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Greece orders subway strikers back to work

January 24, 2013|By Anthee Carassava
  • Cars jam a main road into central Athens as a strike by subway workers stretched into its eighth consecutive day.
Cars jam a main road into central Athens as a strike by subway workers stretched… (Orestis Panagiotou / EPA )

ATHENS -- Greece's ruling coalition on Thursday issued an emergency order demanding that striking subway employees go back to work or face massive arrests and potential job losses in the latest labor showdown to grip the beleaguered government.

It is the first time that the governing three-party coalition has invoked such an emergency measure in a bid to face down swelling social unrest since taking power seven months ago amid popular anger over additional austerity and fiscal reforms.

The decision to proceed with a civil mobilization order was taken by Prime Minister Antonis Samaras following four-hour crisis talks with key advisors. Subway workers stayed off the job for an eighth day Thursday, paralyzing Athens and leaving millions of commuters stranded.

"The government can no longer sit back and watch with indifference," said Kostis Hadiztdakis, the minister for development and transport. "Neither the government nor society can be held hostage to union mentality."

Under the civil mobilization order, striking employee have 24 hours to return to work or face arrest and potential layoffs. It remained unclear, however, whether the emergency order, which allows for the military to step in to keep the Athens subway running if necessary, applied to other transport sectors, including the capital's urban rail and tram system, that have been hit by strikes.

Kept afloat by international loans, Greece escaped financial collapse last month when European nations and the International Monetary Fund agreed to continue issuing rescue funds, provided Athens carried through with implementing fiscal reforms, including a reduction and streamlining of public-sector pay.

With private earnings already down by at least 25%, striking workers, union leaders and leftist politicians remained defiant of the emergency decree. Moreover, other transport sectors, including the powerful seamens' federation, joined forces in solidarity, announcing a 48-hour strike next week.

"We have nothing left to lose," declared union leader Antonis Stamatopoulous, holed up behind the green gates of the subway's main depot in Sepolia, south of Athens. "We're not bowing down. We're not coming out. They can send the army, but they'll be dragging out our corpses."

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