Strikes test government resolve

The government on Friday continued to show restraint vis-a-vis protesting farmers, who gathered at road junctions to push their demands for tax breaks, while striking seamen upped the ante, calling a fresh 48-hour walkout which will paralyze coastal shipping over the weekend.

Prime Minister Antonis Samaras held a second meeting in as many days with Agricultural Minister Athanasios Tsaftaris and other key ministers to discuss the persistence of thousands of farmers who have gathered at key road junctions in central Greece, threatening to disrupt traffic unless their demands for concessions are considered.

Government officials are said to have been reassured by the fact that the farmers’ blockades have not swollen alarmingly as in the past, despite strong support from the Communist Party (KKE) and, to a lesser extent, by the main leftist opposition, SYRIZA. Officials insist that there is no scope in the budget for concessions for the farmers – who want a series of tax breaks and lower electricity rates – but suggest that unionists might be appeased by pledges for improvements once the country’s fiscal situation improves.

It is unclear if such promises will win round the farmers who, though less militant than during previous strikes, are attracting support on various levels. Apart from the backing of political parties, farmers gathering at the Nikaia junction on the crucial Athens-Thessaloniki national highway have secured the support of metro workers who returned to work at the end of last week after a nine-day strike led the government to issue a civil mobilization order. Dozens of metro workers turned up at the Nikaia junction on Friday wearing T-shirts stamped with the word “Mobilized.”

The government now faces a new headache with striking seamen who, on the back of a 48-hour strike, on Friday called a fresh two-day walkout, canceling ferry trips over the weekend. Unionists decided to extend their action after Merchant Marine Minister Costis Mousouroulis said he was unable to revoke draft legislation foreseeing the overhaul of the shipping sector.

Action from other sectors is expected in the countdown to a general strike that the country’s two main labor unions have called for February 20. Doctors walked off the job on Friday to protest cutbacks in their sector.

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