The grumbling about austerity in Europe, ordained and enforced by Germany, grew louder this week at a meeting of Western Europe’s political leadership in Milan, Italy.
Most of the large countries there, other than Germany, were openly worried about falling into a deflationary trap that could wipe out their very weak recovery from the 2008 financial crisis, turn their growth into decline and send unemployment into double digits.
While the political leaderships of the big countries in Western Europe want a more expansive economic policy, they are happy to have the wages of their workers under strict control.
Workers in both England, which is not in the eurozone, and Germany, which most definitely is, struck this past week for economic justice, that is, the raises that are their due.
For the first time in 30 years, 400,000 workers of the National Health Service walked out for four hours on Oct. 13. They then carried out a “work-to-rule” job action for the rest of the week.
The NHS provides medical and hospital care to the people of the United Kingdom of Great Britain, that being England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Workers — those needed to handle medical emergencies — were allowed to cross the picket lines.
UNISON, one of the nine unions which jointly called the strike in England, explained the anger that led to the walkout on its website: “For the first time in the history of the independent pay review body, the government has chosen to ignore its recommendation of 1 percent pay rise for all NHS staff.” (unison.org.uk)
Over one-third of all NHS workers don’t make enough to support their families and their pay hasn’t been keeping up with inflation for the past five years.
Workers in Scotland got the raise that the pay review board recommended and those at the bottom of the pay scales got a bit more to bring them over the living-wage level. Consequently, there was no strike in Scotland.
For the rest of the United Kingdom, further actions are being planned if the government maintains its position.
There were major strikes on the German railroad, run by a state-owned company called Deutsche Bahn, on both Sept. 1 and Oct. 7. The strikes were called by the German train drivers union (the GDL) to get a 5 percent raise and reduce the workweek for train operators from 39 to 37 hours.
Another strike Oct. 14-15, for the most part shut DB down. Reports say that only one-in-three long-distance trains ran and almost all the regional trains were disrupted. (The Local, Oct. 15)
The most recent strike was prompted by the government’s and DB’s effort to “force” the GDL “into an agreement with the rail operator’s own in-house union, the EVG, a move which would see the GDL lose its independence to Deutsche Bahn and the EVG,” according to a statement by the GDL. (thelocal.de, Oct. 15)
The EVG claims a membership of 250,000 and joined in the criticism of the strikes. GDL has a membership of 20,000 and is trying to represent 17,000 DB workers in customer service and other nonoperational functions.
The pilots in Lufthansa’s low-cost subsidiary, Germanwings, struck for 12 hours on Oct. 14 against attacks on early retirement plans.