Strike In Greece Against Austerity Measures Brings Country To Halt — Sporadic Clashes Reported, But Private Sector Indifferent

The first general strike in Greece against austerity measures, under Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, may not have been a huge success, despite managing to being the country to a standstill. While sporadic clashes between the youth and the police disrupted peace, the private sector was surprisingly indifferent.

Clashes between a few youth groups and police marred the otherwise peaceful general strike in Greece. The clashes broke out in central Athens during the first general strike since the country’s left-led government initially came to power this year. Riot police managed to quickly dissipate the mob using tear gas, but the scenes were eerily reminiscent of the clashes that took place in 2012 over the debt crises that had then engulfed the nation. Though majority of civil servants participated in the general strike, the private sector chose to refrain from shirking work, reported La Prensa.

ADEDY and GSEE, Greece’s biggest unions, who had called for the strike, said workers were protesting “the austerity policies of impoverishment and deficiency the government follows.”

Though the exact number of people participating in the strike remains unclear, reports indicates as many as 25,000 people had participated in three separate demonstrations in central Athens. Of the three groups, 15,000 people belonged to a Communist-backed union. Around 4,000 participated in a labor union demonstration, while another 5,000 joined in a protest organized by anti-establishment and anarchist groups, reported Inside Halton. In a separate protest march, 10,000 people quietly rallied on, without incident, through the country’s second largest city of Thessaloniki.

Each of the group was protesting a new round of bailout-related tax hikes and spending cuts, which are expected to pinch the working class the most. It is believed some youth groups slipped away when the demonstrators were passing outside parliament, reported the Guardian. Shouting slogans against the government, the youth group hurled Molotov cocktails, without any provocation, towards the riot control police that had been deployed outside the parliament. The police swiftly responded with launching tear gas and stun grenades.

The clashes disrupted the peaceful march and caused the crowds to disperse. The chaos subdued after about an hour, allowing the demonstrators to regroup and continue. Surprisingly, peace returned a lot sooner as compared to the more violent and extensive clashes which have broken out in the past. General strikes and other protests in Athens are a relatively common occurrence, and so are clashes between the demonstrators and the riot police.

The 24-hour general strike, however, caused large-scale inconvenience to the general public, as it led to closure of many essential public services. While Athens metro and suburban railway remained shut, bus and trolley routes were severely reduced. With ferries remaining docked at ports, connection between the mainland and islands was virtually cutoff. Incidentally, even the domestic airport had to cancel several flights. The strike had closed museums and state schools. However, the infirm and elderly were greatly affected, as pharmacies remained shut.

Meanwhile, state hospitals were barely functioning with the help of emergency staff. The strike was so huge, it is believed even journalists participated, which guaranteed the only news on air was about the strike. The strike also shuttered the press, ensuring people won’t have their morning papers tomorrow.

Despite the disruptions, the ruling government remained sympathetic towards those striking work. In fact, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’ left-wing Syriza called for mass participation in the walkout to protest “the neoliberal policies and the blackmail from financial and political centres within and outside Greece,” reported ABC News.

Workers have been quite unhappy about the austerity measures that have been imposed as part of Greece’s third bailout. As part of a three-year deal, Greece is expected to receive up to 86 billion Euros ($92 billion) in rescue loans from its partner countries in the 19-country Eurozone. In exchange, Greece will have to enact regulations that will enforce a slew of spending cuts and tax hikes. The strikes are just the beginning, as the spending cuts are expected to affect the working class as well as the pensioners.

[Photo by Milos Bicanski / Getty Images]

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