February 11, 2010

GREECE: Greek unions launch first assault on austerity plan

. BEIRUT, Lebanon / The Daily Star / Regional News / February 11, 2010 By Elena Becatoros, Associated Press ATHENS: A strike by civil servants grounded all flights and shut down public services across Greece on Wednesday, as labor unions mounted their first major challenge to austerity measures in the debt-plagued country.Air traffic controllers, customs and tax officials, hospital doctors and schoolteachers walked off the job for 24 hours to protest sweeping government spending cuts that will freeze salaries and new hiring, cut bonuses and stipends and increase the average retirement age by two years to 63. The strike left state hospitals working with emergency staff only and disrupted national rail travel, although urban mass transport was unaffected..... Demonstrators hold an effigy of Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou dressed in a harlequin's costume during a protest in central Athens on Wednesday. The banner attached to the effigy reads "State social insurance and free healthcare for all. No professionals' funds," a pledge made by Papandreou when in opposition and which has been crossed out. Photo Credit: Thanassis Stavrakis/The Associated Press A weekend newspaper poll showed that 70 percent of Greeks were against measures that could affect them individually like new taxes or a higher retirement age. The average retirement age will increase to 63 by 2015. “It wasn’t the workers who took all the money, it was the plutocracy. It’s them who should give it back,” said Alexandros Potamitis, a 57-year-old retired merchant seaman. Vassiliki Romanou, 50, an employee at the state Social Security Foundation, conceded that a great number of civil servants enjoyed high salaries and that some can retire after working only 20 years. “I can’t say the government’s measures are totally wrong, but I think they are unfair to me,” she said. The government has insisted that those on low incomes will be protected and will even enjoy lower taxes, with the austerity plan targeting the better off. “I do not care about the [country’s] problems. I didn’t steal a single euro, why should I pay?” asked Christos, an elderly man who said he retired after working for 47 years and was now barely able to survive on a pension of $880 a month. Christos refused to disclose his surname, saying that he was afraid he would lose his pension if he complained. [rc] This report is an extracted version. Click here for the full article in The Daily Star Copyright © 2010, The Daily Star.