By ELENA BECATOROS and NICHOLAS PAPHITIS
ATHENS, Greece (AP) â¿¿ Striking subway workers in Athens returned to the job Friday, hours after the Greek government used riot police to evacuate holdouts from a train depot, ending a bitter standoff over new austerity measures.
The nine-day strike â¿¿ which knocked out a system serving more than a million people a day â¿¿ was the biggest labor unrest Greece's uneasy, conservative-led governing coalition faced since taking over last June.
It was only overcome after authorities resorted to issuing a rare civil mobilization order to workers who had defied a court ruling that their strike was illegal. Thursday's mobilization order meant that staff refusing to return to work risked dismissal, arrest and jail time.Though the subway trains started running again, the city of some four million still lacked bus and trolley bus services, as unions launched rolling strikes in sympathy with their colleagues. "I am pleased that the urban rail workers restarted the network, and passengers are even more pleased," Transport Minister Costis Hadzidakis said. Metro staff have been outraged by plans to scrap their existing contracts as part of a broader public sector pay reform, with their union saying workers faced a roughly 25 percent salary loss. Hammered by a financial crisis since late 2009, Greece has imposed repeated rounds of public sector salary and pension cuts in return for billions of euros in international rescue loans. The measures have led to a deep recession, now in its sixth year, and record-high unemployment of more than 26 percent. In Friday's pre-dawn raid at the western Athens depot, police broke through the gates and removed dozens of strikers, while rows of riot police blocked off surrounding roads to keep away hundreds of strike supporters. No violence was reported, with the workers not putting up resistance. In the afternoon, dozens of strikers burned their mobilization papers outside a metro station.