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General Strike in Greece Set for Dec. 1

ATHENS – The new coalition government led by interim Prime Minister Lucas Papademos is not getting a reprieve from Greek workers, who will take to the streets on Dec. 1 to keep up their protest against austerity measures that have decimated the workforce and led to a deep recession. It was a signal, labor union officials said, that there will be no let-up in the resistance against the pay cuts, tax hikes, slashed pensions and scores of thousands of layoffs that have come as a condition of getting $152 billion in international aid and a pending second bailout package of $175 billion that has been delayed until the new government pushes through the measures. Also on hold is a pending $11 billion installment, without which there will not be enough money to pay workers or pensioners, the government said.

Greek workers are getting cranked up for a new protest against austerity

GSEE, the country’s umbrella trade union representing about 2.5 million private sector workers, called the 24-hour strike to protest the 2012 budget, which is scheduled to be approved by Parliament on December 7. “The strike is against this budget of austerity and social spending cuts,” said GSEE spokesman Stathis Anestis. Public sector trade union ADEDY, which represents about 500,000 state employees, will decide later if it will join the walkout. The 2012 budget includes a series of tax increases and spending cuts to ensure the budget deficit falls to at least 6.7 percent of GDP next year from 9 percent in 2011, but those have already led to 18.4 percent unemployment and the closing of more than 100,000 businesses. Both Greece’s major parties, socialist PASOK and conservative New Democracy, said they will back the budget. They are in the leadership of the coalition government, along with the Right Wing LAOS party, set up after the resignation of former premier George Papandreou earlier this month.
Greece’s last general strike, held in October, saw services across the country shut down for two days. Greeks have held dozens of strikes and demonstrations over the past two years as their country has been gripped by a severe financial crisis that saw the government impose repeated rounds of salary cuts and tax hikes and left the country reliant on international rescue loans.
“The government has changed but the unjust and ineffective policy hasn’t changed at all,” GSEE head Yiannis Panagopoulos said in a statement. “For as long as this policy, which leaves social corpses in its wake, continues, we will stand firm against it … and oppose it with any means.”
Workers at the capital’s subway, tram and electric rail network held a four-hour work stoppage on Nov. 22 to protest measures that include the suspension on partial pay of about 30,000 civil servants who are scheduled to be fired next year. Separately, members of the electricity company’s workers’ union demonstrated outside the company’s bill-issuing building in continued protests over a new property tax that has been added to consumers’ power bills. They said they will not turn off power despite orders from the government to do so.
Greek leaders say the second bailout is advantageous to the country because it keeps the flow of loans coming from the European Union-International Monetary Fund-European Central Bank Troika and also allows the country to write off 50 percent of much of its debt, but unions, workers, pensioners and the poor say they continue to bear the brunt of austerity measures while the rich and politically-connected are largely untouched, despite a recent crackdown on major tax evaders costing the country $60 billion in lost revenue.
European leaders continue to insist on getting written guarantees from the temporary government before releasing the loan money but New Democracy leader Antonis Samaras has refused, saying his word is good enough. He’s backed by LAOS leader George Karatzaferis, creating a stumbling block. Samaras has long opposed many aspects of Greece’s austerity program, including that of taxation. He has advocated cutting taxes instead of increasing them, saying this would help stimulate growth to pull the country out of recession, but added his support to the bailouts as a condition of forming a coalition government, but that will rule only until elections in February.
Papademos, a former Vice President of the European Central Bank, scheduled talks on Nov. 22 with the bank’s new head, Mario Draghi, after meeting with Jean-Claude Juncker, chief of the Eurozone, the 17 countries that use the euro, including Greece. Juncker said the disbursement of the next installment would be discussed at the next meeting of Eurozone finance ministers on Nov. 29, at which the ministers could decide to release the funds.
“We have expressed the view … that (we) will be given a letter from the new Greek prime minister assuring us that all the commitments will be respected,” Juncker said. He said Eurozone officials want to be sure that Greece’s main political leaders back the government in its deal with international rescue creditors. “I do think that from now to next Tuesday (Nov. 29) this will happen … and that we will be able to take a decision on the sixth disbursement.” He added: “It’s up to the Greece government and to the leaders of the different political parties inside Greece to give us the possibility to check if yes or no there is a cross party agreement in Greece,” he said.
(Sources: Kathimerini, AP)

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