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Strikes without protesters in Athens

20 September 2012 / 17:09:24  GRReporter
2326 reads

Victoria Mindova

The underground, trams and the electric train in Athens stopped working on Thursday. The centre of Athens was first blocked by the traffic, and then by a series of meetings and protests of various trade unions. Unlike previous years, only active trade unionists organized the protests in today's day of strikes. Regular employees from different departments did not attend them. There were no violent mobs of discontented citizens; there was no shouting, nor throwing of bottles and stones.

The meeting of port workers and employees in the health sector gathered only 20 people at Klathmonos Square at 12:30 pm. Their goal was to unite and to deliver to the Ministry of Labour and Social Security a protest note against the cut of retirement benefits in the private sector.

"Today, the trade unionists of the 12 federations gathered to express our protest against the cuts in pension benefits," Gerasimos Konidaras, chairman of the Health Fund in the private sector told GRReporter. He explained that mainly contributions from workers outside the public sector compose the Health Fund and the reduction in benefits that the government is imposing is illegal. Konidaras believes that the government studies that are the grounds for the cuts are not based on real data and he urges the Ministry of Labour and Social Security to reconsider its decision.

"The reduction in retirement benefits is the result of the reduction of the nominal value of Greek government bonds social funds held as part of their assets," the president of port workers in Piraeus George Georgakopoulos added. He believes too that the state is trying to compensate for the losses from the debt haircut at the expense of the contributions of private sector employees.

Central Stadiou Street was closed for about an hour due to the announced strike, although the attendance at the meetings was insignificant and the protesters were hiding under the shade of trees on the sidewalks of the central thoroughfares.

There were two other parallel protests in Syntagma Square - of public transport employees and of employees in steel production. The people employed in the steel industry continue to demand the recovery of pre-crisis levels of wages and working hours. They had blocked Fillelinon street in front of the Ministry of Finance with posters "We want to work and live" and "We cannot take more cuts." The workers booed the Finance Minister Yiannis Stournaras, when he walked by to go to his office after a meeting with Prime Minister Antonis Samaras. Then, they wanted to meet him to formally deliver their demands but he had not accepted them by early afternoon.

Transport unionists who had gathered 50 metres away from the steelworkers were more dramatic. They had put in the square in front of the parliament a doll hung on the gallows that symbolized the end of the workers in the sector after the recent reductions in wages. The employees in the underground and trams were about 1,500 in number. The number of protesters on Syntagma did not exceed 100. Their 24-hour strike was against the expected increase in ticket prices. "We oppose not only the rise in the price of public transport tickets; we want it to be reduced. Pensioners and students must travel for free and ordinary citizens should not pay more than a euro for the use of public transport," Antonis Stamatoulis said, who is the leader of the trade union of employees in underground transportation. The public transport ticket for an hour and a half costs 1.40 euro in the capital. After the increase, it is expected to jump to 1.75 euro.

Although trade unionists argue that the official reason for the strike is the increase in ticket price, the real reason for blocking the trams and the electric train are the expected cuts in wages, people familiar with the situation told GRReporter. Stamoulis has confirmed that if the government adopts the measures amounting to 11.6 billion euro set in the fiscal consolidation package, transport workers will announce an indefinite strike.

Tags: SocietyStrikesProtestsCutsGreeceAthens
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