Greek Workers Unhappy With Austerity Measures

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Thousands of civil servants marched through the streets of Athens Wednesday — the latest sign of resistance to the Greek government's austerity program. The Socialist government blames its predecessors for the country's massive debts, and has launched a public inquiry to find out what went wrong.


NPR's business news starts with more trouble in Greece.


INSKEEP: Stock markets in Asia and Europe were down today, and in currency markets the Euro tumbled. It's all about Greece. Key credit rating agency threatened to downgrade Greek government bonds. This would make it even harder for Greece to solve its budget crisis. In Athens, officials are trying to make budget cuts, but they're up against resistance. And yesterday workers went on strike.

John Psaropoulos reports.


JOHN PSAROPOULOS: Greek workers are taking to the streets as they begin to feel the bite of new taxes on fuel, alcohol, and tobacco. They are worried that the government is about to raise the retirement age and lower benefits to pull back social security from bankruptcy. But it is government employees that are feeling especially unhappy. In addition to all of this, the one million employees of the public sector, a quarter of the national workforce, have already taken a roughly 5 percent pay cut, and that is expected to double next week.

YANNIS STOURNARAS: I think the Greek people believe that the measures are necessary.

PSAROPOULOS: Yannis Stournaras was the chief economic advisor to the socialist government that put Greece in the Euro zone in 2001.

STOURNARAS: This is a strike which is led by public sector unions. I think it is against the feeling of the average Greek, who sees the specter of bankruptcy and wants to avoid it. So I don't think that these strikes will continue.

PSAROPOULOS: The government is in a race against financial markets to cut the deficit by four points this year. If it fails, policymakers fear that the markets could refuse to refinance 20 billion Euros in debt that comes due this spring. And that could have a knock-on affect on the 15 European Union countries that share a common currency with Greece.

For NPR News, I'm John Psaropoulos in Athens.

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