the government succeeds in that, its life will also be extended."