ATHENS, Greece – A strike by civil servants shut schools and grounded flights across Greece on Wednesday, as unions challenged cutbacks aimed at ending a government debt crisis that has shaken the entire European Union.
Air traffic controllers, customs and tax officials, hospital doctors and schoolteachers walked off the job for 24 hours to protest sweeping government spending cuts that will freeze salaries and new hiring, cut bonuses and stipends and increase the average retirement age by two years to 63.
The strike left state hospitals working with emergency staff only and disrupted national rail travel.
“It’s a war against workers and we will answer with war, with constant struggles until this policy is overturned,” said Christos Katsiotis, a representative of a communist-party affiliated labor union.
Despite the strikes, markets reacted positively to indications that wealthy European countries are closer to rescuing Greece. Stocks in Europe rose Wednesday for the second day on expectations of some kind of decisive action to prevent a Greek debt default that could spread to other EU countries.
European Union leaders are to discuss Greek’s economic woes during a summit today in Brussels. European Central Bank President Jean-Claude Trichet is making a rare appearance at the summit – which the markets saw as confirmation that some type of help for Greece would be discussed.