May Day protests reflect depth of European crisis

Will the traditional May Day workers’ demonstrations in Europe evolve into a gigantic anti-austerity protest this year? Massive protests are expected in Portugal, Spain and Greece, at a minimum, and in all countries there is the possibility of actions spilling beyond the traditional boundaries with coordination across national borders.

Workers — including tens of millions of unemployed — throughout the European continent have been facing a two-pronged disaster: one from the collapse of the capitalist economy and the other from a relentless austerity program that cuts social benefits while eliminating workers’ rights.

The European economy has entered the second wave of recession following the big drop in 2007-2008. Unemployment this spring grew to depression levels of more than 27 percent in Greece and Spain, to near 20 percent in Portugal, and is in double digits in Italy and France, with all these countries either stagnant or registering declines in production.

Even the German and Scandinavian economies are expected to soon decline. The recession in Europe, which is the U.S.’s biggest trading partner, would pull the U.S. economy lower.

Accompanying the recession has been the decision by the “Troika” — the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund — to impose governmental budget cuts throughout Europe, especially on the countries in southern Europe that borrowed from the mostly German and French-based banks to finance their budgets.

There are finally signs that the European officials behind “austerity” are under pressure to change this strategy. This is reflected in an April 27 New York Times article headlined, “Europe pressed to reconsider cuts as a cure.” The article reports that the cuts have exacerbated the economic declines in Spain, Greece, Portugal and Cyprus and aroused rebellion without doing anything to “cure” the economies.

It would be a mistake, however, to believe that any part of the imperialist economic policy was ever driven by a search for a “cure.” The austerity programs were simply imposed to force the governments to pay tax revenues to the imperialist banks instead of using them for social programs. In other words, the bankers and billionaires used class warfare to steal the workers’ money and the economists provided the pretext.

The job of the pro-capitalist economists is to write convincing drivel that justifies this shift of funds to the rich. In the U.S. — which has its own austerity program in the so-called sequester — you can find this drivel, for example, in the recently discredited pro-austerity paper, “Growth in a Time of Debt.” This document won big support and publicity only because it satisfied so thoroughly the class interests of the big bankers and super rich.

To rebel is justified

What is the tipping point? It is always hard to predict when a general despair among the workers will erupt into a generalized protest. But it is clear in Europe that the objective misery is changing people’s consciousness day by day, and at a different rhythm than in the United States.

In Portugal, the May 1 demonstrations, with the CGTP union confederation in the leadership, follow less than a week the celebration of the April 25, 1974, anti-fascist revolution. Meanwhile, the rightist government has announced new social cutbacks.

In the Spanish state, there are five major concentrations and 77 demonstrations announced under the theme: “They’ll stop at nothing! Fight for your rights!” The demonstrations include the reformist trade unions along with anti-capitalist groups, the “indignados,” etc. In Greece, the May 1 protests expect to shut down Athens and the other main cities.

While those three countries have rightist governments, in France the union movement is split. The pro-Socialist Party unions are marching but not criticising the Socialist Party government despite its cutbacks and imperialist war policy, while the other unions are holding actual protests on May 1 and the Left Front has called another protest on May 5.

In an editorial on the odiario.info website entitled, “The right to rebellion,” the veteran Portuguese communist, Miguel Urbano, described the conditions in his country that — with allowance for a different pace of development by each country — might be applied throughout the imperialist world.

He concludes by repeating that the “economic and social oppression in Portugal has exceeded tolerable levels. But in the country there are not yet subjective conditions for the full and effective exercise of the right to resistance.

“Communists have the duty to contribute to creating those conditions. The May 1 demonstration will continue the protest of April 25. It will certainly express popular indignation in an atmosphere of growing militancy of the masses. It will be a step forward.

“In great moments in our history, the exercise of the right of resistance led to popular uprisings. This happened in the revolutions of 1383 and 1640. And in the national uprising of April 25, 1974.”