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Greece on the Brink

by BRANDON JOURDAN

Athens.

In Athens, Greece, there are all the elements of a low-intensity conflict zone. Greece has become ground zero of the Eurozone’s fiscal crisis. The latest strikes are seen by many to be historic in a country with a rich tradition of protests.

As Greek citizens are bracing for the upcoming 48-hour general strike on October 19th and 20th called for by the ADEDY and GSEE, the largest umbrella organizations of public and private unions, civil servants continue occupying several government buildings, including one housing the finance ministry office. Food and fuel supplies may also be affected in the next few days as a strike by customs officials is to continue through Thursday and gas stations will be shut on Wednesday.

Additionally, garbage is pilling up on street corners as employees blockade the city’s main garbage dump and garbage-truck depots. According the Associated Press, the government has stated that it may have to use the army to pick up garbage, after striking public workers attacked hired private garbage trucks.

Traffic now routinely stops in Athens due to strikes. Just days ago, a two-day public transit strike and a one-day taxi strike slowed the city to a stop. Transit strikes are a routine response to cuts in the country, but what is now interesting is the coordinated responses by both taxi drivers and public transit workers. Additional delays will no doubt occur over the next few days due to upcoming general strike.

Over the past weekend, a two day strike of workers at archeological sites shut down the tourist industry and a one day occupation of Syntagma Square in honor of the October 15 “day of rage” was attended by thousands, including many who do not normally attend protests.

Other acts of daily refusal are happening throughout the country as tax collectors refuse to collect taxes and electricity company workers have stopped printing electric bills and stated that they will not cut off power to families unable to afford the rising costs of electricity.

Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos has criticized the strikes and protests, saying “there is a difference between putting up a fight and blackmail.”

The situation in Greece has rabidly deteriorated since the IMF/ECB/EU (troika) pushed extreme structural reforms on Greece in exchange for a 110 billion euro bailout in 2010. Unemployment is near 17 percent, with youth unemployment over 40 percent and the country’s suicide rate has increased 40 percent over the past few years. Public anger is only increasing as the economy increasingly plummets.

After reviewing the popular responses to the severe austerity measures and privatization, IMF mission chief to Greece Poul Thomsen was quoted as saying “People express their frustration sometimes in very unpleasant ways. That is one of the ugly aspects of my work. And the intensity of it here is new for me.”

Despite the intensity of protests in Greece, Thomsen also stated that the Greece has to implement “much stricter structural reforms” than seen so far. This week, Greek Prime Minister Papandreou will take new austerity measures to the parliament as the 48-hour general strike will likely lead to thousands being on the streets again in a fight that will determine the future of the collapsing country.

Brandon Jourdan can be reached at: brandonjourdan@gmail.com.

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