If any call for general strike deserves special attention because of its importance and political impact, the one that will be held tomorrow, November 14, is even more special: it is the first international strike of the century, says Nacho Alvarez
Tomorrow Europe will hold a European Day of Action and Solidarity for jobs and against austerity, including protests and demonstrations in many countries as well as a call for general strike in Spain, Portugal, Italy and Greece. In Spain it will be joined by a number of groups and social movements, thereby contributing to a strike that transcends its strict labour nature.
European citizens, especially those in the peripheral countries, have experienced a significant decline in their living conditions since the crisis began. Greek workers have seen their wages and pensions cut by between 30% and 40%, 15% of public sector jobs suppressed, a four year delay in the retirement age and hundreds of schools and hospitals closed. In Portugal pay of government employees has been cut and pensioners benefits reduced, 100,000 jobs have been eliminated and labour reforms have reduced severance pay, holidays, unemployment benefits and overtime pay.
The Italian government has increased VAT from 21% to 23%, raised the retirement age to 66 years and frozen pensions, while public enterprises and assets have been privatized.
In Spain, we have suffered plenty of Troika remedies: pay cuts and layoffs across the board have affected workers in both the public and private, delays in retirement age and cuts to pension benefits, labour market reform has cut the cost of, and eased firing rules while collective bargaining has been undermined and there have been deep and widespread cuts in health and education (including social service cuts, introduction of charges, increased university fees, layoffs, etc..).
These policies, implemented under pressure from Brussels and in the name of economic recovery, have done nothing but deepen the crisis, impoverishing millions of citizens across Europe and increasing social inequalities. Furthermore, these measures were adopted without social support and are fraudulent, since they were not included in the electoral programs of the governments that imposed them.
On top of this, in the various countries of the European periphery there’s been a common scam: a crisis of financial institutions linked to the excessive size of the balance sheets of these institutions and / or external borrowing, that has been transferred by the economic elites to the public sector, so that it is borne by all citizens, and particularly the working classes. Bailouts linked to the European Financial Stability Fund, including the 100,000 million Euros rescue in June requested by the Spanish government from the EU in order to recapitalize banks, have allowed -more or less directly the banks to pay off debts with private creditors and foreign investors in exchange for the country being “rescued” via a new debt contract with the EU, which is to be paid through socially unacceptable cuts and taxes on the citizens.
The socialization of bank losses, a regressive tax structure and tax exemptions on capital, plus the refusal of the ECB to buy debt of struggling countries, have led to an increase in the public debt of the peripheral economies since the onset of the economic crisis. Thus, while the primary deficit (that which excludes interest payments on debt) of Portugal, Spain, Greece and Italy now stands, on average, according to data from Eurostat, at -1.6% of GDP, these economies are forced to make dramatic cuts to continue paying the inflated interest on the public debt. In Spain alone the interest on this debt amounted to 114,000 million euros during the period 2008 to 2012 (equivalent to 12% of GDP).
Faced with such a scam European trade unions have called the first general strike in the 21st century. Given that the attack on labor, social and democratic rights is continental so must be the response, in what is an important milestone in the European union.
This is the path to follow if we want to stop the offensive we are living through, against social rights, and if we are to promote an alternative economic policy, which takes as its starting point the abandonment of deficit cuts and a move towards moratoria, renegotiation and a significant cut in debt payments. But all the policy statements, manifestos and calls for a change in policy, while necessary, will be worthless if not backed with the necessary social and popular mobilization.
Therefore, tomorrow there will be millions of workers, citizens, who, from Lisbon to Athens, Madrid and Rome, will not teach classes, won’t see patients, won’t go to workshops and foundries, won’t turn on their computers in their offices, will not open the shops or pick up the phones at call centres, will not be staffing the subways, trains or buses, nor consume. In short, the people who make our society function every morning will not do so tomorrow. Because tomorrow’s strike means creating the conditions for a possible political alternative after tomorrow. Our future depends on it.
Nacho Alvarez is Professor of Applied Economics, University of Valladolid, Member of EconoNuestra collective
Translation by Revolting Europe