Greek unions set for general strike

Tax collectors and customs officers stage walkout ahead of Wednesday’s planned 48-hour shutdown in protest against cuts.

Weeks of strikes have grounded ferries to the islands and left garbage piling up in the capital, Athens [AFP]

Greece’s two main labour unions are planning a 48-hour general strike to coincide with a vote on new unpopular austerity plans.

The strike, to begin on Wednesday, will follow weeks of strikes that have hit the country, grounding ferries to the islands and leaving garbage piling up in the capital Athens.

Unions resisted more austerity cuts on Monday at the start of a crucial week for the heavily indebted country and the 17-nation eurozone.

Tax collectors and customs officers also kept away from work and protesting civil servants occupied the finance and labour ministry buildings in Athens.

Greece is bracing for a crucial vote on austerity measures on Thursday and other eurozone countries are rushing to find a comprehensive solution to Europe’s escalating debt crisis in time for a Sunday summit in Brussels by European leaders.

Al Jazeera’s John Psaropolous, reporting from Athens, said George Papandreou, the prime minister, had met heads of the eurozone and the European Council “in order to have an input” in Sunday’s decision.

He said the decision would “effectively replace the July 21st second bailout, which was worth 110bn euros and was going to see Greece through to 2014”.

“What will replace that agreement is widely expected to be less favourable, so Greece is very anxious to have a say in that,” our correspondent said.

“It’s going to be a very difficult week – on Wednesday and Thursday all private and public services are going to be shut down, including the Athens international airport.”

Greater consensus urged

Papandreou said he would like to see greater consensus during the vote on the new measures, as opposed to the “acrimony that Greece had in June, when the government nearly fell over the midterm fiscal programme,” said our correspondent.

Both the Greek vote and the debt plan are needed so Europe can avoid a loss of confidence in global markets that some fear would plunge the world economy back into a recession.

Amid the barrage of union protests, parliament’s finance committee on Monday approved more austerity measures, which include pension cuts and across-the-board tax hikes, as well as pay and staff cuts in the civil service.

“The government is destroying its central administration and cutting away the safety net for our citizens, while dramatic cuts in pay are driving workers into poverty and deprivation,” the civil servants’ union, ADEDY, said.

“The latest measures are the deathblow for our income.”

Papandreou said he is determined to see the latest reforms through.

“It will demonstrate that we, by ourselves, are seeking to make major changes,” he said at an emergency meeting with Karolos Papoulias, the Greek president.

“It will mean we can go to the (debt) negotiations … with our heads held high and with a stronger negotiating position.”

‘Most critical week’

Papandreou described the current as “the most critical” for Europe, and “of course for Greece, with decisions that will determine the fate of the eurozone”.

The government was considering using the army to help clear the trash in Athens, but would have to decide on emergency plans later in the day, officials said.

Police said a private lorry, commissioned by the government to replace striking garbage collectors, was attacked and set on fire on Monday by dozens of unidentified men in an Athens suburb. The driver escaped unharmed.

Meanwhile, a ruling Greek Socialist party deputy quit parliament on Monday to protest against austerity plans.

“I can no longer continue to vote without knowing what I’m voting about  … to vote for unjust and unpopular measures under threat that the government will collapse,” Thomas Robopoulos said in his resignation letter to Papandreou.

The resignation was a striking a blow as it compounded Papandreou’s woes in his quest to secure approval of an unpopular package in Thursday’s vote.

Source : Al Jazeera, News Agencies

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