Greek riot police stormed the Athens subway train depot early yesterday to enforce a government emergency order forcing striking metro workers back to work in an escalating standoff over new austerity measures.
Dozens of strikers had barricaded themselves in the depot in western Athens late on Thursday, after the government issued a rare civil-mobilization order under which workers refusing to return to work risk dismissal, arrest and even jail time.
Metro staff have been outraged by plans to scrap their existing contracts as part of a broader reform to public sector pay, with their union saying the measure would subject them to a roughly 25 percent pay cut.
Hammered by a financial crisis since late 2009, Greece has imposed repeated rounds of public sector salary and pension cuts in return for billions of euros in international rescue loans. The measures have led to a deep recession, now in its sixth year, and unemployment spiraling above 26 percent.
Police broke through the gates and removed dozens of strikers in the pre-dawn raid, while rows of riot police blocked off roads leading to the depot to prevent hundreds of strike supporters who had begun gathering from getting to the facility.
The government’s decision to issue a civil-mobilization order led to a swift backlash, with all other public transport workers declaring immediate strikes that left commuters stranded and forced to walk or take taxis home through traffic-clogged streets on Thursday.
No buses, trams or trolleys were expected to operate yesterday. It was unclear whether the police operation would lead to the subway system working yesterday.
Unions and the radical left main opposition Syriza party accused the government of using dictatorial tactics to end the strike.
Greece’s civil mobilization law, amended in 2007 to deal with “peacetime emergencies,” has now been used nine times since the 1974 collapse of a military dictatorship in Greece — three of those in the past two years in strikes related to austerity measures imposed in return for international bailouts.
“The government is dressed in khaki. It’s a new coup against this country’s constitution to mobilize working people on strike on the subway with military-style methods to try and break their struggle,” Syriza lawmaker Dimitris Stratoulis said late on Thursday.
“The aim of the government is to scrap collective wage bargaining rights for a China-style reform of labor rights for workers in the private and public sector,” he added.