By Andy Dabilis
As she stands with the 20,000 protesters gathered outside parliament in a chilly rain that dampens anger against another oncoming wave of austerity measures in Greece, Margarita Lambropoulou says she’s resigned to try one last time to find a full-time job before heading to Australia.
The 40-year-old works part-time as a stagehand, earning 400 euros a month, forcing her to live with her mother and sister.
“I work and still have no money,” she told SETimes.
Before being laid off a year ago, she was a sales clerk earning a 1,000-euro monthly paycheck. But now, like the other 19.2% who are unemployed in Greece, she said her rage has given way to despair. “This Greece is not for us,” she said, watching the half-hearted protesters taunt riot police and toss stones on Tuesday (February 7th).
The protest was part of a 24-hour general strike called by labour unions upset with the government’s ongoing negotiations for a second bailout for Greece — this one for 130 billion euros after an initial 109 billion euros failed to slow the country’s slide towards default.
The terms being dictated by the EU-IMF-ECB Troika are for more pay cuts, this time for private sector workers. Public workers have seen their salaries slashed up to 30%, while an avalanche of tax hikes have been imposed, along with slashed pensions and the imminent firing of 15,000 workers.
Greek leaders were under intense pressure from the Troika to agree to reforms, including 3.2 billion euros in spending cuts. But, the government warned, without a deal there would be no more money, and Greece would be cut off from a plan to write down as much as 70% of its debt.
While the protesters gathered, interim Prime Minister Lucas Papademos was trying to rally his coalition to accept Troika terms for the second bailout, which include cutting the minimum wage of 751 euros a month by 20-22% and eliminating collective bargaining rights for private sector workers, which would let employers set salaries.
Unions say more wage cuts would be counter-productive, as more than 100,000 businesses have already closed and put Greece in a fifth year of recession.
“This is a crime against the nation,” Vangelis Moutafis, a top strike organiser with the country’s largest union, GSEE, told reporters. “They are driving wage-earners into absolute poverty. They are wiping out the unemployed and retired people … they are selling off the state for nothing.”
Dimitris Agogiatis, 23, a math student at the University of Athens, said he came to show his disgust with a government that few Greeks trust anymore. Polls show 35% will not vote when elections are held in April.
“We are against all these cuts in hospitals and schools and all parts of society,” Agogiatis told SETimes. He said the bailouts won’t help. “The money is going to Greek banks and other banks,” he spat. “The workers are in a panic.”
Else Pavlaki held an umbrella, with a gas mask looped lazily around her neck in anticipation of tear gas, as she looked somberly at the generally listless crowd. She said she doesn’t trust anyone in power anymore.
“They are dictating terms to the people,” she told SETimes. “I’m here because I want to make a difference, but I don’t think it will make a difference,” she said.
Agogiatis was more optimistic. “The revolution is coming,” he said.