Last year Athens obtained a loan of 110 billion euros (1 euro = US$1.43) from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the European Central Bank to avoid an imminent default on its debt. It was scheduled to obtain the last 12 billion euro installment by July of this year.
The new loans were initially blocked when German chancellor Angela Merkel insisted that banks holding Greek bonds take a loss and reschedule Greek debt payments. She later dropped that demand, but a meeting of Eurozone finance ministers announced June 20 that the 12 billion euros will be held up until the Greek parliament approves a new round of cuts.
Athens will also require further loans from the European Union and IMF about equal to last years bailout package to avoid defaulting in 2012-13. Already, Athenss public debt to Greek and foreign institutions is at 153 percent of the countrys gross domestic product (GDP). Greeces credit rating was reduced to CCC, the lowest in the world, by Standard & Poors.
The austerity measures already taken by Athens have resulted in a deep contraction in the countrys economy. The GDP is predicted to decline by 4 percent in 2011. Cement production is down 60 percent since 2006. Steel production has declined by more than 80 percent over the past two years. The official unemployment rate hit 16 percent in the first part of 2011. Youth unemployment is 40 percent.
The Greek cabinet submitted a five-year austerity plan to the parliament June 9 that included laying off 150,000 workers; changes to work rules, hours, and wages; and cutting pensions and unemployment compensation.
My parents are both public-sector workers, explained Martha Pissanou, a 24-year-old laboratory technician, in an interview with the Militant. My mother is a surgery nurse and my father makes fire extinguishers at a state firm. Last year their yearly combined income was slashed from 39,000 euros to 34,000 euros. Now with the new austerity measures it will drop to 29,000 euros. How is our family supposed to make ends meet? she asked. They have been participating in the protests. It is not fair to blame public-sector workers like my parents for the crisis.
On June 15, tens of thousands of workers, many from various state-owned enterprises, marched on the Greek parliament at Syntagma Square as part of a 24-hour general strike called by the union federations.
Thousands were also in the square from the protest of the indignant citizens. These mainly middle-class demonstrators, including many unemployed youth, have held daily rallies of up to 40,000 at the square since May 25, with slogans such as, It is the theft and corruption of those in power that is to blame, The government and all the parties have stolen our money, and No to the sellout to the IMF. Some in the indignant protests have been openly hostile to the trade unions and public-sector workers in particular. Public Power Corporation strikers were booed by the indignant protesters when they marched to the square May 26.
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