Strikes bring Greece to its knees

Public sector workers stage wave of walkouts after government unveils spending cuts to meet EU targets

The Greek government's emergency efforts to revive the country's ailing economy met with angry protests in Athens yesterday, as customs officials and tax collectors went on the first of an expected rash of rowdy strikes.

The two-day protest comes after the government enacted a brutal reform package in response to a disastrous economic picture in the eurozone's weakest economy. The absence of the customs workers was already making itself felt yesterday, as lines of trucks formed at the country's borders unable to bring imports into the country except perishable goods and pharmaceuticals. Fears arose that a fuel shortage would soon result.

Public sector workers are unhappy at what they see as excessive cuts announced this week, and claim they break the new socialist administration's campaign pledges. "We have already made sacrifices and will accept no more cuts," said Argyris Sakellaropoulos, the union leader of Greece's customs officials.

The industrial action will be followed by a 24-hour strike scheduled by civil servants next Wednesday, capped by another day of mass walkouts called by Greece's biggest trade union on 24 February.

The Prime Minister George Papandreou's planned reforms, announced earlier this week in a desperate attempt to slash the 12.7 per cent deficit to the EU limit of 3 per cent by 2012, have barely been better received in world markets. The Athens stock exchange dropped 1.5 per cent in afternoon trading yesterday, while markets on both sides of the Atlantic, concerned at Greece's debt struggles and similar problems in Portugal and Spain, followed suit.

Mr Papandreou's statement, nationally televised in an attempt to allay growing public concern, prescribed a host of belt-tightening measures, including a civil service pay freeze, higher retirement ages, and cuts in special stipends that make up a large part of civil servants' income. It was the Prime Minister's second appeal to the country in less than a week as part of a new drive to persuade people to accept the "painful" measures and accept that the country cannot afford strikes and blockades.

The measures were received with guarded optimism by the European Commission after pressure was put on the government to bring the deficit into line with the EU limit. But fears remain that the untested government of Mr Papandreou may have trouble implementing its reforms amid a wave of labour unrest.

Greece's recession-hit economy has already been hit by unrest from farmers, who last month blocked key highways, railways and border crossing, demanding more subsidies and higher prices.

The previous conservative government, replaced in October, faced a barrage of wildcat strikes after trying to tighten pension rules and raise taxes, and many hoped the new regime might be able to achieve the necessary savings.

Concern that Greece and other European nations may struggle to contain their deficits has pushed the euro down more than 7 per cent since November. A month later, Greece suffered a triple downgrade of its sovereign debt, setting off speculations of bankruptcy.

Socialists have begun accusing the ruling party of breaching campaign pledges ahead of its landslide victory last October. "The adoption of these measures raises suspicion that the government could carry out additional upsets ... when it had categorically denied it would do so," one leftist daily said.

EU and Greek officials have ruled out bailout assistance but the International Monetary Fund has said it was ready to help Greece.

Voices
A Russian hunter at the Medved bear-hunting lodge in Siberia
Save the tigerWildlife charities turn to those who kill animals to help save them
News
Davis says: 'My career has been about filling a niche - there were fewer short actors and fewer roles – but now I'm being offered all kinds of things'
PeopleWarwick Davis on Ricky Gervais, Harry Potter and his perfect role
News
i100
Sport
Frank Lampard will pass Billy Wright and equal Bobby Charton’s caps tally of 106 caps against
sportFormer Chelsea midfielder in Etihad stopgap before New York contract
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
The first film introduced Daniel Radcliffe to our screens, pictured here as he prepares to board the train to Hogwarts for the first time.
booksHow reading Harry Potter helps children grow up to be gay-friendly
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Aladdin is performed at the Tony Awards in New York in June
theatreBrit producer Lythgoe makes kids' musical comedy a Los Angeles hit
Sport
Usain Bolt of Jamaica smiles and shakes hands with a competitor after Jamaica won their first heat in the men's 4x100m relay
sport
News
Chancellor George Osborne, along with the Prime Minister, have been 'complacently claiming the economy is now fixed', according to shadow Chancellor Ed Balls
i100... which is awkward, because he is their boss, after all
Life and Style
A small bag of the drug Ecstasy
Health
Life and Style
Floral-print swim shorts, £26, by Topman, topman.com; sunglasses, £215, by Paul Smith, mpaulsmith.co.uk
FashionBag yourself the perfect pair
News
news
News
Netherlands' goalkeeper Tim Krul fails to make a save from Costa Rica's midfielder Celso Borges during a penalty shoot-out in the quarter-final between Netherlands and Costa Rica during the 2014 FIFA World Cup
newsGoalkeepers suffer from 'gambler’s fallacy' during shoot-outs
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'
filmReview: A week late, Secret Cinema arrives as interactive screening goes Back to the Future
Extras
indybest
News
i100
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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

(Senior) IT Support Engineer - 1st-3rd Line Support

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful IT service provider that has bee...

Wind Farm Civil Design Engineer

£55000 - £65000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Principal Marine Mechanical Engineer

£60000 - £70000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Principle Geotechnical Engineer

£55000 - £65000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Day In a Page

Save the Tiger: Meet the hunters tasked with protecting Russia's rare Amur tiger

Hunters protect Russia's rare Amur tiger

In an unusual move, wildlife charities have enlisted those who kill animals to help save them. Oliver Poole travels to Siberia to investigate
Transfers: How has your club fared in summer sales?

How has your club fared in summer sales?

Who have bagged the bargain buys and who have landed the giant turkeys
Warwick Davis: The British actor on Ricky Gervais, how the Harry Potter set became his office, and why he'd like to play a spy

'I'm a realist; I know how hard this business is'

Warwick Davis on Ricky Gervais, Harry Potter and his perfect role
The best swim shorts for men: Bag yourself the perfect pair and make a splash this summer

The best swim shorts for men

Bag yourself the perfect pair and make a splash this summer
Has Ukip’s Glastonbury branch really been possessed by the devil?

Has Ukip’s Glastonbury branch really been possessed by the devil?

Meet the couple blamed for bringing Lucifer into local politics
Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

In grandfather's footsteps

5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

Martha Stewart has flying robot

The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

A tale of two presidents

George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

The dining car makes a comeback

Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

Gallery rage

How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

Eye on the prize

Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

Women's rugby

Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup