Strikers disrupt Greek ferries
Athens - Striking port workers prevented hundreds of passengers from boarding ferries heading from Greece's main port of Piraeus to Aegean holiday islands on Wednesday, despite a court order declaring their strike illegal.
Tempers frayed at the port next to Athens, with passengers arguing and occasionally scuffling with strikers preventing them from accessing the ships. Greek passengers booed strikers chanting slogans and blocking ferry gangplanks, while foreign tourists sat despondently on their suitcases.
"We can't go to Santorini and we have the hotel paid, and if we don't take these boats, we lose a lot of money," said Claudia, a Spanish tourist who would give only her first name.
One striking union member, Savvas Tsiboglou, told Antenna radio that workers would continue their action, and that the passengers who were seeing their travel plans disrupted "are the victims of the government".
Only two of 14 unions represented in the main port workers' umbrella union had said they wanted to participate in Wednesday's 24-hour strike, called by PAME, a communist party-backed labour group.
Against govt austerity measures
The union is protesting government austerity measures designed to pull Greece out of a financial crisis that saw it come to the brink of default last month.
Unions representing several sectors, including hospital staff, construction workers, accountants and the food industry, joined the PAME strike, while state television pulled all programming off the air for 24 hours. Railway workers were also carrying out two-hour work stoppages during the day, disrupting inter-city trains.
Hundreds of strikers marched through central Athens, chanting slogans and holding banners calling for a general uprising and for the government to call off the austerity measures.
But it is the scenes at Piraeus that are likely to cause the most concern. The ferry disruption comes as Greece's main tourist season gets into full swing and will horrify those who work in the vital tourist industry, which has already seen a drop in bookings due to the financial crisis.
Would cover visitors' costs
The unions striking in Piraeus "do not understand that our economy is in a dire condition, as is the coastal shipping family", an association representing ferry companies said on Tuesday.
In an attempt to assuage fears of disrupted holidays, Culture and Tourism Minister Pavlos Geroulanos pledged the state would cover the extra costs of any visitors who become stranded due to strikes or even natural disasters.
But on Wednesday, his ministry did not immediately have details of how tourists stranded in Athens because of the port strike could claim for their extra room expenses.
It also did not have details of whether travellers would be compensated for potential hotel cancellation fees on islands they were unable to get to, or how much the port strike was likely to cost the government.