There are three major industrial disputes going on around Europe this week. Formally, there is nothing to connect the strikes: on wages in Belgium, job cuts in Spain and Government spending plans in Greece. But they’re all about austerity, and the fact that the strikes are spreading to northern countries not formally in crisis may well be significant.
Strikes require the support of the workers who take action, so they’re almost always about specific – and different – issues. But as austerity bites harder and harder, such reactions will become more common.
In Belgium, the two major confederations – CSC and FGTB – have called a major national demonstration in Brussels on Thursday, which is expected to have a significant impact on public transport across the comparatively rich country. The unions are protesting about the wage freeze that the Government is imposing, for the retention of the Belgian wage indexation system that protects workers from price rises (energy costs are a big issue – sound familiar?), and for progressive taxation.
Meanwhile in Spain, Iberia workers are taking action this week as the first of a series of five day strikes against plans to make over a fifth of the workforce redundant – around four thousand jobs. They complain that the management of Iberia have been prevented from negotiating a sensible solution to the airline’s problems by the global holding company that owns Iberia and British Airways – led by former BA Chief Executive Willie Walsh. The unions have drawn links between the job cuts and Spain’s appalling unemployment rate – revealed last month to have topped 25%, almost as high as Greece.
Where unions held a further general strike yesterday in protest at the Government’s latest unjustified plans to cut their way to economic recovery. In a resurgence of popular protest after a few months of declining turnouts as Greek voters hoped their new Government would renegotiate terms with the Troika, over 60,000 people marched through central Athens, as well as in second city Thessalonika and on the island of Crete. Martin Koehring, analyst at the Economist Intelligence Unit, forecast more social unrest this year, and put his finger on the nub of the problem:
“The strike highlights the growing gap between the plight of ordinary Greeks and the demands of Greece’s international creditors.”
Ilias Iliopoulos, secretary general of the ADEDY public sector union, which organized the walkout along with fellow ETUC affiliate, private sector union GSEE, said:
“Today’s strike is a new effort to get rid of the bailout deal and those who take advantage of the people and bring only misery. … A social explosion is very near,”