“Europe’s strike-filled spring turning into a strike-filled summer”—this was the worried headline of Europe’s Examiner, bemoaning the resistance spreading across Europe to austerity measures.
European states have borrowed and spent on a massive scale to try to stave off the economic crisis and bail out banks and businesses—and now they are trying to pass on the cost to working people. But Europe’s workers are rightly refusing to pay for a crisis they didn’t create. Strikes have hit Greece, Spain, France, Italy, Portugal and Romania over the last few months.
The strikes are already denting profits and putting pressure on governments. If they continue they have the potential to derail the austerity packages.
The sixth Greek general strike in as many months saw the shutters come down at office blocks, schools, hospitals and banks in late June. Flights were cancelled all over the country and dockworkers blockaded the entrance to ferries to the Greek Islands, threatening the profits of the tourism sector.
Slogans like “they talk about profits and losses, we talk about human lives” and “we won’t pay for your debt” were heard as an estimated 18,000 expressed their anger. This followed the mass demonstrations in May, where 50,000 people marched. Then, some tried to storm Greek parliament, chanting “thieves, thieves!”
Some members of the Labor-type party PASOK trying to pass the cuts have been pressured into opposing them because of the strikes.
In Spain, public sector workers struck against austerity measures for a day in May, followed by a general strike in the Basque country in early June. Transport workers then struck for four days in early July against a 5 per cent pay cut—they only suspended the strike to take people to the LGBT pride parade. These workers have discussed the possibility of an all-out strike.
A general strike is planned for September 29 in Spain. The European Trade Union Confederation has discussed making this strike Europe-wide—and the possibility to mobilise for it is there.
Bus, tube and rail workers in Italy paralysed the country when they stopped work for four hours on June 25. They were joined in street protests by public sector staff in Rome, Milan, Bologna and Naples. They are opposed to the Italian government’s plan to slash public spending by $36 billion, primarily in schools and hospitals.
The French government, too, wants to raise the retirement age and make it harder to access state pensions. In response, workers shut down plane, train and metro services for a day in July. Again, civil servants, teachers and some private sector workers joined them. Over one million came out onto the street in over 200 protests. More are planned for September when the austerity package goes to parliament.
“We are all in the same boat,” said Jean-Luc Mariano, a docker who joined a march in the port city of Marseille, “It is already hard enough working at the age of 56 in the docks. To add yet more years to that means we will never get to enjoy our retirement.”
There were similar scenes in Romania. Over 60,000 civil servants, doctors, teachers and retirees blew whistles and chanted “Down with the lying government!” and “You have pawned our future!” at a strike in early May. The government wants to slash wages by 25 per cent, pensions by 15 per cent and child care allowances by 15 per cent. “Shame on them,” union leader Ion Popescu told the strike rally, “We are demanding a system of progressive taxation, [and] the right to a decent life and jobs.”
The rally was followed by a nationwide general strike on May 31 with 700,000 people taking to the streets.
There is agitation for the strikes to spread and to be maintained for longer periods. Anger is spreading across Europe—as the chant goes in Greece, “From Athens to Brussels, listen to us well, the popular rebellion is already here”. The resistance must continue if the cost of this crisis is going to be paid by those who made it. It should be the capitalists who are tightening their belts.
Demands like the nationalisation of the banks and increase in corporate tax (which has gone for 45 per cent in the 1980s to 25 per cent today) are gaining traction.
In Greece, workers want an end to the madness of military spending—Greece is fifth in the world in military spending on conventional weaponry.
The rich will fight hard to maintain their wealth. Europe’s workers will have to fight harder to get justice.
By Amy Thomas