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May Day Rallies in Greece Halt Ferries, Disrupt Flights (Pics & Vids)

ATHENS — Thousands of striking workers and other protesters blocked traffic in Athens and cities across Greece Thursday to mark rescheduled May Day celebrations and rally against planned labor reforms accelerated by the pandemic.

The strikes and protests also disrupted flights and public transport, and halted many ferry services to the islands.

With the central slogan "No to Medieval working conditions, hands off the 8-hour day," labour unions have gathered at Klafthmonos Square and are heading to Syntagma square.

Meanwhile, metro lines 1, 2 and 3, Athens trolleys and the trams will not operate throughout the day, due to a 24-hour strike declared by their labour unions.

Their employees appear determined to resist the government's plans for "a return to mediaeval working conditions" and say that they will fight to defend the public and social character of public transport. Athens buses, however, will operate normally.

Ships will stay docked in all the country's ports on May 6, the Panhellenic Seamen's Federation (PNO) announced. The seamen's union also called for protection of collective labour agreements and current working hours in the sector, among other issues.

May Day events were rescheduled this year due to Orthodox Easter falling on May 2. Unions and left-wing opposition parties strongly oppose plans by the center-right government to shake up work regulations, allowing employers to vary daily working hours within a 40-hour week.

The government says the proposed reforms reflect the changing nature of work, also seen during lockdowns for the pandemic, while unions argue that the changes will further undermine working rights and overtime pay.

Health care workers' unions are also pressing the government to hire more nurses and doctors on full-time contracts, as well as to provide a risk bonus for those working with COVID-19 patients.

The rallies were generally peaceful, but a small group of violent protesters clashed with police briefly in central Athens. 

The mass turnout for Thursday's strike was a message that this will be a major battle to defend the rights of workers and the popular majority to life and dignity, main opposition SYRIZA-Progressive Alliance leader Alexis Tsipras stated on Thursday at the rally for Labour Day. "This is a battle we will fight to the end," he added.

"Whereas, throughout the world, the pandemic makes governments realise that people's needs, human life, are above profits, the Mitsotakis government in Greece is moving in precisely the opposite direction and attempting to take advantage of the pandemic to impose the most anti-popular and reactiοnary measures ever introduced by any Greek government against the working people, the abolition of the eight-hour working day. It takes us back to very very old times," Tsipras said.

He added that the eight-hour day has been established through the struggles of the labour movement in Chicago since 1886, when the celebration of Labour Day was established. "Perhaps they should reconsider," he concluded.

"Αfter a decade of continuous anti-labour measures imposed by New Democracy, PASOK and SYRIZA, the current governent is coming to deal a devastating blow to all worker rights. We are all of us here today, united, because we are fighting so that all anti-labour laws are abolished," stated Communist Party of Greece General Secretary Dimitris Koutsoumbas on Thursday, at the rally held in Syntagma square in central Athens to celebrate Labour Day.

"We reject the 10-hour working day and this monstrous draft law should not be tabled in parliament. We defend union action and the freedom of all workers," Koutsoumbas concluded.

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