Traffic ground to a halt in the city center and flights were canceled at Athens International Airport yesterday as tens of thousands of workers joined a strike to protest the government’s privatization plans and the rising cost of living. The capital suffered chronic congestion as a public transport strike led thousands of city-dwellers to rely on their cars, clogging up main roads and creating traffic jams stretching several kilometers. Metro services were suspended all day, forcing thousands of commuters to board crammed buses, trams and trolley buses whose services were only interrupted in the early morning and late at night. The protest also crippled rail transport, which ran a severely reduced service of one train per destination and hit the country’s ports, where ferries remained anchored. «Today was only the beginning, tomorrow all workers will be on the streets,» said Yiannis Panagopoulos, the head of the country’s umbrella labor union GSEE, which has called a nationwide general strike for October 21. «We demand they change their policies. They have to protect public property, stop destroying the social security system and respect our rights,» said Panagopoulos. In an effort to diffuse public discontent on the eve of yesterday’s strike, Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis announced a crackdown on profiteering as well as a raft of measures to protect consumers, including the creation of an agency to regulate price rises.