Workers’ struggles across Europe face union manoeuvres
Austerity regimes like that gradually being reinforced in Britain are being imposed across Europe. The continuing strikes and demonstrations in Greece have been the most dramatic expression of a working class response, but they are only the most high-profile examples.
The fact that the Greek workers' struggle continues is important. By 8 July there was the sixth general strike this year. But the unions continue to have strikes on different days, the demonstrations are getting smaller in some places, and the government continues to bring in economic measures that extend the offensive on workers' current and future living standards. The demonstrations still express great anger, most recently, for example, against the latest pension ‘reforms'. And while bourgeois analysts suggest that a mood of resignation is beginning to set in and that there is the beginning of an acceptance of belt-tightening, the same experts also see people taking to the streets again as tax increases, wage cuts and other measures begin to have a greater impact.
In Spain on 8 June there was a major public sector strike with demonstrations across the country. This is hardly surprising when you consider the 5% cut in public sector wages that's been imposed. More specifically there has been an on-off strike on the Madrid metro in which there has been a strike committee that seems to be made out of union reps, but a general assembly that is capable of taking its own decisions. In the Spanish media there have been rumours of the possible militarisation of transport - shades of fascist Spain under Franco. For the future the unions are preparing for a national strike for 29 September, as at present they still retain the initiative, holding back the tendencies for workers to hold their own mass meetings and send delegations to other workers.
On 25 June there were major demonstrations in Rome, Milan and other Italian cities. The massive budget cuts include a three-year wage freeze for workers in the public sector. The approach of the unions in Italy is typical. Strikes in Piedmont, Liguria and central Tuscany were delayed until 2 July. In addition, consider the pleadings of Susanna Camusso, deputy leader of the CGIL, who told a march in Bologna "No one denies that we need to make cuts, but they must be cuts which are fair and look to the future, rather than just slashing spending" (Financial Times 26/6/10). The ruling class do indeed insist on the need to make spending cuts, and want the working class to pay the price for the crisis of the capitalist economy. There is nothing ‘fair' about impoverishment in a class society.
Strikes and demonstrations in France on 24 June against the proposal to raise the age for pensions to 62 were widespread across the country, but very much under the control of the unions. Although it is significant that workers from the private sector and many that are not in unions participated in the demonstrations.
In Romania on 25 June thousands joined protests in Bucharest and some workers in the public sector went on strike in protest at measures that are cutting wages and pensions.
On June 8, 40,000 people protested outside the Danish parliament against spending cuts that will hit many benefits, services and employment. As with many of the other demonstrations across Europe this was organised by a union federation.
Going back 8 months, on 24 November last year there was one of the biggest union strikes in Irish history with demonstrations against the Irish state's austerity measures across the country. Since then unions in Ireland have been voting for the Croke Park agreement which effectively means accepting a no-strike deal for the next four years in exchange for a very dubious economic package. Here the two faces of the unions can be clearly seen. On one hand they try to keep control over worker's discontent by channelling it into well marshalled demonstrations and divided strikes. On the other hand they sell state spending cuts.
The reason that the unions have been so recently active is that everywhere that the capitalist state is cutting budgets and attacking workers' living standards the working class is beginning to express its anger.