Athens Mobilized Army To Break Up Strike

Greek lorry drivers have backed down and called off a strike that had paralyzed the country, crippled its travel industry and stranded hundreds of thousands of tourists – but only after the government mobilized the army to make fuel deliveries.

“This is an unpleasant decision.”

George Papandreou

“This is an unpleasant decision, but the country cannot afford adventures in the middle of the summer,” Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou says.

According to the, the drivers had refused to back down in the face of a mobilization order from the government on Wednesday and clashed with police at the Transport Ministry on Thursday, but voted by a slim majority to return to work after the prime minister called up the army to make fuel deliveries to hospitals, power stations and airports.

It is only the fourth time the army has been mobilized, normally only called out to respond to natural disasters, in times of war – or civil unrest – since the return of democracy to Greece in 1974.

“Taking into consideration the problems that have been created by not supplying the market with food and petrol and other products, and with a sense of responsibility, we decided on the suspension of the strike by a narrow majority of votes,” Giorgos Tzortzatos, representing the general assembly of lorry federations told reporters on Sunday.

Fuel supplies had severely dwindled, with some 95 percent of petrol stations in Athens empty and a similar figure in the nation’s second city, Thessaloniki.

Thousands of tourists have been stranded as a result of the fuel shortages, with holidaymakers canceling bookings and even abandoning rented cars at the side of the road as they run out of petrol.

The tourism industry represents a full 20 percent of the country’s GDP and provides one in five jobs.

A bumper season this year is crucial for the country’s finances and hence its creditworthiness and ability to meet its debt obligations, and the sector was already disrupted by industrial action in May that has scared off many travellers,

The lorry-drivers’ strike also came amid a work-to-rule campaign of air traffic controllers that had resulted in the cancellation of delay of dozens of flights.

Delivery of essential supplies had also ground to a halt and resulted in some 12 peach canneries – a key Greek industry – shutting their doors for want of fuel.

The army mobilization came after drivers ignored an emergency decree ordering them to return to work and imposed martial law on the sector. Drivers faced arrest, loss of their licenses and up to five years in prison, but they had refused to back down.

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