Trade unions gather in big one-day show of protest

Trade unionists in both the public and private sectors yesterday staged a one-day general strike and held a massive rally in Athens, even momentarily occupying the Finance Ministry, as they pressed their demands for changes to the government’s proposed social security reforms. The nationwide strike paralyzed the country as the capital’s urban transport system ground to a halt, ships remained tied to the harbor and only a restricted number of planes took off. IKA doctors also held their own strike yesterday, demanding higher wages and permanent status for colleagues currently working on contract. The highlight of yesterday’s mass protest was a large rally in Athens, with estimates of the number of participants varying from 7,000 to 10,000. Alekos Kalivis, vice president of the umbrella trade union body GSEE, told Kathimerini English Edition that the smaller turnout compared with last year’s rally was due in part to the scorching sun and the divisions within the organization itself over the government’s proposals. While GSEE head Christos Polyzogopoulos and the faction affiliated with PASOK have thrown their support behind the government, groups allied with opposition parties have rejected the reforms, calling instead for more state funding. The strike was held to coincide with yesterday’s parliamentary discussion of the government’s controversial bill on social security reform. The mass protests nothwithstanding, the government yesterday continued to stand firm on its proposals. «The government is determined to proceed with social security reforms to bring about a viable and fair system,» government spokesman Christos Protopappas said. Critics, however, said the government is essentially passing on the social security problem to future generations. IKA’s unfunded liabilities are estimated at 300 percent of gross domestic product and its current deficit at 4.8 percent of GDP. The State’s proposals could boomerang by raising the actuarial deficit rather than reducing it as intended. They could also jeopardize its debt-reduction plans and jack up its borrowing costs. «This is the biggest giveaway in Greece’s postwar history,» said Miranda Xafa, economist at Schroder Salomon Smith Barney. With the government watering down its proposals along the way, it stands in danger of diverting from its dual objectives of securing adequate funding for IKA and equalizing benefits between private and public sector employees. Her harshest criticism, however, was reserved for public-sector trade unions, who «are fighting to maintain their current high benefits, which they will pretty much keep for the next decade.» Kalivis said the unions plan to encircle Parliament tomorrow evening as discussion of the reform proposals winds up.

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