A new wave of strikes in Greece
The Government's economic policy of austerity, as well as discontent with the tax system, have resulted in a wave of strikes in late 1996 and early 1997.
The end of 1996 and the first two months of 1997 were marked by a wave of strikes that began last November and December, upsetting the relative industrial calm that had existed over recent years. The strikes peaked during January but continued throughout February, for at least certain groups of employees, though by then they had begun to peter out. The strikes represent basically a head-on clash with the Government's policy of austerity, and focus primarily on discontent with the tax system and a recently-passed tax law. This clash also acquired a political character, since the demands of workers across various sectors converged and merged within the wider context of discontent.
Meanwhile, the Greek General Confederation of Labour (GSEE) has proposed modifications to the tax system which is at the heart of the turmoil. Its main proposals include:
- tax bands to be index-linked (they have remained frozen since 1992) and their rationalisation by the addition of intermediate bands;
- the threshold at which people begin to pay tax to be set at the level of the gross annual minimum wage as determined by the National General Collective Agreement (EGSSE) - currently approximately GRD 2 million; and
- measures against tax evasion.
To further these demands, GSEE called a second 24-hour general strike on 23 January, following the first one in November. It is important to mention that the GSEE's demands - which were mainly political and aimed at the Government in relation to the tax system - were supported by the unanimous statements of theEconomic and Social Committee (OKE) on tax exemptions, something that the Government had not taken into account. Furthermore, although the strikes affected the private sector, GSEE's demands have been considered justified by the Federation of Greek Industries (SEV).
Unions across both the private and public sectors took part in the strike on 23 January including the Confederation of Public Servants (ADEDY). The latter has come out repeatedly on 48-hour strikes to demonstrate its dissatisfaction with the tax system, as well as in support for the new public servants' pay scale.
In addition to the tax issue there are further demands that vary sector by sector. These include, for example, those lodged by primary and secondary level schoolteachers in relation to their new pay scale, and others lodged by the Panhellenic Seafarers' Federation in relation to their pension and insurance systems and the problem of employment.
Although the strikes are not yet over (the schoolteachers have been on strike for seven weeks at the time of writing) and further strikes are scheduled for the coming months, the tension has to a large extent been defused - the 10-day strike of the maritime workers, for example, ended on 24 January once their demands had been partially met.