People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 29

July 28,2002

Wave Of Strikes In Europe

B S Rao

WAVE of strikes against privatisation, loss of jobs and for increase in wages, is sweeping across Europe. Air traffic controllers in many countries of Europe recently went on a strike against the European Union’s plans to hand over the industry to private sector. Workers in Portugal, Italy, Greece and Hungary joined the strike.

In FRANCE, air traffic controllers struck work on June 17, in protest against the EU plans that could lead to privatisation. Hundreds of flights were cancelled due to the strike. On June 15, pediatricians, Air France and Paris Metro workers, and nurses struck work. Medical professionals struck work on June 19. The CGT, largest trade union organisation in France, warned the new rightist government that it would resist policies like rail privatisation.

In SPAIN, trade unions rejected the government’s plan to alter unemployment benefits which include penalising workers who refuse a new job --- almost any sort, at any pay --- offered within 50 km of their residence. In cases of allegedly unfair dismissal, the government wants to discontinue the present transitory full payment of wages until a labour court makes a judgement. Despite the unions’ opposition, the government imposed the harsh measures through a decree even as the unions called for a 24-hour general strike.

Earlier on May 19, nearly 2,00,000 anti-globalisation demonstrators had marched in central Madrid. On May 20, there was a 24-hour strike against the labour ‘reforms’ by millions of workers --- the first general strike in 8 years. Farm workers, who would be particularly affected by the ‘reforms’ because of the seasonal nature of their work, rallied in support of the strike. The working class demonstrated its strength as shops, banks, airports, hotels, restaurants, museums and businesses were closed; planes, trains and buses were cancelled; and pickets clashed with the police. The strike disrupted travels to the EU summit in Seville where the airport was brought to a virtual standstill. Major car manufacturers in Spain said their plants were idle. Other industries were also halted.

The government was able to drive a wedge between Spain’s two big trade union confederations last year. But now they are united and agreed that the aim of the government’s plans is to make sacking cheaper and easier. Earlier, on May 1, the unions had a lively protest rally and mobilised the workers in full strength. The unions are supported by the far left, but the so-called Socialist Party’s support is lukewarm.

Tens of thousands of people marched through central Bilbao (Spain) to protest against the torture of Basque prisoners and ban on the left-wing Basque Party.

In GERMANY, 60,000 autoworkers stayed home on May 6 as IG Metall, the country’s largest and most powerful union with 27 lakh members, launched the first wave of a series of "flexible" strikes that will move from company to company through the country’s industrial heartland in coming days. On May 7, 20,000 strikers closed 20 other plants, while IG Metall brought thousands of members in demonstrations in major manufacturing centres across the country. Construction workers extended a four-day old strike to all 16 states, raising tension in an increasingly bitter conflict over pay. Some 18,000 workers also downed tools at more than 1200 construction sites. German postal workers struck work in 6 out of the 16 states, demanding higher pay. Insurance and banking industry workers also staged walkouts in several areas in the first week of June. Pupils and teachers protested in central Berlin against financial cutbacks in the educational system.

In BRITAIN, 12,000 determined firefighters marched through the streets of London, demanding a decent wage of 30,000 pounds a year. Thousands of local government workers across London struck work, demanding a decent weighting allowance of 4,000 pounds a year. 30,000 postal workers face job losses in Britain. Over 10,000 campaigners descended on Westminster to demand that rich countries stop crushing the world’s poor with unfair trade. Nursing students in London protested lack of affordable accommodation. The British trade unions are conducting a big campaign against the inefficiency of private sector vis-à-vis public sector, especially in terms of services provided to the people. They campaigned for re-nationalisation of British Rail on the ground that the private company has failed to manage the British rail network, with a string of disasters, worsening services, profiteering at the expense of the people taking place.

In GREECE, massive strike action took place on May 29, across 52 cities. Thousands of workers and civil servants participated in demonstrations. The civil servants’ confederation staged the strike against the proposed pension ‘reforms.’ Unions and federations of All Workers’ Militant Front also took part in the strike, giving it a more militant and massive impulse. Ferries were docked in ports as seamen called a second 48-hour strike to protest against the changes the government plans in the pension system. An estimated 2,80,000 workers participated in the strike, out of a total of 4,00,000.