Greeks strike over spending cuts before crucial vote

Tue Nov 6, 2012 5:41am EST
 
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By Karolina Tagaris

ATHENS (Reuters) - Hundreds of thousands of Greeks began a crippling 48-hour strike on Tuesday to protest against a new round of wage and pension cuts that parliament is expected to approve narrowly a day later.

Wednesday's vote is the biggest test yet for the government of Prime Minister Antonis Samaras, which needs victory to secure aid from foreign lenders but has failed to convince its smallest coalition partner and the public to back the reforms.

The strike, called by Greece's two biggest labor unions representing half the four million-strong workforce, brought public transport to a virtual standstill and shuttered schools, banks and local government offices.

It was the third major walkout in two months against the package of public spending cuts and reforms making it easier to hire and fire workers.

Successions of strikes since Greece fell into crisis in 2009 have so far failed to prevent parliament approving the cuts demanded by the international lenders which have inflicted misery on the country and kept the economy in a deep recession.

The government has implored Greeks to endure the cuts to avoid national bankruptcy and promised this will be the last round of pain. Greeks, who have seen many such promises broken before, have responded with a mix of resignation at their fate and anger at their political leaders.

"They should go to hell and beyond," said Anais Metaxopoulou, a 65-year-old pensioner. "They should ask me how I feel when I have to go to church to beg for food. I wouldn't hurt a fly but I would happily behead one of them."

Parliamentary approval for the package - which includes slashing pensions by as much as a quarter and scrapping holiday bonuses - to ensure Greece's European Union and International Monetary Fund lenders release more than 31 billion euros ($40 billion) of aid, much of it aimed at shoring up banks.   Continued...

A passenger looks at an announcement board inside the Athens Eleftherios Venizelos airport a few hours before a work stoppage by flight controllers begins in Athens November 6, 2012. Greek workers begin a 48-hour strike on Tuesday to protest against a new round of austerity cuts that unions say will devastate the poor and drive a failing economy to collapse. REUTERS/John Kolesidis