ATHENS, Greece — Greek unions will kick off the month of December with a 24-hour general strike – the first major walkout since the appointment of an interim coalition government charged with saving Greece from bankruptcy.
The GSEE union, which represents mainly private sector workers, and the civil servants' union ADEDY announced the Dec. 1 strike to protest the 2012 austerity budget, which lawmakers are to begin debating a few days later. A general strike in October shut down services across the country for two days and led to riots in the capital and the northern city of Thessaloniki.
Greeks have held dozens of strikes and demonstrations over the past two years as their country struggles through a severe financial crisis. Greece has relied on international rescue loans since May 2010 just to pay bills, and has had to impose repeated rounds of salary cuts and tax hikes in return.
"The government has changed but the unjust and ineffective policy hasn't changed at all," GSEE head Yiannis Panagopoulos said. "For as long as this policy, which leaves social corpses in its wake, continues, we will stand firm against it."
Workers at Athens' subway, tram and electric rail network held a four-hour work stoppage Tuesday to protest measures that include suspending 30,000 civil servants on partial pay. Separately, unionized electric workers demonstrated outside the company's bill-issuing building to protest a new property tax that has been added to consumers' power bills.
Greece's new technocratic government, appointed earlier this month after political turmoil led to the resignation of the Socialist prime minister, is negotiating the details of a second international bailout, worth euro130 billion ($175 billion). It includes provisions for banks and other private holders of Greek bonds to write off 50 percent of their Greek debt holdings – potentially cutting the country's debt by euro100 billion ($135 billion).
Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos said Tuesday that Greece's 2012 budget reflects the demands being made by the country's international creditors. He admitted that structural reforms Greece has had to make have exacerbated a three-year recession and "undoubtedly created problems in the real economy, but this is not a voluntary choice, it is a forced choice."
"What is important is obviously not to create a credit event, not to go bankrupt, the avoidance of default, keeping the country in the euro," Venizelos stressed. "This has a cost."
Venizelos, who assumed the finance minister's post about five months ago, said there was "no doubt" the only way out of the current crisis was for Greece to implement its austerity program.
"The overwhelming majority of the Greek people understands how dangerous and catastrophic" it would be for Greece to leave the euro, he added.
Greece is also desperately in need of an euro8 billion ($11 billion) aid installment, without which the government will default before Christmas.
Prime Minister Lucas Papademos, a former central banker and deputy head of the European Central Bank, was in Frankfurt on Tuesday to meet with European Central Bank head Mario Draghi, after talks with eurozone head Jean-Claude Juncker in Luxembourg.
Juncker said the next installment of bailout money for Greece would be discussed at a eurozone finance ministers meeting Nov. 29.
Eurozone officials have demanded written assurances from Greece's main political leaders that they back the government in its deal with international creditors.
____Sylvain Plazy in Luxembourg contributed.