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Wednesday, October 5, 2011

GREECE REVOLT - Greeks Strike Against Job Cuts as Aid Delayed

Hundreds of thousands of Greeks are walking off their jobs at airports, schools, hospitals and even the Acropolis to protest Prime Minister George Papandreou’s 6.6 billion-euro ($8.7 billion) austerity plan, challenging a government seeking European bailout funds to stave off default.

Today’s 24-hour strike, the first this year that will shut the Athens International Airport for a full day, takes place after European Union ministers signaled they may renegotiate terms of Greece’s latest rescue, sending the nation’s stocks down the most in 17 months.

The country’s largest public-sector union, known as ADEDY and representing at least 400,000 state workers, called the walkout and a march on parliament to protest plans to put 30,000 public workers on reduced pay, raise property taxes and cut pensions and wages. The demonstration defies calls by the government to show unity in the struggle to avert a default.

“We are at the worst circumstances under the worst conditions,” Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos said at a news conference in Athens yesterday. “We are dependent on the aid and loans of our institutional partners. That is the situation of the country. And we must make superhuman efforts to win this wager of history.”

Rising Debt

The government is dependent on outside financing as the economy contracts and the unemployment rate stands at more than double Germany’s. The Greek state, which employs about 750,000, carries a debt load that will reach 356.5 billion euros in 2011, or the equivalent of 161.8 percent of gross domestic product, the highest in the EU and three times the ratio of Poland.

While strikes and protests are common in Greece, the timing of the latest confrontation may cause investors to take notice, said Antonio Garcia Pascual, the chief southern European economist at Barclays Capital in London.

“It’s important to understand the degree of participation in these strikes,” he said in a telephone interview yesterday. “If it’s a massive demonstration with really large numbers, then surely investors will take note of that.”

Airports Shut

Air traffic controllers and employees at the Hellenic Civil Aviation Authority will cease work for 24 hours today, the first all-day work stoppage for aviation workers this year. Aegean Airlines SA (AEGN) canceled all its flights and Olympic Air axed 89 flights, according to an e-mailed statement from both Athens- based carriers. Schools, archaeological sites and museums also are closed.

“We have workers who have had their wages cut by 40 percent and with the new measures it will surpass 50 percent,” ADEDY Chairman Costas Tsikrikas said by phone from Athens. “These measures, and all the measures that have been passed so far, are putting the heaviest weight on workers and pensioners, not on those who earn the most and have sent their money outside Greece to foreign banks.”

General Strike

The General Confederation of Labor, or GSEE, the country’s largest private sector union that represents workers at state- run companies and utilities, plan to participate in the walkout and called a general strike for Oct. 19.

Greece’s average unemployment rate is expected to climb to 16.4 percent next year from 15.2 percent in 2011, according to ministry forecasts. Germany’s jobless rate was 6.9 percent in September. The economy contracted 4.5 percent in 2010 and will shrink 5.5 percent this year, Finance Ministry forecasts show.

“We have taken decisions as a government and as a parliament but as a society we have not taken a clear decision,” Venizelos said yesterday. “Unfortunately our society, our country, is hostage to great contradictions.”

Continue reading - Bloomberg - Greeks Strike Against Job Cuts as Aid Delayed

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