Europe Braces for a Mega-Strike Against Austerity

Search form

Europe Braces for a Mega-Strike Against Austerity

Europe Braces for a Mega-Strike Against Austerity
Tue, 11/13/2012 - by Michael Levitin
This article originally appeared on Time

Photo: Pierre-Philippe Marcou

Austerity has spawned general strikes in individual countries across the troubled European Union. But this week may see something to add to the union’s tensions: a coordinated, multinational mega-strike.

Organized labor plans a general strike against the E.U.’s austerity policies, borderless and spanning the south of the continent. With more than 25 million people out of work, Europe’s biggest unions have vowed to lead marches and demonstrations on Nov. 14 that unite opposition parties, activist movements like Spain’s M15 and a growing sea of unemployed to challenge their national governments, banking leaders, the IMF and EU policymakers to abandon austerity cuts ahead of a high-stakes budget meeting in Brussels later this month.

What makes Wednesday’s strike even more threatening to Europe’s managerial elite is the strong support it is receiving from traditional labor groups that rarely send their members into the streets—foremost, among them, the European Trade Union Confederation, representing 85 labor organizations from 36 countries, and totaling some 60 million members.

“We have never seen an international strike with unions across borders fighting for the same thing—it’s not just Spain, not just Portugal, it’s many countries demanding that we change our structure,” says Alberto Garzón, a Spanish congressman with the United Left party which holds 7% of seats in the Spanish Congress. “It’s important to understand this is a new form of protest.”

The strike is expected to cause near or total shutdowns of the four most debt-battered countries—Portugal, Spain, Italy and Greece—as all major unions march to oppose devastating cuts in salaries, pensions, benefits and social services, meanwhile protesting tax hikes and harsh labor reforms.

There will be solidarity marches elsewhere. Though not formally striking, France’s largest labor groups signaled support with dozens of demonstrations planned nationwide. Rail workers in Belgium are striking; so are labor groups in Malta and Cyprus. In Britain, organizer Andrew Burgin of the Coalition of Resistance said marches and demonstrations there would “forge links across Europe, showing Britain’s austerity struggles as part of a pan-European, international movement.”

And from Germany and Switzerland to Turkey, eastern Europe and Scandinavia, workers and many organizations have promised to rally around the single message: No to austerity.

Fabian Zuleeg, a chief economist at the European Policy Centre in Brussels, sees the phenomenon as a “Europeanization of the debate,” where labor movements “now recognize that if they want to have an impact, they have to take their protests up to a higher level, a European level.” Just as capital moves freely across national boundaries, a new borderlessness of protest is now waiting there to meet it—which could be a game-changer, forcing nations and the continent as a whole to re-think taxation, government spending and other fiscal policies.

Some, like Ben Tonra, a professor of international relations at University College Dublin, liken the continental strike to a creation of a new European public space.

“With a shift in political forces in lots of member states, a shift at the E.U. level away from austerity to a focus on jobs [will] occur,” says Tonra. The real question Wednesday, he adds, isn’t how much noise the southern countries make but whether there is “a new and enlarging cast of characters, [with] comparable demonstrations in Germany, in Austria, in Finland—E.U. countries that don’t have histories of mass mobilizations over austerity.”

Austerity opponents say the strike isn’t intended to grind down Europe’s already weakened economy, but to send a clear message to governments and the Troika—the European Commission, European Central Bank and the IMF—that austerity cuts aren’t working to solve the debt crisis, but instead are worsening the problem.

“The situation is urgent: we have to stop this downward spiral and reverse the austerity measures, which even the IMF admits are wrong,” says Patricia Grillo, a spokesperson for the ETUC.

So what real impact will the strike have on policymakers heading to Brussels for a budgetary showdown Nov.22-23? It is potentially a turning point in the debate over austerity which has pitted Europe’s banking class against its citizens; it may also set up wider, more energized protests ahead.

But, “it’s very unlikely that it will overturn the general direction in which we’re moving,” says Zuleeg of the European Policy Centre, although “it might signal to leaders that there are other things they must take into consideration, like unemployment.”

A wise wake-up, suggests Garzón of Spain. Because “it’s a beginning of mobilizations,” he says. “it’s not an end.”

Article Tabs

With stores near military bases across the country, the retailer USA Discounters offers easy credit to service members. But when those loans go bad, the company uses the local courts near its Virginia headquarters to file suits by the thousands.

Despite the 828-page Dodd-Frank Act, the derivatives pyramid has continued to explode to a value now estimated to be as high as $2 quadrillion.

HSBC, Deutsche Bank and the Bank of Nova Scotia have been accused of attempting to rig the daily global price of silver in the latest price fixing scandal to rock the banking industry.

The British Medical Association joins a growing movement of institutions – including dozens of universities, foundations and even the World Council of Churches – dumping oil, coal and gas holdings.

A community without dollars is not a community without wealth.T his basic insight lies at the heart of the community resilience movement.

This summer, the CIA's private Amazon Web Services cloud—shielded from the public behind a wall of national security—becomes operational.

Posted 5 days 23 hours ago

The Premier of the Province, Kathleen Wynn, is being given another chance to respond to growing calls from the Indigenous community to protect their Territorial Rights.

Posted 6 days 22 hours ago

Extensive research and reports commissioned by the fracking industry are treated as seminal, informative works within the U.K. government – but to date, no one outside industry vouches for its safety.

Posted 5 days 23 hours ago

It seems the people of the world are factually correct when they label the United States the greatest threat to peace in the world.

Posted 6 days 22 hours ago

From the Trans-Pacific Partnership to the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership to the Trade In Services Agreement, massive trade deals are being advanced in coordination with a militarized police state.

Posted 4 days 2 hours ago
A Tale of Two Elections: Venezuela and the United States

Venezuela's re-election of Hugo Chavez may be a form of victory for the poor, but the U.S. presidential election is a fight over tactics among big business politicians about how to sell the corporate agenda to the public and continue the one-sided class war against workers.

A persistent gender wage gap affects earners at all levels.

Thousands march through Los Angeles’s Chinatown to stop Wal-mart’s invasion of Los Angeles.

This week in Occupy, the Occupy National Gathering is under way in Philadelphia, Los Angeles rejects Wal-mart, hundreds marched on California’s capitol to demand a foreclosure moratorium and two Brazilian activists pay with their lives for speaking at the People’s Summit in Rio.

Will the fledgling media outlet tackle the major issues facing Americans that Big Media won’t touch?

We must keep checks on evasive government agencies.

Sign Up