Parts of Greece have been brought to a standstill as a general strike against austerity measures saw a mass mobilisation of unions and angry citizens take to the streets. The 24-hour general strike comes a day after the government of Cyprus voted to approve a bailout imposed by its European ‘allies’, a bailout that is set to send the small nation into recession and into economic difficulties for years to come.
Members of the Cypriot parliament voted through the €10 billion bailout after warnings from the EU and IMF said that any alternative would lead to financial collapse. Anger and opposition to the bailout was made clear after the bill was passed by just two votes with 29 in favour and 27 opposed.
In return for the bailout funds the country must raise €13 billion through bank reform and budget cuts, which will see mass unemployment and a decline in services, hit the country. Under the bailout, depositors will be forced to take major losses on savings over €100,000, and capital controls were imposed in March.
George Perdikis, an MP for the Greens party, said before the vote: “A ‘yes’ from Cyprus’s parliament is by far the biggest defeat in its 8,000-year history.”Its democratically elected representatives have a gun to their head to agree to a deal of enslavement.”
Government spokesman Christos Stylianides told state radio: “We have had enough of delusions. We don’t have another choice. Whoever has one should tell us what it is.”
Protests are being held right across Europe as part of May Day. Marches are being held in Italy, and more than 80 rallies are due to be held in Spain. The Greek march however is part of a 24 hour protest against austerity with the organisers demanding an end to spending cuts and tax rises. The country’s transportation system has been badly disrupted with trains and ferries at a standstill.
The two largest unions in Greece – GSEE and ADEDY – have said that the action will focus on demands to end austerity. They say that government measures have led to the country’s record unemployment rate of 27%, including almost 60% among young people.
“Our message today is very clear: Enough with these policies which hurt people and make the poor poorer,” Ilias Iliopoulos, general secretary of ADEDY, told Reuters news agency. “The government must take back the austerity measures, people can’t take it anymore.”
Today’s protests are expected to be especially fraught with anger as 26 million Europeans are now jobless and the Eurozone finds itself mired in recession with no real signs of improvement. For the first time in generations, numerous parents fear that the future living standards of their children will be lower than their own.
Despite the protests the Euro edged higher against the majority of its peers as the Cypriot bailout was voted through. Against the US Dollar the Euro advanced for a fourth day due to mounting speculation that the Federal Reserve will choose to continue its monetary easing programme and the European Central Bank is expected to cut interest rates to a new record low of 0.5% on Thursday.
As of 11:10 am GMT
The Euro to Pound Sterling exchange rate is currently trading in the region of 0.8472
The Euro to US Dollar exchange rate is currently trading in the region of 1.3190
The Euro to Australian Dollar exchange rate is currently trading in the region of 1.2742
The Euro to New Zealand Dollar exchange rate is currently trading in the region of 1.5387