|Protesters held banners reading "Tax the rich" and "No sacrifices for the IMF" [AFP]
Greek public sector workers have gone on a 24-hour strike in protest against EU and International Monetary Fund (IMF) prescribed austerity measures.
Air traffic controllers joined Thursday's strike, widely affecting flights in and out of Greece. Schools and some public services shut down, while public hospitals worked with emergency staff.
The austerity measures have particularly hit civil servants hard, with wages cut by an average of 15 per cent, in addition to tax hikes and a pension freeze agreed to help restore the country's finances in return for a 110 billion euro ($154bn) EU/IMF bailout.
"Thank God I do not have a family. I would be in great trouble. They have slashed my salary by 20 per cent," Christos Kourniotis, 44, a public school teacher marching in Athens, said. "We cannot go on like this."
But turnout at protest rallies during the day were comparitively low. Protesters held banners reading "Tax the rich" and "No sacrifices for the IMF".
A pension reform protest in July drew 12,000 people, already a drop from the 50,000 who took to the streets on May 5.
Public and private sector unions have staged six general strikes this year, but their failure to change the government's course has discouraged protesters. Many Greeks have also been put off by the deaths of three people at a violent protest march in May.
"I cannot blame those who do not take to the streets any more," 18-year-old protester Danae Burnu said. "They think: I shouted, I protested, so what? What happened? Sometimes you cannot save yourself and the world at the same time, and they lose money when they strike."
The government this week announced further belt-tightening in next year's draft budget. The economy is seen contracting by 2.6 per cent in 2011, after a 4 per cent slump this year.
"2011 will be a tough year, but our aim is to work together - state, citizens, social partners - to turn 2011 into the last year of recession. We can do it," George Papandreou, the prime minister, told parliament on Thursday.
Private sector union GSEE has said it will not strike any time soon, easing pressure on the ruling Socialists as they struggle to pull Greece out of its worst recession since 1979.
But civil servants say they are not going to back down.
"We will keep protesting, demanding that the new budget does not include any further salary cuts," Ilias Iliopoulos, general secretary of public sector union ADEDY, said.