Subway staff threatened with arrest for striking

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THE Greek government has ordered striking subway staff in Athens back to work, threatening them with arrest if they refuse to end a walkout that has paralysed the capital.

Workers said they would defy the order, issued yesterday under emergency legislation the conservative-led coalition which took power in June.

The strike is the latest test for the coalition as it faces down the unions to implement austerity cuts demanded by foreign lenders in return for bailout funds.

“Neither the government nor society can be held hostage to union mentality,” development minister Kostis Hatzidakis said after talks with premier Antonis Samaras. “The government can’t ignore this. There is nothing else we can do.”

But in a sign of the coalition’s fragility, the move was criticised from within its own ranks.

“At a time when society is under such pressure, every option to reach an agreement must be exhausted first,” the Democratic Left party said. “Being uncompromising – on both sides – does not help.”

Public anger has grown against the week-long strike which affects more than half a million commuters in the city of five million people. Some Athenians said their daily commute time had tripled and many were having to pay for taxis instead.

“We will not back down, we will resist,” union leader Antonis Stamatopoulos said after addressing workers at a subway station in the working-class district of Sepolia.

Subway staff have defied a court order to return to work and reject inclusion in a public sector wage scheme that would slash their pay. “We exhausted every possibility before going on strike,” said Manthos Tsakos, general secretary of the metro workers’ union.