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Workers' strike against austerity measures grinds Greece to a halt

GREECE ground to a halt today after public transport was disrupted and ports shut down as workers staged a 24-hour stoppage against the Syriza government’s austerity measures.

The strike was called by the country’s largest private-sector union, the General Confederation of Greek Workers (GSEE), demanding tax cuts and a rise in the minimum wage, which was slashed by as much as 32 per cent under the country’s harsh and punitive bailout conditions.

Unions are also demanding the reinstatement of collective bargaining, which was stopped by Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras at the behest of the European Union (EU), World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF).

The IMF, in particular, had pressed for the implementation of the anti-trade union measures and demanded Greece restrict the right for workers to take strike action over austerity, which saw wages, jobs and pensions decimated.

Workers hit out at the impact of the neoliberal reforms, with telecoms worker Ioannis Mariolis saying the three Greek bailouts have turned job conditions in the private sector “positively medieval.”

He added: “What am I supposed to do with the hard-euro currency of the Germans when I don’t have any to spend? We were much better off with the drachma.”

Strike action took place in most major Greek towns and cities with the GSEE warning bosses that they were sending a clear message.

“No more burdens on the backs of Greek society,” the union said in a statement. “There must be a definitive end to the policies of punitive austerity, poverty and impoverishment, policies that have had tragic effects on society and the economy.”

Mr Tsipras faces elections next year and is under pressure from the growing unrest and series of general strikes aimed at his government which has been branded “anti-worker,” siding with the bosses and the troika.

He hinted that collective bargaining could be reinstated as he prepares for the first of the country’s post-bailout budgets for 2019, although insists on targeting a 3.6 per cent of GDP surplus to rein in public spending.

But GSEE general secretary Nikos Kioutsoukis warned against Mr Tsipras implementing a bosses’ budget.

“Today’s strike is aiming against another budget of austerity and overtaxation,” he said. “It is not restoring the collective bargaining regime.”

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