Greek labor unions, students and others are planning massive a nationwide rally and general strike for tomorrow to protest the government’s austerity budget and deep spending cuts, as well as the imposition of European Union (EU) and International Monetary Fund (IMF) onto the country’s affairs.
Two of Greece’s largest unions General Confederation of Greek Workers (GSEE) and Adedy will lead the strike.
The strike is the workers' response to the problems faced by the unemployed, the workers and the pensioners who, according to the national plan on the economy, are again the ones who are called to pay the bill, GSEE President Yiannis Panagopoulos stated.
Last year, the Greek government accepted a huge 110-billion euro bailout from the EU and IMF to rescue its economy and reduce its tremendous national debt and budget deficit. In exchange for the loan agreement, the government of Prime Minister George Papandreou has imposed draconian budget measures, including social spending reductions, increased taxes, a freeze on wages for state workers, and public job cuts, among many other items.
The government now wants to renegotiate terms of the bailout pact with the EU.
Meanwhile, the country remains stuck in a dire recession.
Reports out of Brussels say that the EU may offer Greece some more financial support soon, but only at the cost of even deeper austerity.
Greece has witnessed many strikes and rallies against the budget over that period.
Greece got even more bad news yesterday when ratings agency Standard & Poor’s against downgraded the country’s sovereign debt to BB- from B, amidst mounting fears that Greece cannot pay its bills and may need yet another bailout. The downgrade will make it harder, if not impossible, for the government to borrow the money it desperately needs from financial markets.
The Greek government was outraged by the decision.
“There have been no new negative developments or decisions since the last rating action by the agency just over a month ago,’’ the Finance Ministry said in a statement, adding that the downgrade “therefore is not justified.’’
According to press reports, Panos Garganas, editor of the Workers Solidarity newspaper in Greece, said: “It is a year since the IMF came to Greece and we saw a huge strike against it. The IMF bailout is not working and the crisis has spread to Ireland and Portugal. The government needs loans of 50 to 60 billion euros to get through the next couple of years. And the IMF and European Central Bank are pushing for it to sign up to even tougher measures.”
Garganas added: The centerpiece of this is a program of sell-offs, such as the power company. There has been a series of general strikes and other mobilizations in defense of services. There is infighting in the cabinet and speculation that we might be heading towards new elections. Few people believe that the government will survive to the end of its term in two and a half years’ time.”
One activist, Dr. Dimitris Antoniou, told Al Jazeera that the bailout agreement violates Greece’s sovereignty and betrayed the national constitution (making the government leaders “traitors”). He compared the terms of bailout pact to Germany’s occupation of Greece during World War II.
Nothing has changed, only the weapons,” he said. “This time the weapons are the terms of the loan agreement.
This view appears to be typical among many Greeks who are tired of seeking their life savings vanish and blame the government for foolish spending last decade.
However some Greek scholars say the austerity program is necessary.
It's easy to throw punches at the [bailout] agreement, the problem is that the Greek government had no other choice last year, it had to find the money to pay for the 15.4 per cent [of GDP] deficit, analyst George Pagoulatos told Al Jazeera.
And obviously, the only way was for the bailout mechanism - and that came with terms, many of which, as painful as they are, include measures which should have been taken decades ago.