August 11, 2022

Two-Day Strike in Greece Ahead of Austerity Vote

The strike, organized by the country’s two main labor unions, is the latest in a series of walkouts and the longest strike in more than 30 years, as public outrage has grown over the Socialist government’s relentless austerity drive.

As the strike began, Olli Rehn, the European Union’s top economic and monetary affairs official, urged the Greek Parliament to approve the measures in votes expected on Wednesday and Thursday, so that its foreign lenders could release the aid Greece needs to stave off default.

“The only way to avoid immediate default is for Parliament to endorse the revised economic program,” Mr. Rehn said. “Let me say this clearly: There is no Plan B to avoid default.”

Parliamentary debate on the measures began Monday evening ahead of the vote, one of the most important in recent Greek history. Greece’s euro-zone partners — and, indeed, governments and investors around the world — are keenly watching the proceedings out of fear that a failure to straighten out the country’s financial problems could have repercussions throughout the world financial system.

As recently as last week, it appeared as if the Socialist prime minister, George A. Papandreou, would manage to push the measures through Parliament, where he has a narrow five-vote majority. That was true even after the center-right New Democracy opposition party announced that it would vote against them, saying the measures involved too much austerity and not enough stimulus spending.

But in recent days, a series of dissenters within the Socialist Party and a growing feeling that this government may be short-lived have complicated the picture.

So has the general strike — the first time Greek unions had walked out for more than 24 hours since democracy was restored in 1974.

The strike was aimed at halting all public transportation for two days except the Athens subway, which was running to allow Greeks to attend the demonstrations.

The strike also hit the tourism sector, as air traffic controllers called two work stoppages on Tuesday morning and from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. on Wednesday. At the country’s main port of Piraeus protesting dockworkers formed a blockade on Tuesday morning, leaving tourists unable to board ferries to the Aegean islands.

After a peaceful start, in which thousands of demonstrators converged without incident on Syntagma Square in front of Parliament in the early afternoon the situation changed suddenly, with groups of youths on the fringes of a rally throwing rocks, firebombs and firecrackers.

Security forces fired multiple rounds of tear gas to thin out the crowds, sending the youths and other demonstrators fleeing into side streets. A police spokesman said it was too early to estimate the size of the demonstration and had no information about injuries.

In the city center, hundreds of police officers in riot gear were mobilized to avert violence of the kind that broke out during the last strike on June 15 and to protect the entrance to Parliament.

Tuesday’s demonstration was one of the first I which labor unions joined with the younger demonstrators who have been gathering in downtown Athens every night for the past month and who have less clear party affiliations.

As she stood in the square near the other so-called “indignados,” or “indignant ones,” named after the Spanish youth who protested in Madrid earlier this spring, Kyriaki Kokkini, 23, a psychology student, said she had mixed feelings about the unions. “On the one hand, we oppose all political parties, but at the same time we need the unions because they’re full of people whose participation we need.”

Stephen Castle contributed reporting from Brussels.

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