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Greece's plans to cut public sector spending lead to strikes from workers who say they sacrifice enough.
Despina Koutsoumba, a 36-year-old archeologist who works for the Greek Ministry of Culture, protested Wednesday wearing a ghoul mask and a sign that said: “I stopped smoking, I stopped drinking, what else do you want me to give up?”
She said her base salary is 880 euros a month, about $1,200. On top of that, she usually earns another 420 euros, or $580, in bonus pay. But under the proposed austerity measures, she will see a 10 percent cut in her bonus pay.
“It’s 50 euros less, which makes a big difference to me,” she said. “I’m married. I have a child. This is a good salary by Greek standards, but it’s still hard to survive.”
Many protesters questioned whether Greece’s economic straights were as serious as the country’s leaders — and international markets — insist.
“I’d be more willing to make sacrifices if I could trust that the rich and the capitalists would be taxed too,” said Panayotis Katikas, 58, an engineer who works for the government. “But once again the costs are being pushed to the workers and nothing is going to get better.”
But so far, Greece’s government is holding firm. It says it has no option but to implement painful austerity measures and that Greeks across the social spectrum will have to make sacrifices. Last year, the country’s deficit soared to 12.7 percent of GDP and its public debt rose to 113 percent of GDP. Now the markets, and many of Greece’s European partners, fear the country won’t be able to borrow enough money to keep paying its debts. Other European countries like Spain and Portugal are facing similar scrutiny and doubts, raising concerns about the stability of the euro and the future of the 16-member eurozone.
Despite pledges for weeks that Greece wouldn’t need a bailout, talk in Europe this week turned to the discussions of how to help Greece. European leaders are meeting in Brussels today to discuss the crisis and there are widespread expectations that a rescue plan may be announced. (European leaders have reached a deal to help Greece out of its financial crisis, EU President Herman Van Rompuy said Thursday, though further details were not yet avaliable.)
But any bailout will likely come with harsh conditions. Other heavily indebted European countries like Ireland and Spain have already pledged deeper cuts than those proposed by Greece’s government and many analysts predict that assistance from Europe will be accompanied by demands that Greece cut its spending even further.