What started as riots in Greece over the police killing of an unarmed 15 year old has turned into General Strikes and protest fanning across most of Europe. While the corporate medias reporting has focused on the rioting and violence most protesters have remained peaceful.
A 24-hour general strike was staged Wendsday, December 10th, across Greece, grinding the country's major infrastructure to a halt. The strike involved workers in air traffic, urban transport and public services.
Over 100 schools and more than 15 university campuses remain shut down by demonstrators in Athens and the second city of Thessaloniki, with a second major strike held Friday.
School students also blocked several main roads in Athens. Demonstrators later staged a sitdown protest which shut down many banks. The general strike was called over several issues including the 2009 draft budget, privatisations, and limits on pay, changes to the pension system and opposition to the recently proposed bailout for Greece's main banks.
Opposition to the banks bailout was especially vocal during one of the demonstration marches through Athens on Friday. Thousands of workers marched through central Athens, to oppose the 2009 draft budget.
Greece's seven largest banks, including the National Bank of Greece, control 90 percent of the market. The €28 billion rescue plan includes Greece providing up to €15 billion to back new bank loans or refinance existing ones. The Greek government has already said it plans to raise deposit guarantees, after countries across Europe took similar measures.
Many of the demonstrators angrily protested the recent €28 billion ($37 billion) government rescue deal to protect the main Greek banks hit by the international credit crisis. One banner read: "Not one euro to support the bankers."
Kyriaki Tassioula, 45, a waitress, said, "We are protesting because they are not listening to us... The government guarantees the banks but it cut my pension."
Dimitris Papadogonas, 28, a VoteStrike activist, said, "We are here because we have problems and the government ignores us, but CEOs and bankers are rich and we are poor."
The protest that has shut down Greece is spilling over into the rest of Europe, raising concerns the strikes could be a trigger for opponents of globalization, disaffected youth and others outraged by the continent's economic turmoil and soaring unemployment.
Protesters in Denmark and Italy smashed shop windows, pelted police with bottles and attacked banks this week, while in France, cars were set ablaze Thursday outside the Greek consulate in Bordeaux, where protesters scrawled graffiti warning about a looming "insurrection.",
Graffiti reading "solidarity with the strikers in Greece," was scrawled on the consulate and the word "insurrection" was painted on the doors of neighboring houses.
The problems in Greece are no different than problems in France, Italy, Germany or the U.S. where bailouts for the banks passed both houses against voters demands.
Protests were organized over the Internet, showing how quickly the message of discontent can be spread, particularly among tech-savvy youth. One Web site Greek protesters used to update each other on the locations of riot police. Several Greek Web sites offered protesters real-time information on protest sites, where demonstrations were heading and how riot police were deployed around the city. Protest marches were arranged and announced on the sites and via text message on cell phones.
Elsewhere in Europe, reports about the strikes in Greece were quickly picked up online by citizen journalists, some of whom posted details of confrontations on OpEdNews.com, photos, articles and videos of the demonstrations were uploaded and plans were listed for "upcoming solidarity actions".. At the independent online news service
There have been similiar protests in nearly 20 countries. More demonstrations were set for Friday December 19th in Italy, France and Germany.
Still, the clashes have been isolated so far, and nothing like the scope of the chaos in Greece, which was triggered by the police killing of a teenager on Saturday and has ballooned into nightly scenes of burning street barricades, looted stores and overturned cars.
Nevertheless, authorities in Europe worry conditions are ripe for the contagion to spread.
In Greece, demonstrators handed out fliers Thursday listing their demands, which include the reversal of public spending cuts that have brought more layoffs, and said they were hopeful their movement would spread.
"We're encouraging nonviolent action here and abroad," said Konstantinos Sakkas, a 23-year-old protester at the Athens Polytechnic, where many of the demonstrators are based. "What these are abroad are spontaneous expressions of solidarity with what's going on here."
The General Strike has a central location - http://www.votestrike.org - on the Internet, which is linked to and reproduced on a variety of other internet sites. The site states the rationale for the effort:
The General Strike is an international call to action, from citizens to other citizens.
We all have different concerns, but we all have the same concern: we are being lied to and the government does not represent us. Join others in demanding truth, justice, and accountability.