By DEREK GATOPOULOS
ATHENS, Greece — Unions representing high school teachers in Greece have voted to hold “long-term” strikes starting Sept. 16 against public sector staff cuts ordered by the government as part of its bailout agreements.
The leader of the teaching union OLME, Themis Kotsifakis, said Tuesday that union delegates voted overwhelmingly in favor of the weekly rolling protests at a union meeting late Monday.
The move represents the first major challenge to the country’s conservative-led government over its program to suspend 25,000 public servants this year and fire 15,000 by the end of 2014.
“Our answer to the (government) is a long-term strike that will take place in a decisive way. We are seeking the support of parents and other unions,” said Kotsifakis, who has himself been suspended from his state school teaching job.
Later Tuesday, more than 2,000 teachers protested peacefully outside Parliament in Athens.
Greece is stuck in a sixth year of recession, with the slump worsened by harsh austerity measures demanded by rescue creditors that have pushed unemployment up to more than 27 percent.
Conservative Prime Minister Antonis Samaras has promised to end the recession and return the country to bond markets next year after balancing the budget.
Finance Ministry figures released Tuesday showed he was on the right track, with Greece beating its fiscal targets by a comfortable margin. The country’s state budget deficit for the first eight months of the year stood at 2.44 billion euros ($3.22 billion), far narrower than the targeted 7.83 billion euro ($10.33 billion) deficit.
Greece’s primary budget — which does not take into account interest payments due on outstanding loans — posted a surplus of 2.9 billion euros, compared to a target of a 2.49 billion euro primary deficit.
Teachers at state elementary and private school are also mulling possible strikes, while civil servants are planning a two-day strike next week.
Late Monday, Athens University staff suspended all operations for one week in protest at the staff cuts. Other universities are considering similar action. Hundreds of university administrative staff members held a protest march through central Athens Tuesday, as did workers at country’s General Mining and Metallurgical Company who were protesting austerity measures that threaten their jobs.
Greece’s international rescue lenders have not said how they will help make the country’s national debt sustainable, and Samaras’ coalition government faces a tough midterm-test in the spring with municipal and European parliament elections. Polls suggest that Greece’s anti-bailout parties are gaining ground.
Debt inspectors from the so-called troika of the European Union, European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund are due back in Athens later this month.
Elena Becatoros in Athens contributed.