Millions of people struck Nov. 14, and hundreds of thousands more poured into the streets in an unprecedented, coordinated general strike against the austerity measures that tear at the very bodies of the poor and working people of Europe. People in 23 countries protested, coordinated by the European Trade Union Confederation.
Portugal was completely shut down, as more than 85 percent of workers participated in the general strike.
As the protests raged across Europe, a vigil was held at the home of Agaia Egana, a 53-year-old mother who had jumped to her death from the balcony of her home in Barakaldo as bailiffs approached to evict her. Barakaldo is a municipality in the northern city of Bilbao, in the Basque country of the Spanish state.
There have been some 400,000 home repossessions in Spain since the mortgage crisis came to a head in 2008. Another million vacant properties lie abandoned.
Protesters surrounding Spain’s parliament building faced off with police and decried the policies of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s government, which is imposing austerity measures to make the workers pay the yawning public deficit.
Their banners read, “Mariano go home!” “Crisis? Robbery!” and “Spain, evicted!” The last slogan refers to the surge in home-owner evictions blamed for recent suicides. “We have the solution, send the bankers to prison!” protesters chanted in a sea of flags of the main CCOO and UGT unions, which called their second general strike this year, supported by all left unions and organizations. (Channel News Asia, Nov. 14)
Thousands of workers and students converged on city and town centers across Italy as part of a four-hour general strike. In Turin students occupied the central railway station, raided the police station and occupied local government offices.
In Rome there was a “guerrilla war” between police and protesters, as students made shields and barricades to use against police lines.
In Naples protesters lay on the tracks in the central train station and Metro transport workers walked out, grinding the city to a halt.
In Greece unions held a three-hour stoppage beginning at noon. Some 10,000 marched on the parliament in central Athens. A lively contingent there included workers who have been occupying the main senate at Athens University.
Local government workers protested at and occupied some town halls, while thousands more held meetings and demonstrations near their workplaces.
‘Double-dip’ recession confirmed
Even the wealthier countries in the Eurozone witnessed demonstrations, including 130 across France and some in Belgium, Germany, Austria and Britain. Six East European countries saw protests.
The next day brought an “official” confirmation that the eurozone is in a severe “double-dip” recession. The stiff austerity programs aimed at squeezing more out of the workers to help the banks had themselves slowed the economies.
Though the workers of southern Europe have borne the brunt of the crisis, the latest figures showed that the “wealthier” Netherlands had suffered one of the sharpest declines in its economic output.
“‘These numbers show we’re … looking at a spreading social crisis in which harsh austerity, increased taxes, and surging unemployment are bringing Europe to its knees,’ says economist Marc Touati, president of the ACEDEFI financial consultancy.” (Time Magazine, Nov. 16)
“We are now getting into a double-dip recession which is entirely self-made,” Paul De Grauwe, an economist with the London School of Economics, said. “It is a result of excessive austerity in southern countries and unwillingness … to do anything else.”(Economic Times, Nov. 16)
In the first sign that some sectors of Europe’s ruling classes were worried about the resistance, some Spanish banks signed a two-year moratorium on foreclosures. It is up to the masses of people in Europe and around the word to turn such tactical retreats of the ruling class into a full-scale rout.