ATHENS – Greece faced on Thursday its second general strike this year and the seventh since the current Greek government rose to power three years ago.
The nationwide strike protested against austerity measures and reforms imposed by the leftist-led government as part of its agreement with Greece’s bailout lenders.
“Poverty, taxes, unemployment. Enough!” was the slogan chosen by the leading private sector GSEE and public sector ADEDY trade unions which backed the stoppage.
The strike mainly affected the public sector with ministries, hospitals and clinics only offering minimum services.
Public transport was also hit but only during the night shift and early morning rush hour, while Greek railways and maritime ferries offered no travel services at all.
Greek schools reacted in mixed fashion: some opened, others did not, while retail and commerce did open for business giving the impression of a normal working day, save for central Athens where the traditional general strike march took place with some 20,000 protestors, according to Greek police.
Greek mass media did not on this occasion give a running account of the strike with no TV news bulletins.
Some radio stations issued bulletins focusing on the strike and news websites gave summaries.
Greek trade unions have been angered by a government bill aimed at hardening the conditions required to call a strike, a measure that will mainly affect small sector trade unions, not the larger GSEE and ADEDY.
The Greek population is particularly concerned that while the economy is slowly recovering, poverty continues to expand.
According to both main unions, tax hikes and salary cuts have raised the poverty in Greece.
“I retired in 1993 with a 1,250 euro ($1,475) pension, now I am drawing a 750 euro pension,” Dimitris Stahusis told EFE.
He expressed his disappointment with all political parties and cast doubt on the nation’s potential for recovery.
Although Greece has experienced roughly a steady 2 percent annual drop in unemployment, its 20.5 percent jobless rate last Sept. remains one of Europe’s highest.
Most new labor contracts in 2017 (54.7 percent) are part-time, with an average salary of around 376 euros, when the gross minimum wage in Greece is 586 euros per month.
Many Greeks fear things will get worse from 2019 onwards, as the country leaves behind the financial rescue but the government of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has committed itself deepen pension cuts.
In 2020 the annual tax exemption threshold will also drop from today’s 8,636 euros to 5,700, after Tsipras’ government promised to reduce its GDP deficit by a further one percent.
Dimitris Vassiliadis, IT specialist at the National Bank of Greece preferred to express optimism: “I hope that, once Greece leaves behind its financial rescue and things return to normal, banks will offer credits again and no longer depend on European Rescue Fund credits.”