National strikes bring country to standstill

By October 19, 2012

Greece (MNN) — Outrage is pouring from Greek citizens as tens of thousands rallied Thursday and Friday to protest more austerity measures.

This week's general strike brought much of the near-bankrupt country to a standstill. It's the second time in three weeks that Greek workers walked off the job.

Greek police were forced to quell infuriated mobs with teargas and stun grenades as rioters lobbed whatever they could find to throw. The reason for the anger stems from another 11.5 billion euros' worth of cuts Greece must make to secure the next dispersal of bailout funds and meet the demands of the European Commission, European Central Bank, and International Monetary Fund.

AMG International President and CEO Paul Jenks explains that the protests are the opening ceremony for a financial summit. "Many of the unions are participating in a general strike. It's because the finance managers of Europe are in Belgium making decisions about banking, and probably about the extension, about the next important transfer of funds in the bailout agreement that Greece has."

European leaders are gathered in Belgium to work on building closer ties between Eurozone countries. It's the next step in addressing the debt crises and moving the Eurozone forward to sustainable growth.

That does little to put food on the table today, though. Many Greeks fear new wage and pension cuts will only worsen their plight after five years of recession. "Basically, they're raising taxes and cutting pensions and the benefits to workers," says Jenks. "It is these very workers who are already suffering with so much hardship there that are being asked to carry an even greater load, and that's the reason that they're in the streets striking."

However, Greece only has funds to keep running until next month, leaving Athens with little choice but to push through the austerity package being discussed with lenders. "It will probably just postpone a final turn around that much longer, because they're just borrowing more money to pay off previous debt. They still haven't got a handle. They've been in recession now for five years."

What's more, Jenks notes, "These strikes are really counter-productive. Each time they go on strike, the government loses a whole day of productivity. That could be as much as 300-million euros. Even if it's as much as a third of that, that's 100-million euros of revenue that they'll lose through the busses, the trains, the ferries, and the airports. Things like that that just can't be regained."

There are growing concerns that Greece could crash out of the 17-member Eurozone single currency if it defaults on its debt. That's a fear echoed by others as Spain and Italy also wrestle with high unemployment numbers and mounting debt. "The news is just really bad. There are 180,000 businesses that are on the brink. 70,000 of those are expected to close by the end of the year. So, it's just bad news after bad news. Without an amazing turnaround in the world economy, it seems like it's not going to get better anytime soon."

The only good news comes through the Church, AMG ministries, and its partners. First, says Jenks, "Because our main ministry there is a hospital that is non-union, we aren't as badly affected." The government has been slowly paying on insurance claims, so the hospital is getting some funds. The staff is busier than ever because Jenks says the state-run hospitals have very few resources right now.

Second, because AMG partners were already set up to help with the influx of illegal immigrants, "Churches have already had relief operations–soup kitchens that are operated from the church. The difference is: instead of primarily focusing on refugees, they're now focusing on people who are Greek citizens."

And finally, Jenks explains, it all boils down to opportunities to share their message. "The Church is showing itself ready to share the Good News of Jesus Christ as well as the love of Christ in practical ways.
In some ways, that's the main need of Greece."

This is a difficult time for Greece and for AMG's coworkers who are overwhelmed by the need. Yet they do their best to share God's love. Please pray for strength and wisdom for them, as well as for the resources to provide help to those who truly need it.

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