Greek trade unions have gone on strike for the first time since European technocrat Lucas Papademos became the country’s leader last month. They are protesting fresh austerity measures needed to save Greece from economic collapse.
According to the BBC, “trade unionists representing about half of Greece’s workforce gathered for marches in the main cities”. Public services were closed for the day, as were Greece’s rail and ferry services. The country’s airports, the Athens metro, and the Greek stock exchange remained open.
The 24-hour general strike is the first major test for Greece’s new unity government led by Papademos. Following the €8 billion ($10.8 billion) aid package approved for Greece by European leaders earlier this week, the Greek government is expected to implement major spending cuts and increase taxes in the upcoming year.
Some of the conditions that must be met before Greece receives another bailout from the European Union and International Monetary Fund include “fresh cuts to state-employee wages and pensions, higher taxes including a property charge levied via power bills, and 30,000 job cuts” according to the San Francisco Chronicle.
Demonstrations like this have become commonplace in Greece since the 2008 financial collapse, as the country “has seen about a dozen general strikes in the past two years.” Some have been less peaceful than others, most notably during “a 48-hour stoppage in October [that] degenerated into violence with clashes between rival groups and police” according to a report from Reuters. Today’s demonstrations remained peaceful however, as “the sour public mood over austerity has been tempered by knowledge that elections are around the corner in February.”
European leaders have watched Greek politics anxiously in past weeks. Poor economic performance combined with an uncertain political situation can provide a dangerous foundation for civil unrest. What makes the problem even worse is “an unemployment rate at 18% - and nearly 43% among youth – the highest in the Eurozone after Spain” according to the Guardian. The volatile situation has “unions, left-wing politicians, analysts and economists predicting that the country is poised for a social explosion.”
Papademos replaced former Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou on November 11th after Papandreou agreed to step aside and allow a new unity government to implement necessary E.U. austerity measures. The country has already received a number of bailouts from the European Union. Mr. Papademos’ mandate is to ensure Greece continues to receive the money it needs to avoid default and to keep the Eurozone intact.