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Saturday, March 8, 2014
- Thousands of civil servants have marched through the Greek capital, Athens, and the second largest city, Thessaloniki, amid a two-day nationwide strike against planned job cuts.
Schools and courts were closed and hospitals were functioning with reduced staff on Wednesday and Thursday while trains were halted for four hours, and journalists joined in with a three-hour work stoppage, pulling news broadcasts off the air.
Efforts to reduce the 600,000-strong civil service, long seen by critics as wasteful and corrupt, have been resisted by labour unions who say the scheme will only worsen the plight of Greeks enduring a sixth year of recession.
The latest strikes, called by public-sector umbrella union ADEDY, came days before representatives of the “troika” of European Union, European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) lenders visit Athens to check on progress made on promised reforms.
“A long, onerous and painful winter has begun,” said ADEDY, which together with private-sector union GSEE represents about 2.5 million workers in this country of 11 million people.
“The truth is that with every troika visit, our national dignity is destroyed. The economy and society are ruined,” it added.
Speaking for the government, health minister Adonis Georgiadis told Al Jazeera: “Greece was the last Soviet state in the European Union. This has to be ended and we will end it now. This is for the benefit of the Greek people.
“We will be liberals and we will let the market work as all ordinary and good and serious people are doing in the rest of the world. Why be afraid of that?”
Government plans call for the suspension on partial pay of 25,000 civil servants this year in a drive to reduce the size of the public sector and meet conditions to continue receiving rescue loans.
Many of those suspended are expected to eventually lose their jobs.
Officials have, however, pledged not to back down.
The government claims it will set up basic state insurance for the 1.4 million jobless and the poor by the end of the year.
It will also take some of the pressure off hospitals through a chain of primary healthcare centres.
But it admits that a lot of state health care may end up being outsourced to the private sector.
Al Jazeera’s John Psaropoulos, reporting from Athens, said: “Slimmer state services in health and education may bode well for the bottom line but they will likely deepen the divide between the haves and the have-nots.
“These state workers fearful of losing their jobs know which camp they’re likely to end up in.”
Greece has been depending on bailout loans from the IMF and other European countries since May 2010.
In return, it has implemented a series of strict austerity measures to reform its economy.
James Meadway, a senior economist at the New Economics Foundation think-tank in London, believes the protesters are right in their demands.
“Austerities of increasing severities have been applied in some European countries and we are not seeing any serious or sustained recoveries in these economies,” he told Al Jazeera.
“Precisely because austerity is the thing that drives recession. You are setting up this vicious circle of decline in which Greece is very much trapped.
“There are different options like investment and spending by government and creating jobs or perhaps looking to institutions like the German state bank KFW, which has created some 200,000 jobs a year over the last few years and the government action could be used to actually promote recovery in places like Greece, Spain or Portugal.
“But Greece is doing the exact opposite.”
Published under an agreement with Al Jazeera.