Behind the demonstration comes worry for Greece's security.
By Andy Dabilis for Southeast European Times in Athens -- 05/10/12
Protesters run to escape arrest during clashes with riot police in the courtyard of the defence ministry in Athens on Thursday (October 4th). [Reuters]
Angry about not being paid for six months, workers at an Athens shipyard that deals mainly with military contracts forced their way through the entrance of the Greek Defence Ministry on Thursday (October 4th) and blocked the entrance until riot police were called in to force them back.
The demonstration inside the courtyard of the country's bastion of security coincided with growing fury against more austerity measures planned by the coalition government headed by Prime Minister Antonis Samaras that has proposed 13.5 billion euros in additional spending cuts and tax hikes, even as unpaid bills and wages for some public workers are backing up.
Police arrested four workers during a clash and detained another 110 from the group of about 250 protesters who were chanting, "We want solutions, not layoffs!" The workers were reacting to speculation that as many as 15,000 to 35,000 workers could be suspended as part of the reforms demanded by the EU-IMF-ECB Troika in return for bailout monies.
The head of the Army General Staff, General Michalis Kostarakos, came out to address the protesters but was roundly heckled as he tried to convince them the military was not involved in their pay dispute.
The protest came after uniformed officers took to the streets last month to protest coming pay cuts as part of the government's new austerity measures in a bid to get the Troika to release a pending 31.1-billion euro installment in rescue loans. A pending second bailout of 130 billion euros is also on hold.
John Nomikos, director of the Athens-based Research Institute for European and American Studies, said the spectacle of the protest was troubling. "What more could I say if 450 demonstrators can 'invade' the department of defence and have the chief of the Armed Forces come down to talk to them?" he told SETimes.
Demonstrators showed up at police headquarters to protest the arrest of their colleagues and scuffles broke out again, with at least three people reportedly injured.
Unionists representing GSEE and ADEDY, Greece's biggest unions, as well as Public Power Corporation and the Athens metro joined forces with the protesters.
"It is unacceptable that those who have trampled upon everything that we hold dear, that have led to the impoverishment of thousands of Greek families, to now arrest those workers for demanding their rights," said GSEE chief Yiannis Panagopoulos.
The workers said they haven't been paid because the near-bankrupt Greek government hasn't paid what it owes the shipyard's owner, the Abu Dhabi March Company, whose officials did not comment on the protest.
With as much as 500 to 600 million euros in cuts coming to the defense budget, some analysts worry that the country's security will be compromised.
Stavros Karkaletsis, who heads the Hellenic Centre for European and International Analyses in Athens, said the protest undermined the notion of security in Greece and said cutbacks in defense are harmful -- even during a crushing economic crisis that has affected most other public sectors.
"The power of the Greek Army is sinking down every day," he told SETimes.
The protest focused attention on the military, which has largely been under the radar during the two and a half years of austerity measures.
Military officers had been a protected segment of workers, along with judges and professors, who got "special salaries," that Samaras was reluctant to touch until he relented under pressure from the lenders.
The shipyard workers protest illustrated how the country's defense could be affected. "I didn't expect them to be so aggressive. They have a legitimate grievance, but they made a move that will be used against them, " Ioannis Michaletos, a research associate for the Institute for Security and Defense Analysis in Athens, told SETimes.
"The cuts that have been made have affected salaries, but not the arsenal. Greece already has a lot of weapons for a small country and can easily defend itself," he said.
He said he feared, however, what might happen if social unrest grows and the military finds itself involved. "If there is going to be any destabilisation … the police need the assistance of the armed forces."