On the eve of Greece’s third general strike last week, Panepistimiou Street in Athens was packed with several hundred people, huddled around lit braziers.
They were standing inside two barricades made from dumpsters that spanned the usually busy Athens street.
Traffic was diverted around them. A banner of the Federation of Olympic Air Workers hung over the door of a finance ministry building that, by the middle of this week, workers had occupied for 14 days.
Gregorri Costantelos, the chair of the Olympic Airways pilots’ union, explained, “The company sacked 8,000 workers after it was privatised six months ago.
“It re-employed less than 15 percent of the workforce.
“The bosses imported cheaper labour from Bulgaria, Ireland and the Czech Republic. They have excluded the ex-Olympic workforce because we are considered too expensive.
“Imported workers are easier to impose conditions on. There is no union there at present and workers are afraid to take any action in case they get fired.
“The government made promises to us and enshrined them in law.
“It said we would get redundancy money and that our older people would be transferred to jobs in the public sector.
“That was four months ago and nothing has happened.”
“This was not planned,” he said gesturing to the blockade behind him. Seven days ago we came here for a meeting with the deputy finance minister.
“He was not able to answer a number of our questions so we decided to stay here until we get those answers from the government.
“The timetable for settlements has long since elapsed. We want to know when 4,500 workers owed redundancy money will get it.
“This is a last resort for us. We don’t control the production lines so we cannot strike. This is our only means of self defence.” Passing bikers and motorists were tooting their horns in support of the workers, despite the enormous traffic jam caused by the action.
I asked Gregorri about the wider problems facing the country. “The government is trying to force through measures in the space of just three or four months,” he said.
“It feels like the knife is cutting very fast and very deep. This will lead to great labour and social unrest.”
The following day the mood on the streets of Athens was angry. The government has announced another wave of austerity cuts since the full day general strike last month.
The congratulations received by the Greek prime minister from world leaders of richer nations had added insult to injury.
The march was clearly much bigger than the one I attended on 24 February.
The police provoked confrontation by attempting to split the demonstration as it was assembling.
They were met with fierce resistance and were forced back into the side streets.
Later, more clashes erupted around the Athens Polytechnic, a traditional centre of resistance where police are banned.
Riot cops were tearing down strike posters in the street. But they withdrew as outraged students and locals gathered.
On the march, trade unionists and anti-capitalists marched towards parliament holding handkerchiefs over their faces to protect them from tear gas.
All around, rubbish was piled high as a strike by refuse collectors was in its third day.
One of the strikers, Theopolis Giorgos, told me, “The employment minister has said that over a million people will be without work until at least June. That is nearly 25 percent of the workforce.
“We already have one of the lowest standards of living in Europe. Why should we have our wages frozen and our pensions cut because of what bosses and bankers have done?”
An agenda of cuts
The Greek government is pushing through huge cuts to satisfy the bankers and the EU leaders.
Bosses are saying the ruling Pasok party hasn’t gone far enough.
But here's what they've done so far...
- Public spending slashed
- Huge cuts in public sector workers’ pay
- Hiring freezes
- A freeze on state-funded pensions
- Tax rises that hit the poor hardest, such as a 21 percent sales tax
- More tax on petrol, alcohol and cigarettes