Europe: Protests hit austerity

When European Union leaders gathered at their economic summit meeting in Brussels, they were confronted by thousands of protesters who denounced them and their austerity policies. Working people and labor union representatives from all over Europe demonstrated at the European Commission and Council headquarters on March 14.

At least 10,000 demonstrators denounced the “Troika” — the International Mone­tary Fund, European Central Bank and European Commission — which has imposed draconian cuts in jobs, wages, benefits and public services in several southern eurozone countries as conditions for loans. Protesters demanded that the Troika stop all austerity plans, provide jobs and end the crises their policies have created.

Some 100 activists occupied the Directorate General for Economic and Financial Affairs (DG ECFIN) in Brussels and the headquarters of Olli Rehn, the European commissioner for economic and monetary affairs. The DG ECFIN oversees the implementation of austerity measures in indebted European countries.

The crowd also decried the police for prohibiting their right to march near banks and Belgian government buildings. About 25 activists were arrested in protests, which rt.com says were organized by the European Trade Union Association, and activist organizations Bloccupy and For a European Spring [“a call for actions, strikes and demonstrations all over Europe on the 13th of March, and for a pan-European demonstration and creative actions in the city of Brussels on the 14th of March”]. (cadtm.org)

Less than a week after the Brussels protest, the Cypriot Parliament on March 19 defied the right-wing president there. They rejected a wildly unpopular attempt, demanded by the banks running the European Union, to impose a minimum 6.75 percent tax on all bank deposits in Cyprus as a condition for another “bailout.” Deposits over 100,000 euros would have been taxed at a higher rate of 9.9 percent.

The government had shut down all the banks as people rushed to take out their money. Cyprus has become an international banking center and the impact of the crisis was widely felt.

Unemployment is growing across Europe, affecting 26.2 million people, with youth among the hardest hit. In the Spanish state, the jobless rate is more than 26 percent. Fifty-five percent of youth are out of work, as are 40 percent in Portugal. Greece’s unemployment rate is 27 percent. An astounding 60 percent of youth there don’t have jobs.

The dire jobless situation is of concern to European Union officials, who are well aware of the growing hostility to the EU, the widening rifts between workers and their own governments — which have consented to the conditions for the bailouts — and the potential for social explosions.

Already, there have been many militant anti-austerity protests in Portugal, Italy, Greece and Spain. The demonstrations are continuing, despite police tear gas and attacks. During the first week of March, demonstrators in 20 Portuguese cities denounced the Troika and its austerity measures. In the week prior to the Brussels protests, tens of thousands of people were on the streets in Spain and Greece protesting joblessness and budget cuts.

Greek public-sector workers are still marching, rallying and striking against government plans to decrease public services, cut salaries and lay off 25,000 workers this year to meet bankers’ bailout conditions.

Yet, despite their so-called “concern” for the unemployed and worries about “social stability,” the bankers and their representatives in the EU are still insisting on more austerity — more layoffs, pension cuts, slashes in social programs and privatizations. No alternatives have been offered at this summit to these slash-and-burn policies.

The capitalist economic crisis has worsened the living conditions of millions of poor and working people and many in the middle class. It has exacerbated economic inequality between European countries and has widened the financial gulf within countries, as the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.

The banker-imposed layoffs, benefit cuts and shrinking of essential public programs have had catastrophic results, such as bankruptcies, evictions, impoverishment, homelessness, hunger, lack of medical care and even suicides, as people are confronted by huge attacks on their living conditions with no apparent way out.

Yet, more people are becoming conscious and angry about the EU’s insidious intentions and about which side their own governments are on. A recent poll showed that 94 percent of the Greek people oppose the austerity measures.

The EU’s strategy of austerity as the way out of the capitalist economic crisis is clear. Bernadette Segol, European Trade Union Confederation general secretary, stresses that the EU is forcing workers to bear the brunt of its plans to get out of the recession: “The policies that have been put in place have failed; we are in a double dip recession. We see that the efforts have been put on the shoulders of the workers.” (Associated Press, March 14)

Despite massive opposition, the same horrific policies that have enriched the bankers and been disastrous to the majority of people will continue. Isn’t it time to cast the inhumane capitalist system into the dustbin of history?