By DEREK GATOPOULOS and ELENA BECATOROS
ATHENS, Greece (AP) â¿¿ Greece's government announced emergency powers Thursday to force striking subway workers back to work, with those defying it risking dismissal, arrest and jail in an escalating standoff over austerity measures.
In a swift backlash, unions announced immediate strikes that halted all public transport across the capital for the rest of the day, forcing commuters to trudge through a thunderstorm or vie for taxis to get home in the evening.
The disruption was set to continue, with some declaring further labor action."We are protesting and if they fire people, let them come, they will take us dead from here," said Antonis Stamatopoulos, head of the Athens metro workers' union. "Starting tomorrow there will be a transportation blackout." Subway staff angered by pay cuts which they say will reach 25 percent of their salaries had defied a Wednesday night court order to return to work, pulling their strike into an eighth day. With traffic clogging the capital's major streets, the government announced a civil mobilization order for the Athens metro. Under the law, amended in 2007 to deal with "peacetime emergencies," defying a civil mobilization order carries a three month to five year prison sentence. Civil mobilization has now been used nine times since the 1974 collapse of a military dictatorship in Greece â¿¿ three of those in the past two years in strikes related to austerity measures imposed in return for international bailouts that are keeping the country from outright bankruptcy. Considered an extreme measure, use of the law tends to spark an outcry but does tend to end a strike. "The unionists have decided to follow a course of blind confrontation as well as adopting unreasonable strike methods," Transport Minister Kostis Hatzidakis said in announcing the order after a meeting with Prime Minister Antonis Samaras.