Greece Hit by 48-Hour Strike
By NEKTARIA STAMOULI
ATHENS—Greece's major unions launched a 48-hour nationwide strike Friday to protest new austerity measures demanded by the country's creditors, adding to social tension in a country now in its fifth year of economic recession.
The general strike comes a day after an agreement was reached by the political parties supporting Prime Minister George Papademos' caretaker government on more than €3 billion ($3.99 billion) in additional cuts to the 2012 budget.
The package of cuts will be put before the government cabinet for approval on Friday and will go before parliament for a crucial vote in a few days.
Greece's international creditors, including fellow euro-zone countries and the International Monetary Fund, demanded the cuts in order to proceed with negotiations for a second bailout that would keep Greece from defaulting on its debts next month.
Greece's two major umbrella unions, the public sector ADEDY and private sector GSEE, said Thursday that in addition to the general strike they will stage three days of rallies around the country, protesting the draconian terms of the new austerity package.
The unions labeled the new cuts "the tombstone of Greek society."
Greece's latest strike will affect central and local government offices, banks and hospitals. It will also lead to the suspension of all metro, bus, urban rail and trolley-bus services in the Athens area. Lawyers have announced a three-day walkout starting on Monday.
Greek Deputy Labor Minister Yannis Koutsoukos resigned in protest at the austerity measures late Thursday, saying the terms will demolish the government's labor relations.
Euro-zone finance ministers meeting in Brussels late Thursday put an extra hurdle in front of the bailout, saying the measures must be approved by the Greek parliament before the €130 billion aid plan is signed off.
That demand added to the uncertainty over Greece's future while shifting the focus back to Athens, where lawmakers could begin debating the new cuts as early as this weekend.
Under a draft agreement Greece will slash the minimum wage in the private sector by 22%, abolish permanent jobs in state enterprises and cut 150,000 jobs in the public sector by 2015, among other measures.
Several lawmakers have signaled they will vote against the reforms, although it is unlikely that a revolt by deputies will endanger the government's big majority in parliament. The three parties that support the government control 252 seats in the 300-member parliament.
Late Thursday, some 9,000 demonstrators—mostly from the Communist-backed PAME union—marched in central Athens to oppose the austerity reforms, according to initial police estimates.
Leftist parties, which openly oppose the cost-cutting measures, have seen their popularity rise significantly in recent polls, posing a new threat to the mainstream parties now supporting the government if elections are called later this spring as planned