Large, Violent Protests Fail to Sway Greek Leaders From More Austerity

Rioting in Greece (photo: eltoro80)

Greek MPs ignored a 48-hour general strike, the first in the country in decades, and a march of nearly 100,000 on the Parliament building, by preparing to approve another round of austerity measures that continue to cripple the world’s oldest democracy. An initial test vote on the austerity bill passed 154-141, along party lines. The ruling PASOK only has an 8-vote majority among the 300-seat Parliament.

The demonstrations yesterday devolved into overnight street fighting, featuring tear gas volleys by police, and rocks and petrol bombs from demonstrators. Protesters reached the Parliament steps before being repelled, and the main squares in Athens, along with several shops and banks, blazed through the night. The scene in Athens gives the feeling of a final war for democracy, between a government at the direction of the EU and the IMF, and a public that wants their representatives to be so scared that they would not dare consign them to a life of poverty. This gives you a sense of the desperation in Greece:

“Those who are really responsible for this crisis, the rich, the tax evaders, the 300 people who sit in that parliament, have never been made to pay,” said a contract worker in the public sector who gave his name only as Giorgos. “Sadly I think the time has come for blood to be shed. Every time we protest peacefully more cuts are made and they are always at the expense of workers. As one of our great singers said, it’s only with fire and knives that men progress. People will have to die if we are going to stop these dreadful policies.”

The real drama, he said, would be seen on Thursday when communist militants have vowed to form a human chain around parliament come what may.

“Today is the practice run. The day of the vote will be the day we resist.”

The new austerity measures include 30,000 public sector job suspensions (a prelude to layoffs after a year, with a 60% reduction in salary in the interim), reductions in public sector pay and pensions of up to 20%, a suspension of collective bargaining, and tax increases on the poor with the tax-free threshold lowered to EUR 5,000 from EUR 8,000. [cont’d.] Greek leaders continue to profess the necessity of these measures to receive bailout funds and avert disaster, as the country is locked out of the long-term credit markets and unable to pay its bills. Some PASOK MPs say they may vote against certain of the austerity provisions. But most will put their heads down and vote for austerity, as the EU and IMF demand. The 100,000 in the streets do not hold such sway.

European leaders, meanwhile, continue to meet over a comprehensive solution to the euro crisis, which could include creditors taking a larger haircut on Greek debt. Analysts are concerned that the bank recapitalization is being lowballed, insufficient to cover what is at the root a banking crisis.

But the human suffering being caused, on its most salient display is Greece, is at the forefront today, hours away from more depression-causing austerity. It’s a reminder that protest movements, be they chaotic and haphazard or well thought-out, will not follow a straight line to success. Especially when there’s so much money and power on the other side.

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