Seamen pose new crash test for government

Protesting farmers maintained a strong but peaceful presence over the weekend at key road junctions while striking seamen met to decide whether to continue with rolling 48-hour walkouts.

Farmers, who have been pressing for tax breaks and other concessions despite the government’s insistence that the budget has no scope for exemptions, kept their tractors parked near critical junctions in Thessaly and Central Macedonia but stopped short of blocking roads. The largest gathering was at the Nikaia junction on the Athens-Thessaloniki national highway, where more than 1,200 tractors remained parked.

Government sources expressed concerns about the persistence of the farmers, who have been backed by the Communist Party (KKE) and by the main leftist opposition SYRIZA, but the general impression was that the strike front would not grow to the extent that it destabilizes the administration.

Meanwhile strike action by seamen appeared to be gathering momentum though it remained unclear whether unionists would launch a third 48-hour strike in a row on Monday morning.

KKE leader Aleka Papariga expressed solidarity with the seamen, who object to government plans to overhaul coastal shipping regulations for fear of job cuts. Noting that thousands of dockworkers face redundancy, Papariga accused the government of only being interested in “ships that bring revenue to large hotel chains.”

Government sources expressed the hope that the seamen’s action would fail to gather steam but did not rule out the possibility of authorities forcing staff back to work, as they did last month with striking metro employees, if rolling walkouts continue indefinitely.

There are fears that workers in other sectors will stage their own industrial action in the countdown to a general strike called by the two main labor unions for February 20.