The story is the same across Europe. Governments are imposing devastating austerity measures in the service of the big banks as a severe global recession deepens. Yet, increasingly, the continent’s workers are responding with massive, militant demonstrations and general strikes.
In Britain, tens of thousands of protesters descended on London; Belfast, in the north of Ireland; and Glasgow, Scotland, on Oct. 20. Their militant demonstrations protested the Conservative government’s plans to further cut back on public spending, while it reduces taxes for Britain’s wealthy.
Following the mass demonstrations, scores of protesters fought a running battle with police through the streets of London, many wearing Guy Fawkes or “Vendetta” masks, a symbol often used by Occupy protesters in the U.S.
Brendan Barber, general secretary of the Trades Union Congress, which helped organize the march, said the message was that “austerity is simply failing.” (Associated Press, Oct. 20) The TUC, which represents 54 unions and more than 6 million workers, is considering calling the first general strike in Britain since 1926 to show their opposition to the brutal austerity program.
Protesters loudly booed opposition Labour Party leader Ed Miliband, who supposedly has close ties with unions, when he told those assembled in London’s Hyde Park that “some cuts would have to be made one way or the other.” (AP)
In Greece, huge, militant demonstrations occurred in Athens, Thessalonica, and Piraeus and protests swept dozens of other cities on Oct. 18. These actions were accompanied by a general strike which not only shut down the public sector but also shuttered thousands of small businesses that are being devastated by the austerity measures.
The message from PAME, the All-Workers Militant Front, was as clear as it was militant. Aleka Papariga, general secretary of the Central Committee of the KKE (Greek Communist Party), emphasized, “The important thing is to build a strong people’s alliance so that the people follow the path of rupture, overthrow, disengagement from the EU [European Union], cancellation of the debt and socialization. There is no other path.” (inter.kke.gr, Oct. 18)
Tens of thousands of people demonstrated in Lisbon, the capital of Portugal, on Oct. 15, against the government’s proposed brutal austerity measures. The 2013 draft budget is one of the harshest in the country’s recent history and will cut the equivalent of a month’s wages from many workers’ paychecks. At the same time, taxes are being increased, with the burden falling hardest on the lowest wage earners.
The October protests followed similar ones on Sept. 29, which were held in anticipation of the proposed austerity budget. Protesters then marched through downtown Lisbon, shouting, “Let the fight continue!” Their banners read, “Go to hell Troika, we want our lives back!” (“Troika” refers to the European Union, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund.)
“A year ago the prime minister told us the solution to the country’s problems was the agreement with the troika. … But we have already seen this film in Greece. This is a road without an exit, pushing us toward the precipice,” said Armenio Carlos, leader of the CGTP union. He was speaking to marchers crowded into the city’s main square, Praça de Comércio, on the banks of the Tagus River, reported Reuters on Sept. 29.
On Oct. 19, Spain’s main trade unions called a general strike for Nov. 14, coinciding with similar work stoppages in Portugal and Greece, to protest government-imposed austerity measures and labor reforms. Called by the Workers’ Commissions and General Workers’ unions, it will be the second general strike in Spain this year. A prior stoppage was held on March 29.
Fernando Lezcano, speaking for the Workers’ Commissions, said it would be the first joint general strike in neighboring Spain and Portugal. The General Workers’ unions’ statement said the strike was called to press for a change in government policy because “cuts are strangling the economy and dismantling our social model.” (USA Today, Oct. 19)
Why capitalists are worried
The world’s capitalist bosses are well aware of the tremendous pain and suffering their austerity programs are causing in Europe and elsewhere. They are worried — not about the welfare of poor and working people — but about the possibilities of resistance and even rebellion by those whom they are so cruelly oppressing.
On April 1, professor Erik Jones, a prominent economist from Bologna’s Johns Hopkins University, told Reuters, “Populations were prepared to suspend judgment on their politicians and accept sacrifice if they believed there would be long term gain, but not indefinitely.”
Jones stated, “We have only got about six months to run before voters start looking at their politicians and taking off the rose-tinted glasses. Once that happens, we are going to find not just a rapid turnover in incumbent governments that happen to go to the polls, but also an increase in the general level of disquiet that will be expressed in the form of strikes and other forms of social disobedience.”
The same article quoted Jean-Paul Fitoussi, an economics professor at Paris’ Sciences Po Institute, who asserted that austerity measures were “a dangerous approach that could trigger social unrest.”
Six months later, global resistance to the austerity measures that these capitalist economists opined about earlier this year is increasing. Progressives worldwide should not only take note of this development, but also struggle to turn these resistance movements into vehicles that can fight for fundamental change.