Demonstrators: 'This violence is not about rage, it's about desperation'

Patrick Cockburn sees Greece's middle classes out in force on the streets of Athens as MPs vote on new austerity measures

Tens of thousands of demonstrators besieged the Greek parliament for a second day yesterday as MPs prepared to vote for pay cuts, tax increases, job losses and other changes demanded by international creditors in return for further loans to avert bankruptcy.

Eddies of tear gas drifted into streets around Syntagma Square in front of parliament where youths in hoods fought riot police and other demonstrators.

But the most notable feature of the largely peaceful rallies this week is that they are large and include large numbers of middle class professionals such as doctors, teachers and pharmacists as well manual workers like garbage collectors and dock workers.

"The reason you see this determination on the part of the demonstrators is the result not of rage but desperation," said Simos Kedikoglou, an MP from the opposition New Democracy party. "People simply can't make ends meet. We are talking about the death of the middle class in Greece."

This sense of desperation was confirmed by Elleni Kalouri, a demonstrator.

She is a 35-year-old school teacher specialising in mathematics and had seen her salary "cut from €1,200 a month to €900 and I can no longer afford to pay the rent on my apartment so I am staying with a friend. We are becoming poor and it is not fair."

Another demonstrator, wearing a white face mask against tear gas, was Vassilis Stathousis, the president of the rail workers union, who said he expected the bill to be passed by parliament though onlybarely. He said "privatisations are expected as the IMF traditionally takes all national property." The little-used but costly railway system is mentioned frequently as a prime candidate to be broken up and sold off.

The changes on which parliament is to vote envisage a new pay system for 700,000 civil servants, further cuts in public sector wages, cuts in pensions and the suspension of wage bargaining.

In addition, the tax free threshold is to be lowered from €8,000 to €5,000, and 30,000 public sector workers to be suspended will see their wages cut by 60 per cent and face lay-offs.

"You have to approve the law, with all its clauses," Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos told parliament. "This is not a game. If anybody thinks they can test how much wiggle-room we've have, they're mistaken."

There were clashes at the end of the rallies yesterday, which were coordinated with a 48-hour general strike. The skirmishing in front of parliament was largely initiated by young men in black who are masked and claim to be anarchists, but protest leaders claim they are tolerated by the riot police in the belief that violence will discredit the demonstrations as a whole. Some 16 people were injured yesterday and one person died from a heart attack.

After the austerity package is implemented, public service workers will have seen their average income cut by 40percent over two years. Highly educated young Greeks see no prospects at home and small businesses are collapsing because of higher taxes and a steep fall in demand. Although the ruling Pasok party should be able to force through the new law because it has 154 out of 300 seats in the parliament, there are increasing demands for new elections.

Mr Kedikoglou said the government was enfeebled by its unpopularity - support for Pasok has fallen to 15 per cent - and its lack of legitimacy.

"The government is in a state of shock and does not know what to do except to agree to everything the [EU-IMF] Troika asks," he says. "It has no democratic legitimacy because it won the election in 2009 saying there was enough money for everybody."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Life and Style
Divers at Bouldnor Cliff underwater site in the Solent off the Isle of Wight, where the silt sample containing the einkorn DNA was found
life
Life and Style
A monstrous idea? Body transplants might no longer be science fiction
Science An Italian neurosurgeon believes so - and it's not quite as implausible as it sounds, says Steve Connor
Sport
Demba Ba (right) celebrates after Besiktas win on penalties
footballThere was no happy return to the Ataturk Stadium, where the Reds famously won Champions League
Arts and Entertainment
Natural beauty: Aidan Turner stars in the new series of Poldark
arts + ents
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
News
Mia Freedman, editorial director of the Mamamia website, reads out a tweet she was sent.
arts + ents
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
The write stuff: masters of story-telling James Joyce, left, and Thomas Hardy
arts + ents...begging to differ, John Walsh can't even begin to number the ways
Sport
Jose Mourinho on Sky Sports
footballEXCLUSIVE COLUMN Paul Scholes: It was not a leg-breaking tackle, as the Chelsea manager had claimed
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Ventilation Cleaning Operative

£15600 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Bookkeeper

£23000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This small, friendly, proactive...

Recruitment Genius: Photographic Event Crew

£14500 - £22800 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developers - .NET / ASP.NET / WebAPI / JavaScript

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Software Developer is required to join a lea...

Day In a Page

HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower