By NICHOLAS PAPHITIS
ATHENS, Greece (AP) – Greek unions on Friday threatened further strikes next week, a day after parliament approved new harsh cutbacks to secure international loans despite protests and riots that left one man dead and nearly 200 injured.
The new austerity measures include further pension and state salary cuts, civil service staff cuts, a reduction in the tax-free threshold and a watering-down of workers’ collective bargaining rights. Their approval by the governing Socialist majority was expected to pave the way for a vital euro8 billion ($11 billion) payout from international creditors within weeks so Greece can stay solvent.
Ilias Iliopoulos, secretary-general of the Adedy civil servant union, insisted the new law “will not be implemented,” and accused the Socialists of turning a blind eye to the toll these measures will take on workers.
“This government has ignored the popular uprising by approving this terrible law,” Iliopoulos told The Associated Press. “Our answer is: get out as fast as you can, there is no place for you in Greece any longer.”
“We are planning new strikes next week,” he added.
Greece’s main private sector union, GSEE, was also planning new strikes.
“We plan long-running opposition to ensure that the crippling cutbacks imposed by our loan-shark creditors are not enforced,” said GSEE board member Stathis Anestis.
More than 150,000 people took to the streets of Athens on Wednesday and Thursday during a two-day strike against the cutbacks, which follow 20 months of deeply resented austerity measures. Police arrested about 20 people following extensive rioting on both days.
But Thursday’s vote further weakened Prime Minister George Papandreou’s government, after a former labor minister who objected to reducing the bargaining rights was expelled from the party. The Socialists now control 153 of parliament’s 300 seats, down from 160 after their landslide election victory two years ago.
Greece now heads into a series of tough negotiations in Brussels involving the 17 finance ministers of the eurozone and European leaders. The meetings kick off later Friday, when the eurozone finance ministers gather, with the finance ministers of the full 27-nation European Union in talks on Saturday, and the EU heads of state and government on Sunday.
Greece has avoid bankruptcy only with an euro110 billion ($152 billion) bailout loan from its eurozone partners and the International Monetary Fund since May of last year. Creditors worried about the country missing budget targets had demanded that Athens pass extra austerity measures before its gets the next payout – without which Greece says it will run out of money in mid-November.
But the new cutbacks have caused deep anger in a country struggling in a third year of recession and record unemployment, which reached 16.5 percent in July.
“These last few years, lawmakers have been voting against the will of the people,” said a civil engineer who only gave his first name, Yorgos. “(Democracy) has been annulled.”
European officials have already admitted that a second bailout for Greece, agreed to in July, is not enough to prevent the country from bankruptcy, and this discussions this weekend will focus on ways to increase support for Greece.
Ferries were confined to port for a fifth straight day Friday in a strike that is already causing shortages in the country’s islands. Municipal employees, state nurses and prison guards also walked off the job and mounds of rotting rubbish – uncollected for nearly three weeks – piled up in Athens.
Greek unions held a small march Friday in central Athens to protest the death of a 53-year-old construction worker who suffered a heart attack after attending Thursday’s rally, which saw savage clashes between union protesters and anarchists armed with firebombs and stones.
The fighting raised the possibility of a vendetta between the two groups. Early Friday, three Communist party offices were firebombed in the northern city of Thessaloniki.