Read

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.”

Add new comment

Sign Up

Article Tabs

anti-fracking protests, Keep It In the Ground, protester arrests, undercover agents

Emails obtained through an open records act request show that the Lakewood Police Department in Colorado collected details about a BLM oil and gas lease protest from undercover officers as the event was being planned.

Greek privatizations, transit privatization, Panhellenic Railway Association, TrainOSE, water privatization, Thessaloniki Water Supply & Sewage, Greek austerity policies

Late last month, the Panhellenic Railway Association took to the streets to protest a slew of public transport privatizations scheduled to take place later this year. "The government defiantly and shamelessly gives away the national wealth," it said.

#WebOfDenial, climate denial, fossil fuel industry, Exxon climate lies

In the U.S. Senate, champions for climate action and accountability are loudly putting the blame on think tanks and denier-for-hire front groups that have created doubt about climate science.

Universal Credit, Citizen’s Advice Scotland, U.K. austerity policies, welfare benefits reform, Citizen Advice, New Policy Institute, welfare payment delays

Claimants are facing hefty delays in receiving benefits and unfair sanctions.

ISTANBUL, Turkey

Soldiers versus police versus a mob in the newsroom of Turkey’s most-watched news channel — and dozens of reporters to document it all.

Sherry Hernandez, Senka Huskic, housing crisis, foreclosures crisis, mortgage-lending crisis, Countrywide, PennyMac, CitiMortgage, Trustee Corps, foreclosures fraud, banking crimes, TARP, HAMP

"If we had known from the beginning how corrupt the system was, we probably never would have started."

Posted 3 days 21 hours ago
Pakistan climate impacts, climate change in Pakistan, extreme flooding, glacial melt

Glaciers are melting, extreme floods are becoming commonplace, and the country's infrastructure is struggling to keep up as climactic changes wreak havoc, threatening people's daily existence across Pakistan.

Posted 4 days 20 hours ago

This week we prepare activists for what they might encounter as they take to the streets for justice and equality.

Posted 2 days 21 hours ago
#23ways, 23 ways, Black Lives Matter, police brutality, We Are Here Campaign

Beyoncé, Alicia Keys, Rihanna, Jennifer Hudson, Pink, Bono, and others explain why it's time to take action to heal the long history of systemic racism in America.

Posted 3 days 21 hours ago
Pokémon Go

Last week, two things happened that will have long-lasting impact on American society and the global economy. First, the yield on the 10-year Treasury fell to a record low of 1.366 percent. Second, Nintendo released Pokémon Go.

Posted 4 days 20 hours ago

This week we prepare activists for what they might encounter as they take to the streets for justice and equality.

Universal Credit, Citizen’s Advice Scotland, U.K. austerity policies, welfare benefits reform, Citizen Advice, New Policy Institute, welfare payment delays

Claimants are facing hefty delays in receiving benefits and unfair sanctions.

Pokémon Go

Last week, two things happened that will have long-lasting impact on American society and the global economy. First, the yield on the 10-year Treasury fell to a record low of 1.366 percent. Second, Nintendo released Pokémon Go.

#WebOfDenial, climate denial, fossil fuel industry, Exxon climate lies

In the U.S. Senate, champions for climate action and accountability are loudly putting the blame on think tanks and denier-for-hire front groups that have created doubt about climate science.

Activists at the political conventions should prepare themselves and their cellphones.