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Transport Strike Cripples Athens in Renewed Protest on Wage Cuts

Transport Strike Cripples Athens
A man walks on an empty platform at a train station in Athens. Photographer: Kostas Tsironis/AFP/Getty Images)

Public transport in Athens will grind to a halt today as workers protest for a second week against wage cuts, ignoring pleas from business owners who say the strikes are hurting sales in the Christmas shopping season.

The 24-hour strike is the fourth all-day walkout by transport workers in protest action that began Dec. 8, causing traffic chaos throughout the Greek capital and forcing commuters to stay home or find alternative means of transportation. Intercity train routes will also be canceled today, according to an e-mailed statement from state-owned Hellenic Railways Organization SA.

The action is in response to a bill passed by parliament on Dec. 15 that reduces wages at state-controlled companies, known as DEKOs, and makes it easier for private-sector employers to fire workers and bypass collective bargaining agreements. The changes are part of the conditions put forward by the European Union and the International Monetary Fund in exchange for a 110 billion-euro ($144 billion) bailout for the debt-stricken Mediterranean country.

The Greek Civil Servants Confederation, or ADEDY, Greece’s largest public-sector union, and the General Confederation of Labor, the country’s largest private-industry union, are also staging a three-hour work stoppage to join a midday rally in central Athens decrying the bill and more austerity measures in the 2011 budget that will be decided later today. Communist trade union PAME plans to march to parliament in a separate rally.

Those taking part in the three-hour action include bank employees, teachers, dock workers, and employees from the state-controlled Public Power Corp. SA and Hellenic Railways.

Shopping Season

Business groups pleaded with transit workers to postpone strikes until after the holiday season, saying they’re keeping shoppers and tourists away during their busiest period.

“It is important to suspend public transport strikes to give consumers the opportunity to visit central shopping areas without barriers and extra expenses,” said Vasilis Korkidis, president of Greece’s National Confederation of Commerce, in a Dec. 20 e-mailed statement.

Public transit workers have agreed to work most of the day tomorrow to accommodate Christmas shoppers, according to Naftemporiki, an Athens-based newspaper.

The metro, used by 620,000 Athenians daily, along with buses, trolleys and trams, will not operate all day, according to a spokesman at the Athens Urban Transport Organization, who declined to be named. The metro system normally operates from 5:30 a.m. to 12:30 a.m. and is the main link between the city center and Athens International Airport.

Today’s rallies come a week after 20,000 people marched in central Athens during a general strike called by the private and public-sector unions. Some protesters set cars alight and threw fire-bombs and rocks at officers deployed outside parliament and at the Finance Ministry in the center of the capital.

Police responded with tear gas and flash grenades. Former transport minister Kostis Hatzidakis was attacked by protesters and led to safety after receiving cuts to the face, television footage showed.

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