Greek pensioners took to the streets of the capital on Thursday (3 November) to protest against a new wave of pension cuts the leftist-led government imposed as part of an austerity drive prescribed by international lenders.
About 3,000 retirees chanting “Liars!” rallied outside the Labour ministry in central Athens where they burnt government letters outlining the reasons behind the new reductions in their supplementary pensions.
“They (the government) burnt our lives. We are burning their disgraceful letters,” a pensioner said over a loudspeaker.
Protesters later marched to parliament chanting “Bring back the stolen money!”
Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras was first elected 23 months ago promising to end years of austerity imposed by the European Union and International Monetary Fund lenders in exchange for vital bailout loans.
But he was forced to reverse course to keep Greece in the eurozone, signing up to a third bailout in July last year and pursuing deeper cuts and reforms. His coalition government’s popularity ratings have been dropping for months.
The left-wing government of Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has reached milestones in pension reform, bank governance, the energy sector, and revenue collection, according to the director of the ESM, the Eurozone body controlling Greece‘s bailout loans.
“It has also taken further steps in making the new privatisation and investment fund operational,” the ESM’s managing director, Klaus Regling, said in October.
If Greece implements more of the reforms under the bailout programme, its economy could “accelerate next year and the government may be able to start issuing bonds again next year,” Regling added.
Participation in street demonstrations has so far been low but tensions often flare in protests. Pensioners have been particularly hit since Greece signed it first bailout in 2010.
“Our living standard is below zero,” said 74-year old pensioner Yannis Souliotis, one of the protesters.
Private sector workers will stage a 24-hour strike on 8 December, the largest labour union said on Wednesday (2 November).
The walkout is aimed at coinciding with a crucial bailout review on unpopular labour reforms. Tsipras wants to conclude the review swiftly to qualify for more debt relief hoping to convince voters that their sacrifices are bearing fruit.
Athens is eager to win the latest bailout cash and complete a second review by the end of the year, which would then trigger talks on reducing the country’s huge debt load.
Germany, Europe’s economic powerhouse and paymaster which holds elections next year, is loath to forgive any of Greece‘s debt, but tackling the problem is a firm demand of rescue partner, the International Monetary Fund.
The Washington-based IMF, a key player in Greece‘s three bailouts, has said it won’t give a penny to the latest one until it sees a concrete plan from the Europeans to substantially cut Greece‘s massive debt burden.
But the IMF and EU creditors disagree sharply on how much Athens can improve its finances through ongoing reforms.