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Cities Paralyzed by General Strike

February 2, 1989

ATHENS, Greece (AP) _ More than 1 million workers paralyzed the nation’s largest cities Thursday with a 24-hour general strike over the socialist government’s wage policies and its links to financial scandals.

The walkout closed banks, stores and government offices and grounded Olympic Airways, the national carrier.

Buses, trolleys and taxis stayed off the streets in the two largest cities, Athens and Salonica. Hospitals staffed by skeleton crews accepted only emergency cases.

″What’s been happening in our country recently can’t leave us indifferent .... The workers’ movement says no to it,″ Dimitri Kostopoulos, a representative of Athens Workers Union, told about 20,000 strikers rallying in Athens.

He said a plague of multimillion-dollar scandals that have implicated senior officials from Premier Andreas Papandreou’s Panhellenic Socialist Movement ″offends our dignity, our families, our stomachs and our intelligence.″

The latest scandal involves the sale of weapons to Iraq by a state-owned operation, and another one revolves around the Bank of Crete and its ousted chairman, George Koskotas.

Both conservative and Communist opposition parties have united in demanding Papandreou’s resignation and immediate elections.

Thursday’s protesters, including factory workers, teachers and white-collar employees, marched through downtown Athens to the Labor Ministry shouting ″No to austerity 3/8 Yes to substantial pay increases 3/8″

They were protesting the government’s failure to index wages to inflation, which ran at 14 percent in 1988, the highest rate in the 12-nation European Economic Community. Many private sector workers also took part in the strike.

A strike declaration handed to Labor Minister Giorgos Gennimatas also demanded that annual vacation leaves be increased from one month to five weeks and that the 40-hour work week be reduced by three hours.

To curb an enormous public-sector deficit and 24 percent inflation, the government imposed nearly a total freeze on wages in October 1985. That program ended in December 1987, but real incomes had dropped an estimated 12 percent by then.

The general walkout came a day after educators went on a nationwide strike to demand higher salaries and more government spending on education. Their three-day strike has locked more than 1.5 million students out of classrooms.

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