Greek Labor Unions Strike as Samaras Implements Austerity

Greek labor unions held their first general strike this year as Prime Minister Antonis Samaras’s coalition government implements a new round of austerity measures amid record unemployment.

Schools, ferries, trains and government services are shut today as 30,000 protesters marched to parliament in central Athens, according to police estimates. Civil aviation workers are holding an eight-hour work stoppage prompting delays and cancellations at airports.

Athens bus and trolley workers are holding walkouts during the day while the city’s metro is running in order to bring protesters to the city center.

“Our government talks about development and investments but we see more poverty for the people,” said 22-year-old student Manolis Poulos. “It’s always the people that pay the price. I worry about finding a job. I think things will be difficult for the next 20 years.”

One group advocating a return to the drachma held a banner in front of parliament which read “Plan B, no to the euro, stop paying, lift the burden now.”

Fresh cuts in pensions and wages as well as tax rises follow a wave of austerity measures that have led the country to a sixth year of recession, with unemployment at a record 27 percent. The jobless rate among Greeks at age 15 to 24 now stands at 61.7 percent, the statistical service said on Feb. 14. That’s the highest in the 27-nation European Union.

Emergency Decrees

The strike is the latest challenge from unions to Samaras, who has used emergency decrees twice in the past month to end walkouts by metro and ferry workers prompted by the spending cuts and tax increases required to keep funds flowing to the country. Samaras clinched agreement from euro-area finance ministers to ease terms of emergency loans in return for the budget measures in November.

Greece has received 240 billion euros ($321 billion) in loan pledges from the euro-area and the International Monetary Fund since 2010 and carried out the biggest sovereign debt restructuring in history last year to avert a collapse.

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