NEWS

Mood sinks over strike

Striking sailors clashed with riot police in the ports of Piraeus and Patras yesterday as they ignored government orders to return to work, opting instead to carry on their industrial action for an eighth day today. The clashes occurred as unionists from other sectors joined sailors at the ports to prevent trucks from boarding ferries, which the seamen are keeping firmly docked. Only a few ships from Crete – laden with perishable goods from the island – were allowed to sail to Piraeus as the strikers sought to appease local farmers. The Panhellenic Seamen’s Federation (PNO) said yesterday that it would limit its strike, which began last Thursday, to Patras and Piraeus. But this will still have a huge impact on Greece’s sea transport as the vast majority of ferries, carrying goods and passengers, pass through the two ports. In an early morning decision, the government tried to find a way around the strike, which has left many islands desperately short of supplies. The Merchant Marine Ministry said it would use the rarely applied measure of civil mobilization, effectively making the sailors conscripts and subject to military orders. «The government has to restore the damage and confusion caused by the prolonged strike and intransigence of PNO,» said government spokesman Theodoros Roussopoulos. «The government has to protect the rights of all Greek citizens in a legal and constitutional manner.» The previous PASOK government turned to the same measure in 2002 in its efforts to overcome a strike by sailors. Unionists appeared unaffected by the government’s tactics since it was unclear how the measure would be enforced. «If they want to abolish democracy and the right to strike then they should come and arrest us,» said Yiannis Manousoyiannakis, the head of a ship mechanics’ union. PNO is demanding better unemployment and pension benefits, as well as lower taxes for its members, but the government has refused to meet its demands. «The government has exhausted all angles of discussion with PNO,» said Merchant Marine Minister Manolis Kefaloyiannis. He added that efforts to find a solution would continue but criticized the sailors for not agreeing to suspend their strike during negotiations. The mayor of the Cycladic island of Sifnos told Kathimerini that products at supermarkets had begun running out as only two ships had docked at the island during the last 17 days.