Split between teachers and gov’t grows

Over 10,000 protesters marched in central Athens yesterday in support of teacher pay demands as rising tension between unions and the government could push back any end to the strike action. Students and parents as well as secondary and university teaching staff gathered at Syntagma Square to protest the government’s refusal to grant preschool and primary school teachers a 45 percent pay hike. A group of anarchists participating in the crowd threw stones at riot police, who used some tear gas. Hooded youths also attacked and tried to burn a stand belonging to a far-right candidate for mayor of Athens, injuring one man. There were no arrests. The public servants’ union group, ADEDY, had called a 24-hour strike yesterday while GSEE, the country’s largest umbrella union group, held a four-hour work stoppage. After an Inner Cabinet meeting yesterday, Education Minister Marietta Giannakou repeated that the government will not retreat on the decision that has been the center of a four-week strike by teachers. Her description of unionists adopting «fascist behavior» enraged worker groups that called on her to recall the comments or immediately resign. With Sunday’s municipal elections approaching, some conservative government officials are putting pressure on the Education and Finance ministries to find a compromise that may help minimize the political cost of the strike. One senior official suggested that the additional 105-euro allowance, which has already been agreed upon, can be paid in fewer payments rather than the six monthly installments announced. Meanwhile, PASOK has criticized the government for its handling of the strike but stopped short of saying that it would meet the pay demands if it was voted into power. «The government is taking advantage of the situation by turning parents and members of other workers groups against the teachers,» said PASOK spokesman Nikos Athanassakis. Sources said that strike action is likely to enter a fifth week.