Sunday, June 27, 2010


Following previous general strikes in Greece and Spain unions in Europe are increasingly reaching for the weapon of the general strike to protest government austerity measures across the continent. Recently workers in France and Italy held one day general strikes, and Greek unions have set a date for yet another such strike as well. Here's news from the Epoch Times of the strike in France last Thursday June 24.

Millions in France Protest Raising Retirement Age to 62
Workers from both the public and private sectors joined hundreds of organized protest activities, reported AFP.

Bernard Thibault, head of France’s biggest union CGT estimated “about 2 million” protesters turned out. About 1-in-5 civil servants did not go to work, shutting the doors to some schools.

Authorities said 50 percent of train service was interrupted coming in and out of Paris and 15 percent of flights to city airports had to be canceled Thursday morning.

Striking print workers asked national daily newspapers to scrap their Friday editions.

On June 16, Labor Minister Eric Woerth announced plans to raise the retirement age to 62 by 2018 as part of a program to save the country US$55 billion.

Unions say the proposal puts an unfair burden on workers. Woerth said Wednesday the reform was “necessary and fair” and the government would stick to its plan. The bill will go before cabinet next month and Parliament is scheduled to vote on it in September.

In 1995, Paris had to drop a savings program after weeks of strikes.

France currently has one of the lowest retirement ages in Europe.

On Friday June 25 it was Italy's turn. Here's a report from Deutsche Welle.
Italians protest Berlusconi's austerity plans

Italian workers walked out in a protest against austerity cuts, disrupting transport services across the country. Italy's largest union organised the day of strike action, with marches in nearly every major city.

Italy's largest union staged a national general strike on Friday in a protest against austerity measures by Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's centre-right government. Transport services across the country were disrupted, though support for the strike was not universal.

The left-leaning CGIL union, which has six million members, staged rallies in nearly every major Italian city in a bid to force the government to rethink a 25-billion-euro package of cuts. Berlusconi has defended the package as “absolutely necessary” and hopes it will help save the euro currency.

The austerity measures include a 10 percent budget reduction for ministries, 4.5 billion euros in reduced transfers to regional governments, a partial amnesty on illegal building and a 3-year wage freeze for civil servants.

"No one denies that we need to make cuts, but they must be cuts which are fair and look to the future, rather than just slashing spending," said Susanna Camusso, deputy leader of the CGIL, at a rally in Bologna.

The strike was a key test of strength for Berlusconi, whose poll ratings have reached new lows as unemployment has risen and the euro zone's third largest economy has struggled to emerge from recession.

Loyalties divided

The strike split Italy's trade union movement, which is roughly divided along political lines. The other two main unions asked their members to stay on the job.

While most private sector CGIL workers went on strike for four hours, public sector members demonstrated their anger by staying off work all day. Bus, subway and rail services were disrupted throughout the country, although support for the strike was patchy and some services continued to run. Airport staff also planned to strike, but flights at Rome's Fiumicino airport appeared to suffer little disruption.

The strikes followed union protests in France and Greece this week against plans for pension reform and budget cuts. Members of the 16-nation euro zone have rushed to approve austerity measures in a bid to restore confidence in the single currency and stop Greece's debt crisis spilling over into other countries.

Thousands marched in Rome on June 12 to protest against the government's austerity measures. Polls say a majority of Italians believe the cuts are unfairly distributed, even though part of the package includes pay cuts for parliamentarians.

Author: Joanna Impey (AP/Reuters)
Meanwhile Greece which has seen four general strikes this year is set to repeat its protests on June 29. Here's the story from the Wall Street Journal. This strike is likely to be the most widely observed one of the current batch.
Greece's Largest Unions Plan Paralyzing Strike For June 29
ATHENS (Dow Jones)--Greece's two largest unions, which have about 1.2 million members, have agreed to hold a 24-hour, combined paralyzing strike on June 29 to protest prospective labor and pension reforms.

This confirms what the unions had said to Dow Jones on Wednesday.

The Greek ruling socialist government has said that it has no choice but to impose tough measures that it has agreed to in exchange for the EUR110 billion bailout package provided by the European Union and the International Monetary Fund.

Some of the proposed reforms that unions fear will lead to easier layoffs at a time of high unemployment, rising retirement ages and lower pensions.

Unions see the reforms as a denigration of workers' hard-earned rights and the dismantling of the welfare state, while the socialist government argues it has no other options.

This will be the fifth general strike this year and is likely to again bring the country to its knees as businesses, public services and transportation, among several other sectors, will grind to a halt.

The private sector umbrella union Greek General Confederation of Labor, or GSEE, which has 800,000 members, said in a statement that it's taking this action to oppose the prospective bills to liberalize the labor market and to protect pension entitlements that they see as being undermined.

"We need to reject these anti-worker and anti-pension legal initiatives, as well as the government's inflexible and negative stance," the GSEE said in a statement.

The GSEE added that the strike was also being organized to express workers' dissatisfaction that a national collective-bargain wage agreement looks unlikely to be achieved soon due to the intransigence of employer groups.

The second largest union, ADEDY, which has 400,000 members and represents public sector employees, confirmed to Dow Jones that it will also participate in the strike even though a formal decision has not been made yet.

"We have to take to the streets to protect our members from these harsh and unfair changes that are looming," Ilias Iliopoulos, secretary general of the public sector umbrella union, told Dow Jones.

"Greece is a test case for these neo-liberal ultra-conservative policies, and if they succeed here, they will be imposed across all of Europe--to even the wealthier Northern European countries--at the expense of workers and for the benefit of big business," Iliopoulos added.

-By Nick Skrekas of Dow Jones

There is also a planned general strike on June 29 in the Basque countries in Spain. This one will likely also be well observed as a previous one on May 21 was a success despite the opposition of Spain's two largest union federations the UGT and the CCOO. In the Basque countries independent local unions outweigh the larger national federations. The anarchosyndicalist CGT has come out in support of this strike, and they have been pressuring the larger unions for some time to not wait until the end of September but to come out with the Basque unions at the end of the month. The CGT has also been calling for some time for a general strike of unlimited duration.

When all is said and done, after all, a one day general strike is of only symbolic value. Sometimes the duration of the supposed general strike is even less than a day (see the article on Italy above). The following article originally published in the English anarchist paper Freedom and reproduced at the Libcom website gives the cautionary warning from the Spanish anarchosyndicalist CNT that only a real general strike with no time limit is an actual way to make governments back down from their austerity "reforms".

CNT: Make Spain’s general strike indefinite
Submitted by Rob Ray on Jun 23 2010 20:43
As a general strike is mooted to coincide with Europe-wide action, the anarcho-syndicalist CNT union is warning that one day outings will not be enough to deter deep public sector cuts

Spain's fifth general strike has been set for September 29th amidst massive public sector cuts and attacks on job security passed by the ruling Socialist Party - and the ConfederaciĆ³n Nacional del Trabajo is calling for it to be made indefinite.

Following a one day public-sector strike earlier this month the union is warning that “gesture strikes” will not be enough to force the government to change course.

In a statement after the June 8th event they said: “The government’s plans to stabilise the economy through reducing the public deficit by 11% have placed the cost of the economic crisis on the shoulders of the disadvantaged.

“It is evident that the proposals are designed to satisfy banks and employers by compromising with the neoliberal designs that prevail in the EU.”

“If there had been earlier mobilisations the government would not have dared to present the measures announced and would have had to cut elsewhere. It would have had to seek income where the money really is – on the bench, through corporate taxes, inheritance, hedge funds etc.

“We believe it is a mistake to continue ‘negotiating’ labour reform, which is simply a concession to employers. The only possiblility for correcting this situation is to fight this economic aggression through social confrontation, to continue and expand protests to all sectors.”

“These great evils can only be treated with great remedies, and such remedies do not include, of course, a 24-hour general strike which, assuming that UGT and CCOO (the two major reformist unions in Spain) dared to actually convene one, would act only as a giant safety valve for employee discontent.

“An indefinite general strike paralysing the country until the government withdraws anti-worker and anti-social actions would by contrast act as a binder for workers to recover their class consciousness and act together, with an eye to the destruction of the capitalist system through social revolution which is the only truly effective medicine against congenital diseases of the system.

Larger TUC-style unions called the public-sector strike on June 8th, which the left claimed got 75% of public sector workers out (state sources put it 16%) and saw tens of thousands of people on the streets in protest. The public sector accounts for around 2.5 million jobs in Spain. However the measure has made little impact on narrowly-passed plans to slash 5% from public sector pay, part of a 15 billion euro package of austerity measures being implemented in the next few years.

Other measures include the uncoupling of pension payments from inflation, an end to tax breaks for new parents and cuts in public investment and development aid of up to 6 billion euros. The Party is also taking the opportunity to “free up the labour market” by making it easier to hire and fire workers, a measure which would be likely to help drive a general strike outside the public sector.

Its actions, taken as Spain is threatened by international markets over its debt ratio, are widely seen as a betrayal of the electoral promises which put the Socialist Party (PSOE) and Jose Zapatero into power in 2004 on the back of widespread discontent with the right, though anarchist groups in the country have pointed to the situation as emblematic of party politicians’ inability to represent working people.

In an editorial for the periodical CNT, the union noted: “Economic crises are inherent in the capitalist system and will, unfortunately for humanity, regularly occur as long as the system exists.

“At the end of the day, the problem lies in the balance of power between two social classes with conflicting interests - the bourgeois class, which holds exclusive ownership of the means of production and distribution, and the proletarian class, which has no more than their manual and intellectual labour to sell as dearly as possible. The salary of the employee, and therefore the worker himself, is just another cost of production like machinery, electrical power or fuel.

“And when the worker is considered this way, not as a human being but as a cost to be cut without a second thought, you can do with them what you will, without remorse. That is neither more nor less than what capitalists do with us now.

“We can not remain silent before these measures announced by the government, which will result in yet more desecration of labour right to add to a long list of infamies imposed since this pompously-named “democracy” came into existence. Lowering the salaries of officials and freezing or eliminating pensions, among other measures, are not appropriate ways to solve the so-called crisis, and will have the determined opposition of the CNT.”

- Discussion thread on

- An edited version of this article first appeared in Freedom anarchist newspaper

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