Original source:

Millions of Greek workers kicked off a national strike on Thursday against government attempts to force employees to bear the brunt of the slump.

Greek Communist Party and trade union activists led over 10,000 in a peaceful rally through central Athens, chanting: ‘No compromise. Capitalism must pay for the crisis.’

The strike, which was called jointly by the General Confederation of Greek Workers (GSEE) and the Civil Servants Confederation, shut down all government offices and state schools while hospitals functioned with emergency staff.

It is the second general strike against the conservative government since the police shooting of a teenager in December triggered the country’s worst riots in decades, fuelled by the sharp economic downturn.

Air traffic controllers started a three-hour stoppage at noon, halting all flights to and from Greece.

The country’s largest airline Olympic Airways announced that it was cancelling 140 flights.

Most ferry and railway schedules were cancelled while public transport in Athens was disrupted.

Journalists also participated, keeping news programmes off the air and preventing Friday’s newspapers from being published.

GSEE spokesman Stathis Anestis explained that workers ‘feel anger and rage because their living standards have dropped. They feel insecure, wondering if they will have jobs.’

Mr Anestis emphasised that ‘the government’s responsibility is huge. Not only does it not help but it has taken measures that will squeeze incomes.’

At a meeting with the GSEE leadership before the strike, Karolos Papoulias, president of the opposition Panhellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK) expressed his support for the union position that workers must not pay for the crisis.

‘Workers must not pay for the financial crisis because they, at least, are innocent.

‘Those who caused the crisis and continue insisting on not losing any of their past and future gains must pay for the crisis,’ Mr Papoulias declared.

The conservative government, which holds a one-seat majority in parliament but trails PASOK in the polls, has announced a public-sector wage freeze and one-off taxes on those earning over 60,000 euros (£54,617) a year in an effort to shore up its budget.

The country’s deficit is forecast to reach 3.7 per cent of gross domestic product in 2009 and Greece has scaled down its growth forecast for the year to 1.1 per cent from 2.7 per cent.

The European Commission has ordered the government to rein in public spending in order to bring the deficit to under 3 per cent by the end of 2010