ATHENS, Greece – Strikes halted ferries to the Greek islands Monday and left rotting trash piling up in Athens for the 16th straight day, as unions fought back against more austerity measures at the start of a crucial week for both Greece and the 17-nation eurozone.
The unions orchestrated a barrage of strikes, protests and sit-ins. Tax collectors and customs officers walked off the job, several hundred firefighters and police officers staged a central Athens protest in uniform, and protesting civil servants occupied the finance and labor ministry buildings in the Greek capital.
Greece faces a key vote on the new austerity measures Thursday, and other eurozone countries are rushing to find a comprehensive solution to Europe’s escalating debt crisis in time for a Sunday summit in Brussels by European leaders.
Both the Greek vote and the debt plan are needed so Europe can avoid a loss of confidence in global markets that some fear would plunge the world economy back into a recession.
Parliament’s finance committee on Monday approved the new austerity measures, which include pension cuts and across-the-board tax hikes, as well as pay and staff cuts in the civil service.
Prime Minister George Papandreou said he was determined to see the latest reforms through because it would prove to international creditors that Greece was “seeking to make major changes.”
“This is the most critical week for Europe, and of course for Greece, with decisions that will determine the fate of the eurozone,” he said at an emergency meeting with President Karolos Papoulias.
The Socialist government is facing mounting party dissent over a vote in parliament Thursday to pass a new punishing round of tax hikes and pay cuts agreed upon in exchange for international bailout loans.
One Socialist lawmaker, 50-year-old Thomas Robopoulos, resigned his seat in parliament Monday, calling the new round of austerity measures “unfair and anti-labor.”
His resignation does not affect the government’s four-seat majority in parliament as lawmakers there are replaced by party list.