Feature: General strike paralyzes Greek public transport, more anti-austerity protests warned

Source: Xinhua| 2018-11-29 01:42:54|Editor: Liangyu
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The railway network is closed due to the strike of the private sector in Athens, Greece, on Nov. 28, 2018. A new 24-hour nationwide anti-austerity strike called by the General Confederation of Employees of Greece (GSEE), the country's umbrella labor union for the private sector, hit the country on Wednesday. (Xinhua/Marios Lolos)

ATHENS, Nov. 28 (Xinhua) -- Thousands of people queued for hours at bus stops in the Greek capital of Athens on Wednesday, as more others were left stranded in cars due to the suspension of public transport services amid a 24-hour general strike across Greece.

Ferries also remained docked, as seamen participated in the walkout called by the General Confederation of Employees of Greece (GSEE), the country's umbrella labor union for the private sector, which represents half of the country's working force.

Labor unionists warned that the anti-austerity protests would continue, which means that the suffering of Greek commuters would go on.

Rania and Rosa, two migrants who are living and working in Greece for years, were among those who waited for two hours at a bus stop in the center of Athens to squeeze in a bus to get to work.

"I came here at 8:30 a.m. and I am still waiting for the A2 bus. None has appeared... I am trying to get to work," Rania told Xinhua.

"I am here out in the street for two hours. What am I going to do with my job?... I really need this work," Rosa added, expressing her frustration.

Despite the big inconvenience caused by the strike, commuters voiced support to the labor mobilization, as they can also feel the pinch of the prolonged austerity.

Thousands of strikers marched peacefully from two central squares of the Greek capital to the parliament, asking for tax cuts and pensions and salaries increases.

Protestors demanded a viable social insurance system, measures to effectively address unemployment, and respect of the fundamental right to live in dignity, according to the slogans chanted.

"We resist," they shouted, demanding the restoration of collective wage agreements and the monthly minimum wage to the pre-crisis level from the current 580 euros (655 U.S. dollars) to 751 euros (848 dollars).

"We are on strike today against the government's policies which are against workers, since they are a continuation of the bailout measures... This mockery must end. If we indeed have exited the bailout programs, they should prove it," Dimitris Vassos, President of the labor union of employees in the Hellenic Aerospace Industry, told Xinhua during the rally.

Following Greece's formal exit from the bailout era this August after eight years of harsh policies to afloat the debt-laden country's ailing economy, the Left-led government has pledged gradual implementation of relief measures to heal the wounds of the debt crisis without jeopardizing economic growth.

However, labor unions argued that the pace would be too slow, and more needs to be done immediately to allow some breathing space for the average Greek households and businesses that have lost, according to official estimates, up to 40 percent of their incomes during the crisis.

Retirees for example have seen their pensions being slashed a dozen times since 2010.

"Pensioners in particular demand from the state to give us our money back. Employees demand good labor conditions and wages. We will continue our struggle to the end," Antonis Birbilis, Secretary of the Pensioners' Union of former Hellenic Telecommunications Organization (OTE) employees, told Xinhua.

Wednesday's labor action follows a 24-hour strike organized by the umbrella trade union of the public sector ADEDY earlier this November, and a long series of strikes and protests staged in the past eight years of the Greek debt crisis with similar demands.

Over 20,000 protests were held across Greece during the first six years of the crisis, according to official statistics released by the Greek Police. Half of the rallies were staged in Athens.

Tens of thousands of people flooded the streets several times, but in many cases fewer than 1,000 people participated in the demonstrations, according to the official data.

In recent years the wave of rallies has receded, but still labor unions warn that strikes and demonstrations will go on until people win the war against austerity.

KEY WORDS: general strike