Athens subway workers end strike
Published 25/01/2013 | 06:55
Striking subway workers in Athens have returned to work, hours after the Greek government used riot police to clear strikers from a train depot, ending a bitter stand-off over new austerity measures.
The nine-day strike - which knocked out a system serving more than a million people a day - was the biggest labour unrest Greece's uneasy, conservative-led governing coalition faced since taking over last June.
It was only overcome after authorities resorted to issuing a rare civil mobilisation order to workers who had defied a court ruling that their strike was illegal. The order meant that staff refusing to return to work risked dismissal, arrest and jail time.
Though the subway trains started running again, the city of some four million still lacked bus and trolley bus services, as unions launched rolling strikes in sympathy with their colleagues. "I am pleased that the urban rail workers restarted the network, and passengers are even more pleased," Transport Minister Costis Hadzidakis said.
Metro staff have been outraged by plans to scrap their existing contracts as part of a broader public sector pay reform, with their union saying workers faced a roughly 25% salary loss.
Hammered by a financial crisis since late 2009, Greece has imposed repeated rounds of public sector pay and pension cuts in return for billions of euros in international rescue loans. The measures have led to a deep recession, now in its sixth year, and record-high unemployment of more than 26%.
In today's pre-dawn raid at the western Athens depot, police broke through the gates and removed dozens of strikers, while rows of riot police blocked off surrounding roads to keep away hundreds of strike supporters. No violence was reported, with the workers not putting up resistance. In the afternoon, dozens of strikers burned their mobilisation papers outside a metro station.
The government's order led to a swift backlash, with all other public transport workers declaring immediate strikes that forced Athenians to walk or take taxis through thunderstorms yesterday and today. Traffic slowed to a crawl, and commutes took up to three times as long as normal.
Government spokesman Simos Kedikoglou insisted the new austerity measures must be implemented. "We are a society, an economy, at a very difficult time," he said. "People can't ask for exceptions."
Unions and the radical left main opposition Syriza party accused the government of dictatorial tactics. "It's a new coup against this country's constitution to mobilise working people on strike on the subway with military-style methods," Syriza MP Dimitris Stratoulis said.