General strike over prices and low wages shuts down services across Greece

On Wednesday, Greek workers walked off the job in a 24-hour general strike over what they call a ‘worsening crisis’ of rising prices and falling incomes, largely shutting down transport and disrupting public schools and hospitals.

The country’s two largest unions – representing around 2.5 million public and private sector workers – called for a general strike which was expected to culminate in protests in central Athens and other major cities.

The strike left ferries to and from the Greek islands stranded in the port and left Athens without a metro, tram, streetcar or commuter train, while buses were to run for 12 hours from 9am.

Public hospitals were treating only emergency cases as healthcare workers joined the strike, demanding pay rises and action to tackle rising prices.

More than 10,000 people marched through central Athens in two protests, and around 9,000 protesters staged marches in Greece’s second-largest city, Thessaloniki, in the north.

Greece emerged from a decade of financial woes in 2018, only for the coronavirus pandemic to halt global travel two years later, hurting its vital tourism industry.

Today, soaring prices for energy and some supermarket products like flour, exacerbated by sanctions against Russia since its February invasion of Ukraine, have hit workers’ pockets even harder.

“For 14 years, workers have borne the burden of a deep crisis that has affected everyone’s income and life,” said the General Confederation of Greek Trade Unions, known by its acronym GSEE, referring to the financial crisis. Greece that began in late 2009 and left the country dependent on international bailouts for a decade.

“Over the years, the crisis continues to worsen, the burdens remain, our rights are reduced. We strike and call on the government to take action here and now.

Annual consumer inflation in Greece hit a 25-year high of 7.2% in February due to rising energy, housing and transport costs.

The government has spent about 3.7 billion euros ($4 billion) since September to ease the burden of soaring energy and fuel costs for farmers, households and businesses.

For the strikers, the measures do not go far enough.

The GSEE announced in March that it had proposed a 13% increase in the monthly gross minimum wage to 751 euros due to soaring inflation.

The Conservative government raised the minimum wage by 2% to 663 euros in January and Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis has promised a second bigger increase from May 1.

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