Greeks strike against public sector cuts, protests gather steam
ATHENS, July 16 (Reuters) - Trains ground to a halt and hospitals worked with emergency staff as Greek workers went on strike on Tuesday in protest at government plans to fire thousands of public sector employees.
Athens must reform and shrink its civil service to receive more bailout funds from foreign lenders but the latest plan of job cuts has sparked uproar among Greeks struggling with an unemployment rate of nearly 27 percent.
More than a week of marches by municipal workers are expected to culminate in a rally before parliament in the capital, with garbage collectors, bus drivers, bank employees and journalists among the groups joining the walkout.
"We are continuing our fight to put an end to policies that annihilate workers and drive the economy to an even greater recession," said the private sector union GSEE, which called the strike with public sector union ADEDY.
"We will stand up to those who, with wrong and dead-end choices, have driven the Greek people to poverty and despair."
Flights to and from Athens will be disrupted as civil aviation unions stage a four-hour work stoppage in solidarity.
City transport was also affected with bus and trolley bus drives holding work stoppages in the morning and in the evening. Trains stopped running and tax offices and municipal services remain shut.
Representing about 2.5 million workers, the two unions have brought workers to the streets repeatedly since Greece slid into a debt crisis in late 2009.
The latest strike comes before a parliamentary vote on Wednesday on reforms Athens agreed with its European Union and International Monetary Fund lenders as a condition for 6.8 billion euros ($8.9 billion) in aid.
Among the measures included in the bill are job cuts for teachers, municipal police and local government posts.
DEMOLITION OF RIGHTS
On Thursday, German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble will visit Athens, which is also expected to draw protests from Greeks who blame European paymaster Germany for austerity policies that have shrunk pay levels and boosted unemployment.
Greece's lenders, which have bailed it out twice with 240 billion euros in aid, have grown impatient with the slow progress it has made in streamlining a 600,000-strong public sector widely seen as corrupt and inefficient.
But with unemployment at an all-time high and at twice the euro zone average, many Greeks are furious at plans to put 12,500 workers into a "mobility pool" by September, giving them eight months to find work in another department or get fired.
Some 25,000 workers will be placed in the scheme by the end of the year.
The plan has turned into the latest headache for Prime Minister Antonis Samaras's fragile coalition government, which nearly collapsed last month after he abruptly shut the state broadcaster ERT and fired its 2,600 staff.
ADEDY accused Samaras of using the "coup-like" closure of ERT to pave the way for mass firings in the public sector.
"The policy of mass layoffs, the dismantling of public institutions responsible and the demolition of any notion of labor rights inaugurate a new undemocratic governance of the country," the union said.