Europe‘s workers fight neo-liberal attack
1 million-plus take to streets
Published Oct 24, 2007 10:32 PM
200,000 workers march in Lisbon Oct. 18
to demand job security, no more cutbacks.
Unions in Portugal, France, Germany and Italy held uncoordinated strikes and
mass demonstrations from Oct. 18 to 20. All were aimed at countering a
relentless attack from the imperialist ruling class that has cut wages and
benefits and eliminated job security for tens of millions of workers.
Where mass workers’ parties played a strong role organizing the struggle,
as the Portuguese Communist Party (PCP) did in Portugal, the goal of the
protest remained clear and the mobilization on the highest level. Even in
countries where the leadership was lacking, the mass rallies, marches and
strikes, all defending workers’ rights, showed a mass combative spirit
among the workers.
The protests coincided with a summit meeting of the European Union in Lisbon
where heads of government of 26 countries signed a new treaty. This treaty
replaces the constitution that had already been rejected by referenda in France
and the Netherlands in 2005. Such a treaty would impose common institutions on
the member states that would rapidly erode social and economic gains workers
had made since 1945 regarding wages, benefits and job security. It would also
demand greater militarization of all EU members.
When the European Central Bank puts limits on any member country’s
deficit spending, this exerts pressure to cut government spending for pensions,
health care, wages and spending on education.
West European workers at present have more guarantees than U.S. workers, not to
mention workers in Eastern Europe and in Asia who are now part of the
globalized economy. For example, 85 percent of French workers have a legally
enforceable right to their job compared to only about 15 percent in the United
In Portugal and Italy the governments are led by nominally “left”
forces and in France and Germany by center-right parties. Both groupings are
imposing anti-worker policies, that is, neo-liberal policies that allow
government intervention only on behalf of the capitalist monopolies.
PORTUGAL: Largest protest in more than 20 years
200,000 workers march
Led by the major labor confederation, the CGTP-IN, more than 200,000 workers
came to Lisbon on Oct. 18 to hold what union leaders called the
“country’s biggest demonstration in 20 years.” The local
target was the nominally “Socialist” Prime Minister Jose Socrates,
whom the PCP describes as leading a sharper and more widespread attack on
workers and democratic rights than any government since the fascist Salizar
regime was overthrown in 1974.
A major target of the protest is so-called flexicurity. The bosses present
flexicurity as a tradeoff with workers providing more flexible work hours in
return for unemployment insurance. In practice, just as in the recent deals
with GM and Chrysler, it provides more leeway for management to arrange work
hours and dismiss workers.
“Flexicurity is, above all, for this government, a slogan to impose
liberalization and a lack of job protection for many years,” Jose
Carvalho da Silva of the CGTP union said in a speech at the rally.
The Portuguese workers have maintained a high level of class consciousness and
combativity even in the period since the overthrow of the USSR. The PCP, a mass
workers’ party, which still has a proclaimed goal of a socialist society,
is playing a key role in the struggle to defend workers’ rights.
More clearly than in the other countries, the workers in Portugal have
expressed that their enemy is the bourgeois regime, even if it is administered
by a “Socialist” premier, and the imperialist European ruling class
along with that in the United States. Their allies are the other European
unions and the struggles in the oppressed countries against U.S.-led
FRANCE: Rail workers shut down traffic
Some 754 of the normal 800 long-distance trains never moved in France on Oct.
18, nor did nine out of 10 trains on the Paris Metro. Suburban and regional
trains in the Paris area were severely limited, with four out of five shut down
by government accounts.
Twenty-nine French cities, in addition to Paris, lost public transportation,
with Marseilles, France’s second largest city, nearly completely shut
down. Besides workers in transportation, some teachers, school aids and workers
in electricity generation and gas distribution—generally public
Some 300,000 people marched to support the rail workers’ pension rights,
including 50,000 in Marseilles and 25,000 in Paris. They carried signs and
banners reading, “Together we can win,” “Solidarity”
and “Struggle to win.” Young workers told the French newspaper Le
Monde, “We are fighting for our elders’ rights in order to defend
French workers had told rightist President Nicolas Sarkozy that if the
government tried to take away the right of railroad workers with outside jobs
to retire with a full pension at age 50, they would react. “He’s a
thief robbing me,” one worker told the media. “My pension will go
from 65 percent of my final wages to 46 percent.”
The strike continued through Oct. 21, especially on the suburban trains and the
Paris Metro or subway. The French government is proclaiming that it will
negotiate with the unions, but won’t back down on removing the pension
language that lets some workers retire at 50, which Sarkozy claims costs the
government 1.6 billion euros.
The October issue of Le Monde Diplomatique points out that Sarkozy has given
the wealthy elite of France tax breaks worth 13 billion euros a year and wants
to increase them to 15 billion euros.
GERMANY: Train conductors disrupt work day
German train conductors also went out on a one-day strike Oct. 18 for the third
time in two weeks. About half the local and regional trains in Germany
didn’t run. A court order prohibits strikes on long-distance trains.
In Eastern Germany, 80 percent of the trains stopped, more than in heavily
populated and industrialized western areas. Traffic jams clogged most German
cities, slowing the economy, as Germany has the highest percentage of train
users in the world.
The conductors are asking for recognition of their union and a 30-percent wage
hike, since their wages are far below comparable workers elsewhere in Europe.
Since Deutsche Bahn, the public company that owns the railroads, does not want
to recognize the union and is only offering 10 percent, these one-day strikes
will likely continue. Günther Kinscher, one of the union leaders, told
German television, “Our membership is asking us to authorize an unlimited
ITALY: 800,000 workers demand job security
As in Portugal, the major issue in Italy is job security. Now young
workers—some 4 million or one-sixth of the workforce—have
short-term job contracts and thus no secure positions. This was the driving
issue for the 800,000 workers, unionists, youths and women who jammed Rome with
banners and red flags on Oct. 21, demanding that the “center-left”
government of Romano Prodi guarantee better rights for workers.
The demonstrators were ready to struggle. What complicated the protest was that
its main organizers, which included the Rifoundation Communist Party and the
Party of the Communists, both separate successors to the once-massive Italian
Communist Party, are also both supporters of the Prodi government and hold
minister posts in it. Leaders of these parties insisted that the government
itself was not a target of the protest. Prodi called on his ministers to stay
away from the demonstration, and they did.
The coalition that includes these left parties is not only administering a
capitalist state, it is dominated by pro-capitalist politicians and is carrying
out an attack on workers’ rights and benefits. It is also participating
in imperialist interventions in Lebanon and Afghanistan, and has asked for an
11 percent increase in the military budget. The strong Oct. 20 action shows
that a large section of the Italian working class refuses to accept this
collaboration with the “lesser-evil” Prodi regime.
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