New standoff looms between government and unions

The Athens metro, electric railway and tram were running as normal on Saturday after lengthy protest action in the previous two weeks, but despite government sources suggesting that the decision to take on labor unions had paid off, the possibility of a new impasse loomed.

Some 2,500 workers on the capital’s fixed-track modes of public transport returned to their regular shifts on Saturday after being issued with civil mobilization orders late Thursday and early Friday but bus and trolley bus employees were on strike. Their unions called rolling 24-hour strikes until Tuesday in support of the protesting metro workers. An appeal by management against the action was rejected by an Athens court.

Intercity trains were also sidelined due to a strike that will continue to Monday.

Public transit unionists met on Saturday to discuss possible further action. Antonis Stamatopoulos, who led the metro workers’ strike, appeared determined to continue with the protest over wage cuts. “We will force them to withdraw the civil mobilization,” he said. “My colleagues were forced to return to work like slaves, with chains around their legs. They are not going to make me go back as well.”

The government, though, appeared content that its decision to break up the metro strike after nine days had paid dividends.

“We are satisfied that the trains are in circulation again,” said Development Minister Costis Hatzidakis. “Citizens are even more satisfied.”

Government sources said that the outcome of its decision to force the employees back to work would serve as an example to follow in similar standoffs in the future. It is also seen by the government as confirmation that it should adopt a tough line in its dealings with opposition parties, SYRIZA in particular.

Two new opinion polls published over the weekend gave New Democracy a narrow lead over SYRIZA. An MRB survey for the Real News weekly put the conservatives on 23.1 percent against 22 percent for the leftists. An Alco poll for the Proto Thema weekly also put ND first with 24.9 percent and SYRIZA second on 23.4 percent.