While thousands of people gathered in protest outside Greece's parliament on Monday, lawmakers defied their voices to pass a new package of reforms in exchange for bailout funds from international lenders.
The controversial package includes a restructuring to family benefits, introduces new processes for foreclosures on loans, de-regulates certain professions such as pharmaceuticals and legal practice, and tightens the noose on potential labor strikes.
With the new laws, the threshold to call a strike will be over 50 percent, from one-third, which is viewed by businesses as a way to increase productivity, which is still lagging behind other European neighbors, but is seen as a blow against the country's workers.
Around 20,000 people were standing outside the parliament, protesting the measures. Buses, rail, and flights ground to a halt as workers went on strike. A number of those protesting are connected with the affected professions.
Brief clashes broke out between police and protesters, with some demonstrators throwing stones and gas bombs, and police launching tear gas.
Greek officials say that the measures are crucial to open up the economy, improve productivity, and introduce higher competition within certain professional sectors.
“Today’s vote is pivotal for the country to successfully emerge from bailouts in seven months,” Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras told parliament. Tsipras is the leader of the ruling Syriza party, which has its roots in anti-austerity labor activism.
Since gaining power, Syriza has taken a sharp turn toward cooperation with international financial institutions, to the dismay of their numerous working-class supporters who brought them to their current position on a wave of anti-austerity radicalism.
“Parliament shouldn't approve these measures. The government must take them back. They have exhausted us,” one 55-year-old demonstrator said.
On Jan. 22 a Euro Zone financial meeting will assess if Greece has sufficiently complied with suggested reforms to receive around 6.5 billion euros (US$8 billion) in bailout money.