Greek General Strike Ahead of Wednesday Austerity Vote

Posted October 19th, 2011 at 5:15 am (UTC-5)
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A 48-hour general strike is underway in Greece ahead of parliamentary votes on austerity measures meant to stave off bankruptcy. The work stoppage is predicted by union officials to be the largest in years.

The work stoppage is disrupting health services, air travel, public transportation, public services and closing schools. However, air traffic controllers are striking for a 12-hour period instead of the full 48-hours.

Prime Minister George Papandreou has implored parliament to pass the new austerity plan so that the country's international creditors will hand Greece another payment from last year's $159 billion bailout. Greece says it will default without the payment.

The first vote is scheduled for Wednesday night. The second austerity vote will happen sometime on Thursday.

The Greek government ordered garbage collectors back to work to begin collecting 17-days worth of rotting trash piled high along the streets of Athens.

The Greek government Tuesday said the jobless rate hit 16.5 percent in July, just below the record set in May. Young workers were the hardest hit, with two in five without a job.

The unemployment report came as a wave of work stoppages engulfed Greece ahead of the planned general strike Wednesday and Thursday. Greek ships remained moored in harbors.

Some lawmakers from Mr. Papandreou's Socialist party oppose the austerity measures, which include tax increases and changes to collective bargaining rules. Previous spending cuts failed to make a dent in Greece's massive debt, which stands at 162 percent of its economic output.

Unions in another financially troubled country, Portugal, have called for another nationwide general strike. Union leaders are upset that the government plans more spending cuts, including cuts in civil service pay.

Portuguese Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelho has called the country's financial state a national emergency. The spending cuts and tax increases are conditions of Portugal's $108 billion bailout from the European Union and International Monetary Fund.