Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Historic strike against austerity must become turning point

The historic, co-ordinated pan-Europe strikes and marches taking place today are the clearest indication yet that the struggles against the governments that have imposed austerity policies are coming to a head.

With more than 25 million out of work, all major unions will be marching to oppose further devastating cuts in salaries, pensions, benefits and social services, tax increases and new limits on trade union organisation.

The strike is expected to cause near or total shutdowns of the four most debt-battered countries — Portugal, Spain, Italy and Greece.

There will be solidarity marches elsewhere organised by new movements like Spain’s M15 as well as trades unions. Demonstrations are planned throughout France. Rail workers in Belgium are striking, as are unions in Malta and Cyprus.    

And from Germany and Switzerland to Turkey, eastern Europe and Scandinavia, workers and many organisations have promised to rally around the single message: No to austerity.

In Britain, the Trades Union Congress has organised precisely nothing, however. A statement declared that its main action had taken place on October 20, when an estimated 150,000 people marched through London on a Saturday afternoon. New general secretary-designate Frances O’Grady will, however, address an evening rally outside the European Commission’s offices in London. That’ll frighten them!

Mounting anger forced the European Trades Union Confederation, representing 85 trades union organisations from 36 countries, with 60 million members to support the action. But the ETUC’s hope that the protest will encourage the European Commission, the European Central bank and the International Monetary Fund to get the economy “growing” instead of cutting deficits, were dashed even before the sun began to rise.

Yesterday, the Bank of Portugal slashed its growth forecast for 2013 from minus 1% to minus 1.6%, following an expected 3% contraction this year; and a new report from respected US forecaster the Conference Board foreshadowed a continued slowing of the world economy through to 2025.

Many eyes are watching events unfold in Europe and elsewhere with more than a little trepidation. Reuters news agency tried its hardest to play down the threat contained in the mounting anger, fulfilling its role in attempting to calm the volatility on the financial markets and encourage the global corporations.

In a piece hopefully headlined “European austerity protests far from revolution”, it claimed that things are looking good for investors: “While US carmaker Ford has announced plans to scrap 6,200 jobs in Europe to reflect tough auto sector and wider economic conditions, its decision to shift some output to low-cost Spain underlined that social tensions there were not a concern.”

This is a report from cloud-cuckoo land. In Spain, people are laying siege to banks that have repossessed over 300,000 homes in the last couple of years. The police union says it will back any members who refuse to help with evictions. Seizing the banks has become a practical notion in the eyes of many Spanish households.

Reuters noted that though “the sense of alarm has reached better-off youths in northern Europe, it is often tempered by a mood of resignation and inability to define a political alternative”. There is some truth in this observation.

Across the world, strikes, demonstrations and protests of all kinds – a massive action is planned in the United States next week against the anti-union corporation Walmart - are powerless to stop the accelerating contraction of the global capitalist economy. This – and not some misguided policies - is what is driving governments to cut spending and drive down conditions.

The struggles against austerity must not be allowed to founder in a futile effort to get governments to "change course". It is high time to begin the construction of a not-for-profit replacement, and we’ll be working with others on the blueprint – a new Agreement of the People - this Saturday.

Gerry Gold
Economics editor

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