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Squeezed by Soaring Inflation, Greek Workers Strike for Higher Wages

ATHENS – Greek workers struggling with bounding inflation and high taxes on food – combined with astronomical electric bills being subsidized by the state, went on a 24-hour general strike Nov. 9 to demand higher pay.

There were work stoppages in almost every public sector, interrupting public transport and taxi services as well as ferries as tourists were still pouring in during the waning COVID-19 pandemic.

Flight traffic controllers had been due to participate in the strike with a six-hour work stoppage but had to reverse that decision after a court deemed their participation illegal but airlines had already canceled dozens of flights.

It was the second nationwide strike this year called by public and private unions representing more than 2.5 million employees, with plans to demonstrate outside Parliament, no indication whether the New Democracy government was listening.

Ferries were docked at ports and work stoppages by bus, train and metro staff were expected to cause travel chaos in the capital and some flights were grounded as air traffic controllers planned to join the walkout for six hours, said Al Jazeera.

The strike came as growth is expected to surpass 6 percent this year during the waning COVID-19 pandemic but the government said pumping more than 9 billion euros ($9.04 billion) into paying 90 percent of household electric bills meant it couldn’t cut a 24 percent Value Added Tax (VAT) on food.

Inflation is at 12 percent, among the highest in the 19 countries in the Eurozone who use the euro and the cost of food is so high the government pushed supermarkets to create a “food basket” holding down prices on 50 essential items for households, many moving to generic brands.

“Workers … are battling against the inflation suffocating Greek households, the jungle-like conditions in the labour market, against the burdens they have been carrying on their backs for years,” said the General Confederation of Greek Workers (GSEE), the main private sector union, the news agency reported.

The GSEE said it was “imperative” for the government to take measures to tackle inflation as the high costs of energy and basic goods were eating into people’s disposable income.

GSEE and the public sector Civil Servants’ Confederation (ADEDY) want an increase in the 713 euro ($716) monthly minimum wage already lifted by the government, and unions want restoration of the collective bargaining law.

Facing a re-election battle in mid-2023, the Conservative government said it would raise pensions for the first time in 12 years, beneficiaries stifled by austerity measures as part of three international bailouts of 326 billion euros

($327.44 billion) that ended in August, 2018.

Passengers arriving at Athens’ international airport found themselves with few options to reach the city as neither buses, regular taxis nor the subway nor the suburban railway were running.

Crowds gathered at car rental agencies at the airport, while others tried to leave on inter-city buses which were the only form of public transport running, leaving tourists frustrated with few choices.

State-run schools were shut, while public hospitals were running with reduced staff and no news bulletins were running on private or state-run media as local journalists joined the strike.

“Workers along with unions are fighting against increased prices that are drowning Greek households,” said GSEE, a confederation of private sector trade unions, citing price hikes for energy and basic goods.

 

(Material from the Associated Press was used in this report)

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