Forced end to truck strike

Gas stations around the country are due to be refueled today after the government took the rare decision to order the civil mobilization of striking truck drivers, whose protest has led to widespread gasoline shortages. Following the collapse of talks between the government and representatives of the truckers, Prime Minister George Papandreou signed the order that forces the drivers to return to work after three days of strike action. The premier’s instructions also allow the transport and finance ministers to «take any other measures necessary to protect public goods that may be at risk from the disruption to the country’s normal social and economic life.» Although a rare measure, civil mobilization, which effectively makes the drivers members of the armed forces and therefore subject to orders, has been called on in the past by Greek governments. Truckers were forced back to work in 1983 after a lengthy strike, Olympic Airlines staff had to resume their duties after a similar order in 1987 and both PASOK and New Democracy governments used civil mobilization to end strikes by seamen during the previous decade. There had been hopes that the striking drivers might be able to find some grounds for compromise during a meeting yesterday with Transport Ministry officials but the two sides are too far apart. The truckers are unhappy about plans to liberalize their sector, which is limited to just 35,000 people due to the fact that operating licenses have not been issued for some 25 years. The government, under pressure from the European Union and the International Monetary Fund to carry out structural reforms that include opening up closed professions, has said it is not willing to back down. It has, however, indicated that it may offer the drivers some tax breaks. «No special interest group has the right to hold Greek society hostage,» said Finance Minister Giorgos Papaconstantinou. «No one has the right to paralyze this country. No one.» Gas station owners expect to receive fuel deliveries today and it is thought that most will be in a position to serve customers as usual by tonight.

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