Nationwide strike over pensions cripples Greece

A 24-hour nationwide strike against the Greek government’s economic and pension reforms crippled transport on Wednesday and shut down public services.

Thousands of people also gathered in Athens to protest against reforms the ruling conservatives say will make Greece’s economy more competitive and rescue the ailing pension system, expected to collapse within 15 years. Unions oppose the reforms.

Two days before Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis unveils his reforms in Parliament, flights to and from airports were scrapped, public transport ground to a halt and ships were tied at ports as heavy traffic clogged the streets of Athens.

About 8 000 demonstrators, backed by the country’s public- and private-sector umbrella unions representing 2,5-million workers, marched peacefully to Parliament, blocking off major streets.

Chanting anti-government slogans and carrying banners that read “Hands off the pension system”, demonstrators called on the government to drop its planned privatisations of the country’s main ports and its pension-reform proposals.

“This government does not care about our future. It only cares about big businesses and breaking up our pension funds,” manual labourer Dimitra Hatzidaki said.

Dozens of other rallies took place in other cities.

Last week a senior government official said the government will propose merging scores of pension funds into four to six main funds, raising retirement ages for some jobs with early pension entitlements and giving incentives to work longer.

Unions have accused the government, which won a second four-year term in September, of breaking pledges not to raise the retirement age, cut pensions or raise contributions.

“Millions of people are on strike today [Wednesday],” said private-sector umbrella union GSEE spokesperson Efstathios Anestis.
“We expect the government to get the message and change its policies.”

Hospital doctors treated only emergencies and news programmes went off the air while banks and state services were shut.

“Today [Wednesday] is a nightmare,” driver Nikos Gioutis, stuck in traffic in central Athens, said. “For the last hour I have moved a few hundred metres.”—Reuters

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