Greek state broadcaster shut down, prompting worker strikes in protest
ATHENS, Greece - Thousands of Greeks walked off the job Thursday in the third general strike of the year, this time called by labor unions to protest a surprise decision by the conservative-led government to close the state broadcaster and put about 2,900 employees out of work.
The nationwide walkout shut down tax offices, left hospitals on emergency staffing and disrupted travel. Ferries remained moored in ports and trains at depots, and long delays were expected on international flights. Public transit was also affected, though workers were running a reduced service to allow Greeks to join a protest rally.
Instead of gathering outside Parliament in central Athens, as they have done for anti-austerity protests since 2010, demonstrators met Thursday outside the headquarters of the Hellenic Broadcasting Corp., or ERT, northeast of Athens. Former employees and supporters have gathered there since Tuesday night, when the authorities pulled the broadcaster off the air.
Private television channels continued a news blackout begun Wednesday, and newspaper employees walked off the job, leaving many Greeks to turn to blogs and social networks for news updates. Some dismissed employees of the closed state broadcaster, known as ERT for its initials in Greek, continued to produce news programs that were distributed through satellite channels.
Though ERT was often criticized for overspending and for lacking independence, it was widely valued in Greece for its in-depth news coverage, documentaries and cultural programs. The government has said it will set up a leaner replacement company, probably over the summer; until then, Greek viewers are left with six privately owned national channels and a host of local stations whose offerings vary widely in quality and whose news coverage is assumed to be influenced by the views of their owners. The national channels typically offer an assortment of news, talk shows, cooking programs and films.
The country’s two main labor unions represent about 2.5 million workers and have historically been very powerful, though their influence has waned somewhat as many Greeks have been worn down by three years of job losses and wage and pension cuts. The unions condemned “unprecedented and provocative” initiatives by the authorities, including the shutdown of ERT.
The civil servants’ union, known as ADEDY, accused the government of “methodically and autocratically annihilating the rights of workers and citizens, one by one, for a long time now,” and said that the government’s only aim was to satisfy the demands of Greece’s three main foreign lenders: the European Commission, European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund.