Greek unions strike to protest closing of state television

A flag-waving union member joined protesters Thursday at the state television headquarters in Athens.
Petros Giannakouris/Associated Press
A flag-waving union member joined protesters Thursday at the state television headquarters in Athens.

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 move by the conservative-led government to close the state broadcaster, leaving 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 ran a reduced service to allow Greeks to join a protest rally.

Rather than gather outside Parliament in central Athens, as they have for antiausterity protests since 2010, protesters 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 that began on 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 continued to produce news programs that were distributed through satellite channels.

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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 during 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 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.

Envoys from the lenders, known collectively as the troika, did not comment on the ERT shutdown. On Wednesday, the European economic and monetary affairs commissioner, Olli Rehn, said there had been no pressure from Brussels for Athens to close its state broadcaster.


“The commission has not sought the closure of ERT, but nor does the commission question the Greek government’s mandate to manage the public sector in Greece,” Rehn said.

In an address to a business conference Wednesday night, Prime Minister Antonis Samaras criticized the labor unions for “striking every time something significant and positive happens.” He described ERT as “sinful” and “an emblem of lack of transparency and waste,” said the new state broadcaster would be based on “the most modern international prototypes,” and dismissed the protests as “the final spasms of a status quo of privileges, which is collapsing.”

The two junior political parties in the governing coalition led by Samaras’ New Democracy party have also objected to the closing of ERT and have demanded talks with the prime minister. Officials of the two parties, Pasok and the Democratic Left, have said they were seeking a deal and do not want to pull out of the coalition. The leader of the main opposition party, Syriza, accused the two junior coalition parties of pretending to condemn the closing of ERT while continuing to back Samaras because “they are even more afraid of early elections than New Democracy.”

A government spokesman predicted the three governing parties would reach a deal.