Nationwide Greek worker’s union strike fuels fiery clashes

Greek workers walked off the job across the country Wednesday for an anti-austerity general strike that was disrupting public and private sector services across the country.

Workers’ unions called the strike to protest new belt-tightening measures that to be imposed beyond the end of Greece’s third bailout next year. The left-led coalition government agreed to the reforms as part of a deal with the country’s international creditors to release funds from its next bailout installment.

Without the cash, Greece would once more struggle to meet a spike in debt repayments due this summer.

Public hospitals were functioning with emergency staff only, while public transport was disrupted. Air traffic controllers were holding a four-hour work stoppage in the middle of the day, leading to the rescheduling or cancellation of more than 150 flights.

Seamen were participating with a four-day strike that began Tuesday, leaving ferries servicing the Greek islands and mainland tied up in port until Friday night. Demonstrations were planned in Athens later Wednesday morning, although heavy rainfall was expected to affect attendance.

“No to the new looting of salaries and pensions,” civil servants union ADEDY said.

In parliament, lawmakers were debating the measures ahead of a vote scheduled for midnight Thursday. The reforms will include additional pension cuts in 2019 and higher income tax from 2020.

Unions and the opposition have compared the measures to those of a fourth bailout, but without the corresponding relief of funds from international creditors. The government, which originally came to power in 2015 promising to repeal previous bailout austerity measures, has vehemently rejected the accusation, emphasizing that it will also take other measures to relieve poverty.

Struggling through a deep financial crisis, Greece is currently in its third international bailout, which is due to end in mid-2018. It has been dependent on rescue loans from its creditors — mainly other European countries that use the euro, and the International Monetary Fund — since its first bailout in 2010.

In return for the funds, successive governments have had to impose repeated waves of reforms, which have included steep tax hikes and salary and pension cuts.

While the country’s finances have improved under the bailouts and the strict supervision they imposed, the belt-tightening has led to spiralling poverty and unemployment rates. The jobless rate, while down from highs of above 27 percent, hovers at around 23 percent. (AP)

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