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November 2012, Week 2

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Mon, 12 Nov 2012 21:35:27 -0500
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The Strike in Southern Europe 

Sahra Wagenknecht

The B u l l e t

Socialist Project * E-Bulletin No. 728
November 12, 2012
http://www.socialistproject.ca/bullet/728.php#continue

A storm is brewing in Southern Europe. In Greece on
November 6 and 7 another general strike will take
place. On November 14 Portuguese, Cypriot, Spanish and
Italian trade unions intend to go on strike in
opposition to the austerity policies of the European
Union. Belgian and British trade unions, as well as the
European and German trade union confederations, are
also calling for action. If the mobilization is
successful, this transnational strike will be a
milestone in the formation of a European protest
movement desperately needed to prevent the final
demolition of the European welfare states.

Unfortunately, the German contribution to this protest
movement has thus far been rather meagre. Tens of
thousands of people have indeed taken to the streets in
Germany this year demonstrating against the dictates
ordering cutbacks coming from the Troika (European
Commission, European Central Bank, IMF), and in favour
of the redistribution of societal wealth. The
participation of the German trade unions, however, has
left much to be desired in each case, to say nothing
about strike action. The realization that German
workers will ultimately also be affected if demand in
our neighbouring countries massively collapses appears
to be asserting itself only slowly. And there are legal
obstacles. While political strikes are permitted in
most European countries, German trade unions are
legally permitted to strike only in pursuit of
collective agreements. This absurd limitation of a
fundamental democratic right must at long last be
abolished. We too need the right to a political strike
in Germany! Political Strike?

Events in Southern Europe show the political strike to
be an indispensable tool for self-defence. What the EU
and the International Monetary Fund are demanding of
states such as Greece and Portugal has nothing to do
with neutral crisis management, but is rather brutal
class struggle executed from above. Cutbacks and
elimination of government services are targeted only at
ordinary people. Only sales taxes are being increased,
while high incomes and economic assets are spared, and
corporations are relieved of tax obligations. But
that's not all. In order to implement even more drastic
reductions in wages, workers and their organizations
are being weakened and deprived of rights. In such a
situation political strikes can serve as the last line
of self-defence.

It would be a mistake to believe though, that only the
over-indebted states in crisis are being confronted
with attacks on trade union, social, and democratic
rights. Indeed, the European Court of Justice has
decreed in various cases that free collective
bargaining, the national right to strike, employment
laws, even freedom of expression, and the protection of
human dignity, all encounter limits when confronted
with the right of corporations to unrestricted freedom
in the single market. A rectification of this
scandalous judgement, which grants corporations the de
facto right to wage dumping, has yet to be achieved.

We need a socially progressive clause added to European
Union treaties clearly stating that basic social rights
have priority over rules pertaining to competition and
corporate freedoms. A socially just Europe can only
exist if we succeed in turning the tables. We must be
able to limit free trade in services, the freedom of
corporations to establish operations, the free flow of
capital, and competition policies in the interests of
employees and trade unions. *

Sahra Wagenknecht is co-vice president and an important
theoretician of the German radical party Die Linke. She
is the author of Freiheit Statt Kapitalismus (Freedom
Instead of Capitalism), Campus Verlag, 2012. This
article originally appeared in the German daily Neues
Deutschland (Nov. 5, 2012).

Translation by Sam Putinja.

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