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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Détermination grecque contre un système malade

by Fabien Perrier

The Greeks Are Up in Arms Against an "Ailing System"

Translated Sunday 2 May 2010, by Isabelle Métral and reviewed by Henry Crapo

No one day goes by without a demonstration being staged in the streets of Athens. Another general strike on May 5th is probable.

From our special correspondent in Athens

“Those that robbed us must pay!” This sentence is on the lips of all salaried precarious workers these days, distraught as they are at having to pay the full price for the financial crisis that has hit their country. More than two thousand five hundred transport workers made this their slogan and chanted it yesterday, together with “transport is a public service that belongs to the people”. They demonstrated in the morning against the austerity plan and the cuts imposed upon them.

“I get 1,490 euro a month,” explains Nicolas Fragoulis, a 35-year-old bus driver with three children. “How am I supposed to cope?”, he asks. “I must pay 900 euro a month for my lodging, my children’s schooling, and food. My wife gets only 320 euro for four hours a day!” And yet, puts in Alexandros Comitis, an OASA (public transport) union delegate, “we have already lost 10% of our pay, and 30% of our Christmas, Easter and vacation bonuses.” Such are the daily straits with which many Greek salaried workers are confronted.

It was essential to Alexandros Comitis to be out on the streets, to march with all the various unions, to put up a united front. “We are going through a crucial moment. The unions are going to resist at all political and institutional levels.” He himself leans to the Dake, the right-wing union tendency. Today, division is out of the question: the main objective is to put up a united front against the measures that deteriorate the workers’ living conditions. Vasilis Dimitropoulos, a member of Paske (Pasok’s union branch) says about the same thing: “We’re out in the street because the government wants to cut our wages. They are going to attack our system of social security, increase the age of retirement, and lower our pensions." Pensions are what worried them particularly. Last Monday the unions boycotted a meeting with the Labour minister, being aware that the draft for reforming social security that was about to be presented to them was exceedingly dangerous, to judge by the first information that had filtered through. “In two years’ time it will be too late. We must all fight together against it now,” says Zogas Nektarios, also a bus driver, to justify his presence among the demonstrators. “What can I expect from this ailing system,” he explains, being aware of what is at stake in this struggle, including for his two four-year-old and seven-year-old children.

Yesterday in Pireaus, all seamen were still blocking the harbour. In the late evening, the territorial public servants and employees answered the public sector union Adedy’s call and marched with the same slogan: down with austerity and social regression, the destruction of public services, the degradation of living conditions. Even the right-wing daily Apogevmatini spread across its front page that "The IMF demands the closing down of several hospitals."

As to the Greek Bank’s president he warned that "the public deficit must decrease by 5% (instead of the 4% initially recommended) and that unemployment is going to increase because of the decline of production. 67,4% of those polled think that a social explosion is going to take place in Greece. So much so that the influent labour confederation GSEE (for workers in the private sector) led by Yannis Panogopoulos (Pasok), has decided to call for a general strike on May 5th. It had until now seemed to keep its foot on the brake pedal. But the work force has been pressing hard, and is pressing harder by the day.

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