Why We Are Striking Against Austerity in Europe
European workers' representatives tell us their reasons for
taking part in today's European day of action
November 14 2012
Spain: Fernando Lezcano: 'The sacrifice is not being shared'
The European Trade Union Confederation has called a day of
action and solidarity throughout Europe on 14 November to
fight against the austerity policies being deployed
throughout Europe. This day of action will mean a general
strike in this country, which, for the first time in recent
history, will also be simultaneously held in other European
In Spain, the recession is taking an incredible toll on the
population. We have an intolerably high unemployment rate
(more than 25%), the welfare state has been rapidly
dismantled and public services and labour relations are
With this strike we want to change European policies, which
only pay attention to the voices of the powerful. We also
want to fight against employment reforms and a policy of
dogmatic deficit reduction, which has brought us close to
having 6 million unemployed.
Unemployment benefits are being cut. The unemployment rate
among young people in Spain is over 50%, condemning our youth
to social exclusion or emigration. The education cuts pushed
through by the government are depriving many of any
possibility of accessing higher education and force a
classist, sexist and conservative education on them. The cuts
in the health budget and the introduction of prescription
charges mean that the most disadvantaged could be left
outside the national health system, and the lack of budget
provision for the dependent care law leaves thousands of
people without appropriate care. As a result, thousands of
families are pushed towards social exclusion.
The government's path is not the way to emerge from the
crisis. The sacrifice is not being shared by the whole of
society: the economic and financial elites are spared and
some even benefit from it, protected by the government.
Politicians are shamelessly defrauding the democratic
process. This is why we will be striking.
- Fernando Lezcano is communications secretary and spokesman
for the CCOO (Workers' Commissions)
Portugal: Armando Farias: 'We convey our solidarity'
Unemployment in Portugal already affects 1.4 million workers
in a country of 10.5 million. We have some of the worst
working conditions in Europe, and the cost of living is still
going up while wages come down. Around 500,000 workers earn
the national minimum salary (E432 a month after tax). More
than 1 million pensioners survive on misery pensions (E200 to
-300 per month). This general strike is occurring during a
violent capitalist offensive, and for this reason it has very
high political significance. Our aims are to stop
recessionary policies, to demand the renegotiation of the
debt, to defend national sovereignty, to defeat rightwing
policies and to adopt a programme of development for our
Our strike motto is simple: "Against exploitation and
impoverishment". We are fighting the measures contained in
Portugal's 2013 draft state budget, and we are working
against brutal tax increases that will mean cuts to income,
both salaries and pensions. We also oppose the cuts in
unemployment benefits, in sickness pay and other welfare
benefits. As is the case elsewhere in Europe, we're against
the destruction of the welfare state and the overwhelming
destruction of jobs in public administration, which brings
with it the dismantling, degradation and higher cost of
With this in mind, we convey our solidarity with all of the
European workers who will participate in this day of action.
- Armando Farias is head of the commission executive of the
CGTP-IN (General Confederation of Portuguese Workers)
France: Bernard Thibault: 'End this downward spiral'
Today in France, more than 100 protests will take place
across the country, following the call of five French unions.
Every day in Europe, austerity policies show their
devastating effects and prevent any chance of recovery. By
choosing austerity against solidarity, European governments,
under pressure from the troika, are dealing a serious blow to
the social ideal that should animate Europe.
The shock treatments inflicted on workers - particularly in
Greece, Spain and Portugal - demonstrate the political
impasse leading to the destruction of social rights, which
undermines democracy while maintaining despair. It is a
crisis that is fuelling racism, xenophobia, and the
temptation to move towards isolationism.
Europe, as the former director general of the International
Labour Office (ILO) said in June, is following a path
contrary to social progress: "European countries the most
affected by the crisis are diverting from the core values
of the ILO ... We seek to reduce public debt, but the social
debt accumulates, and it will also need to be paid." The
European Union is now an area of competition between
employees and public services, which are under an increased
financial strain. It is time we strongly showed our desire
for another Europe, one of social progress and solidarity.
Throughout Europe, unions are opposing austerity measures
that are sinking the continent. European workers are engaged
in one common struggle: to pull Europe out of this downward
Today's events will allow workers across Europe to
act together to express their opposition to austerity and
social regression, to demand better working and living
conditions, and to advocate for the effective co-ordination
of economic and social policies to help those who are most in
need. We are calling for a new social contract and stimulus
measures at European level, supporting both employment and
- Bernard Thibault is general secretary of the CGT (General
Confederation of Labour)
Greece: Tania Karayiannis: 'This is our only hope'
The constant deterioration of the economic crisis in Europe,
especially in south Europe and Greece, has stirred a wave of
reactions across the continent. The wisdom of the central
political options laid out by the EU, and its persistence in
implementing austerity policies that extend social
disparities, are the most challenged issues. Governments are
now confronted by their own citizens.
In this context, the policy pursued in Greece over the past
few years, on the pretext of saving the country from the risk
of huge public debt and bankruptcy, is socially unfair and
has clear ideological features. It is expressed through the
following policies: a continuous wage and pension cut,
attacks on labour, social security and social rights, the
heavy taxation on private property and the threat of further
dramatic public services restrictions.
Such extreme neoliberal policies limit the rights of all
workers and vulnerable social groups, in favour of bankers
and lenders. They are leading our people to poverty and
misery. It is obvious that the solution lies in implementing
policies promoting social justice, which would overthrow the
doctrine of "competitiveness". There is no doubt that Europe
needs a new orientation and implementation of policies that
lead to stabilisation, development, progress and prosperity.
The common and co-ordinated struggle of the trade unions in
all European countries is necessary today more than ever.
This is our only hope for exiting the crisis.
- Tania Karayiannis is international officer and member of
the executive committee of Adedy, the union of civil servant
UK: Ben Rocker: 'This isn't a token action'
The Civil Service Rank and File Network called for action on
14 November to coincide with the European general strikes.
But we also did it around very specific issues that workers
here are getting angry about.
We're about to lose any semblance of decent working
conditions. The government has subjected low-paid civil
servants to a two-year pay freeze while increasing workers'
pension contributions. Workers have less money and struggle
to make ends meet. After losing on pensions through holding
just three single days of strike action in almost two years
of the dispute, the initial response from the Public and
Commercial Services union was inadequate.
As a result, a
growing group from different offices started talking about
pushing for action. I was inspired by what construction
workers did last year: not only forcing Unite to call a
strike over pay cuts and de-skilling, but also building up a
momentum that beat seven big employers. It underlined that,
if there was a possibility of winning this dispute, it would
be thanks to us workers.
My hope is that 14 November is just the start. We've already
been able to embarrass the union into calling protests on 30
November, now we need to rattle the Cabinet Office. This
isn't a token action. We've been pushed too far, and we're
fighting to win.
- Ben Rocker is a member of the Public and Commercial
Services union and of the Civil Service Rank and File Network
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