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The Globe and Mail

Greek anti-austerity strikes hit tourists

Members of the communist's labour union (PAME) protest during a rally against government's austerity measures in Athens June 23, 2010. Communist union members blocked travellers from boarding ships at Greece's largest port on Wednesday, stranding ferries in a show of support for striking merchant marine engineers fighting pension reforms.


Communist unionists blocked travellers from boarding ships at Greece's largest port on Wednesday, stranding tourist ferries as part of protests against austerity measures in the debt-choked nation.

Tourist bookings are already down after strikes and sometimes violent protests against wage cuts, pension and labour reforms the socialist government is implementing in exchange for a €110-billion ($147.6-billion) EU/IMF bailout package.

About 200 union members barred travellers from ferries at Piraeus, the main Athens port, in sympathy with striking merchant marine engineers and frustrating tourists heading for the islands. And in Athens, 5,000 Communists staged a march.

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"There are no ships leaving Piraeus port," a coastguard official said. Union members blocked the boarding ramps of the ferries and planned to keep up their protest until midnight when the engineers' strike ends.

"It's sad because honestly tourism is...a big part of Greece's economy," said Isabella Cables, a stranded tourist from North Carolina. "It's only going to hurt the country."

"I appreciate the situation that they are in, the workers, but it is a disruption to everybody, a catch 22 I think," said Ron Donahue, an Australian tourist.

Communist protesters blame the crisis on politicians and say workers have no choice but to oppose cuts that have pushed unemployment to a 10-year high of 11.7 per cent of the work force in the first quarter.

Affected were eight scheduled sailings to the popular Cycladic islands, which include Mykonos and Paros, and others to nearby destinations in the Argosaronic gulf. A ferry to Crete was also cancelled.

Tourism is a top contributor to Greece's €240-billion ($294-billion) economy, accounting for about 18 per cent of GDP.

In the 5,000-strong march in Athens - in line with recent turnout at Communist rallies - protesters carried banners such as "Let the rich pay for the crisis", while others urged Greece to quit the euro zone.

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"We are striking against the storm that is coming, the changes in pensions and labour laws which will turn workers into beggars," said Yiannis Kouklis, 38, who works at a pharmaceutical company. "Labour action will intensify."

A one-day general strike is due on June 29 against pension and labour reforms due to be submitted to parliament this week.

"Construction is dead, there is no work. Poor working folk cannot be paying for the crisis caused by the rich and all those who stole state money," said Pavlos Koklas, 58, an unemployed construction worker.

An opinion survey showed Greeks and Romanians were gloomier about the outlook than all other Europeans. The Eurobarometer poll, taken in May, showed that about 7 out of 10 Greeks expected their household's finances to worsen in the next year.

And the mood was not helped after the Greek soccer team were knocked out of the World Cup finals on Tuesday after a 0-2 loss to Argentina. "Greek national team fell fighting" and "the goodbye tango" were among newspaper headlines.

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