Symbol of Greece's protests, cleaners win in court

ATHENS, Greece (AP) — They were a symbol of protest against austerity measures in Greece: Cleaners fired from their jobs at the Finance Ministry and tax offices who for months heckled bailout inspectors and joined daily public protests holding their mops and broomsticks.

According to a May 12 court decision made public Friday, the cleaners have won a class action case against the government to get their jobs back. The court ruling found that 397 cleaners who made the complaint were wrongfully suspended from their jobs eight months ago, as part of government staff reduction program.

"Eight months ago, our lives were turned upside down in one night," protest organizer Evangelia Alexaki told The Associated Press. The 57-year-old cleaner lost her job on the island of Corfu, where she worked at the local division of the Finance Ministry's fraud office.

"Protesting wasn't hard for us, really. We had no choice. If you make a living with a mop in your hand, you're already fighting to make ends meet anyway." The government hasn't said whether it will appeal the decision.

The cleaners became a fixture of frequent protests against austerity measures enforced as part of the country's bailout that saw unemployment rise to nearly 28 percent. Debt inspectors from the European Union and International Monetary Fund were routinely confronted by the mostly female protesters, while government announcements made at the Finance Ministry were often drowned out by anti-government chants being made on loudspeakers outside the building.

On Friday, the cleaners celebrated outside the ministry where they have set up camp for the past 10 days. Dimitra Manoli took a short nap on an air mattress in the protest tent before joining her colleagues.

Manoli, 51, has been selected as a candidate by the left-wing opposition for the European Parliament elections this month, and said the protesters would remain at the site until their jobs were formally returned.

"Some of our fired colleagues were not part of the legal action, and we are also fighting for them to be reinstated," she said. "We're staying here until that happens."

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