Greeks strike over pension reform as discontent over cuts swells

Karolina Tagaris

TAGS: Strike, Politics, Economy

Striking Greek workers will take to the streets on Thursday, disrupting transport, shutting schools and keeping ships docked at port in the second major protest against planned pension cuts in three weeks.

The 24-hour walkout by Greece's two biggest unions, representing about 2.5 million workers and pensioners, is a test of the leftist-led government's resolve to implement unpopular austerity measures in the face of growing resistance at home.

Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras' government majority has shrunk to three seats as it pushes through reforms agreed with its foreign creditors in July, forcing the prime minister to seek opposition backing for future legislation.

But opposition parties have so far refused to give their support to tough pension reforms that Greece has promised to submit by December under its EU and IMF bailout.

Greeks, too, have responded angrily to the latest measures, exasperated after years of economic crisis which has shrunk their incomes, shut businesses and pushed up unemployment.

"Enough is enough. We can't take it anymore," private sector union GSEE said in a statement announcing the strike.

Demonstrations by municipality workers, communist-affiliated trade unions, seamen and employees at public offices are expected to converge around noon (1000 GMT) on the main Syntagma square outside parliament, the focal point of anti-austerity anger.

The reforms, part of the Greece's third bailout worth up to 86 billion euros ($91.05 billion) in loans, are aimed at making a fragmented, costly and ailing pension system more viable.

So far, the government has raised the retirement age, increased health care contributions and scrapped most early retirement benefits to get part of the funds promised by its European lenders.

Athens must also merge several pension funds into one and cutting back supplementary pensions.

In a bid to secure his own party's backing for the next raft of measures, Tsipras sought to reassure his leftist SYRIZA lawmakers this week, saying the government would do its best to avoid further reductions to pensions.