Day of protests against ‘austerity’ in Europe Millions take to the streets against budget cuts and attacks on workers

Workers all across Europe participated in a wave of coordinated protests on September 29, 2010, in 13 capital cities and other towns all across the continent.

The protests were in response to the plan of the European Commission to introduce more stringent measures to force European Union (EU) governments to rein in their finances and reduce deficits, that is, to spend less on the welfare of the people. The EU commission has threatened that financial penalties would be imposed if governments did not comply. The main protests were therefore organised in Brussels (Belgium) where the EU Commission has its headquarters.

Representatives of over 50 unions from all over Europe took part in the massive protest in Brussels. Coal miners from Germany marched alongside shipbuilders from Poland and gas workers from Romania, agricultural workers from Bulgaria and public sector workers from Britain and Spain through the streets of Brussels. Over 100,000 workers took part in the main procession, heading for the EU headquarters, holding aloft banners “No to austerity” and “Priority to jobs and growth”. They made it clear that the economic crisis was not caused by workers and that they would not allow the governments to punish them through cuts on public spending and welfare. They forcefully pointed out that billions of Euros were being handed out by their governments to big banks and the rich on the one hand, and the social security benefits of workers were being cut on the other. While the rich have many opportunities in Europe to avoid paying taxes, normal workers are forced to pay a lot of taxes, direct and indirect. While the big banks contributed to the problem immensely, the top managers of the bankers continue to receive fat bonuses while the workers were being made to tighten their belts.

Protests have taken place in many countries in the last few months on these matters. The workers have to face increased hardships because of the crisis – in the European Union, unemployment is running at 9.6 percent of the workforce, and at around twice that rate in Spain, Latvia and Estonia.

On September 29, protests also took place in Helsinki (Finland), Dublin (Ireland), Lisbon (Portugal), Rome (Italy), Paris (France), Madrid (Spain), Riga (Latvia), Warsaw (Poland), Nicosia (Cyprus), Bucharest (Hungary), Prague (Czech Republic), Vilnius (Lithuania), Belgrade and Athens (Greece).

In Spain, 10 million people, or around 70 percent of the workforce, participated in the mass strike action. Flights were grounded, television stations cancelled programmes and many small businesses also shut their doors in solidarity. At least 11 strikers were reported to have been injured in scuffles with police and more than 65 people were arrested. Actions took place in several cities of Spain including Madrid and Barcelona, where, as part of the strike, a massive building had been occupied for several days to provide space for co-ordination and mobilisation.

In Greece, workers marched to the parliament in the evening of September 29, 2010 to protest

against measures prescribed by the EU and the IMF in return for bailing the country out. Public transport was disrupted and hospital doctors stopped work for 24 hours. In Slovenia, about half of public sector workers remained on strike for the third day against a planned wage freeze.  In Poland, workers marched through Warsaw demanding an end to abuse by the “economic elites”.

Actions were organised in many parts of Britain against the threat to cut down public services. Workers around London organised lunch-time events to take the message that “there is an alternative” out onto the streets. In Edinburgh, Scotland, workers gathered in the centre of the city with placards demanding that “fat cat” bankers should be asked to tighten their belts, not workers. They emphasised the point that there’s a real alternative to the cuts and we don’t have to lose the services that the working people all rely on. In the north of Ireland, workers took part in rallies in Belfast and Derry. In Wales, public-service unions organised a conference in Cardiff to develop a joint strategy to tackle the looming public funding cuts. They pointed out that ConDem (Liberal Democrats – Conservative coalition) government in Westminster is scaremongering the public into believing that there are no alternatives, other than savagely cutting public finances in order to get the UK economy back on track, knowing full well that this plan is illogical. “The millionaires in Cameron’s cabinet are not going to suffer if our public services shrink, nor are the bankers who are earning fat bonuses. But the most vulnerable in our society, who rely upon public services as a lifeline, will bear the brunt of these savage cuts unless we do all we can to stop them.” Workers released balloons in several cities in Britain, representing those of them “who would have liked to go to Brussels to take part in the protests there but couldn’t”.

Through these massive coordinated and united protest actions organised all across Europe, the workers have shown their collective and unambiguous opposition to the plans of their governments and the EU commission to make the working people bear the brunt of the economic crisis while the rich get away with their profits intact. As the governments unite in Europe to ensure that every country of the European Union participates in savage cuts in welfare and public services, it is even more necessary for the workers of all these countries to unite in action, to resist these attacks.

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