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
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Technical Author / Multimedia Writer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This recognized leader in providing software s...

Recruitment Genius: Clinical Lead / RGN

£40000 - £42000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: IT Sales Consultant

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT support company has a n...

Recruitment Genius: Works Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A works engineer is required in a progressive ...

Day In a Page

Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

Iran is opening up again to tourists

After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
10 best PS4 games

10 best PS4 games

Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent