People's Democracy

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


No. 24

June 13, 2010


Europe Simmers with Discontent


R Arun Kumar

ON May 29, around 300,000 people rallied together in Lisbon, in what was termed as the biggest demonstration in the recent decades, against the austerity measures announced by the Portuguese government. They were responding to the call given by the Confederation of Portuguese Workers (CGTP/IN). The Portuguese Communist Party (PCP) played an important part in this mobilisation. The participants of this rally expressed their indignation at the efforts of the ruling classes to shift the burdens of the acute economic crisis on to the shoulders of the toiling sections. This historic demonstration should not be looked in isolation but together with what is happening in other countries of Europe.




Reports about the demonstrations and huge working class actions in Greece were carried in earlier issues. Without repeating, we could state that these working masses are still continuing their fight in the country. On May 31, a successful strike of the seamen was organised in the country. The entire sea transport had come to a standstill. This was after seven successful general strikes organised in the country in the last 120 days. Apart from these general strikes, huge demonstrations took place in Athens, Thessaloniki and in more than 65 other cities across the country. The PAME (All Workers Militant Front) which is spearheading the movement had even mobilised large number of workers against the brutal Israeli attack on the aid flotilla to Palestine. This shows the rousing political consciousness among the working class in the country.


In Spain, on 8 June, more than 75 per cent of the civil servants have struck work responding to the call given by the two major unions in the country, UGT and CCOO. Thousands of the civil servants joined the rally outside the office of the Finance ministry protesting cuts to their incomes. The unions have declared that this strike was only a 'test' and would now be followed with a general strike covering all the industries and sectors in the economy.


The present times can be called as a 'summer of demonstrations and discontent'. People across Europe are angry at the burdens their respective governments are imposing on them in the name of coming out of the present crisis. They are seeing through the naked class character of their respective governments – bailouts for the banks and burdens for the common people. As the financial crisis is entering a new phase, from corporate insolvency to sovereign insolvency, the ruling classes are desperate in their attempts to come out of the crisis with little damage. This they intend to overcome by reducing the government expenditure and increasing the taxes on common people.


According to a recent report of the IMF all the developed countries are facing a severe debt crisis. The amount of debt is at an all time high in the post-World War period. The national deficits of the 30 members of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) have grown almost sevenfold since 2007, to about 3.4 trillion dollars today. Their total debt burden has also grown dramatically, to a record-setting 43 trillion dollars. In the euro zone, national deficits have even grown 12-fold in the same time period, with the euro-zone countries accumulating 7.7 trillion dollars in debt. The euro zone isn't the only place with a debt problem. The US national debt is now over 12 trillion dollars and is forecast to expand to more than 20 trillion dollars by the end of the decade. At that point, Americans will be paying 900 billion dollars a year in interest alone.




Studies have identified that there are four areas that take up a major chunk of government spending of these developed countries – defence, social welfare programmes, healthcare and interest payment on debts. As they believe that they cannot cut the expenditure on defence and have to pay interests for the debts they had taken, they have decided to target the other two sectors. Thus in the name of curtailing government expenditures and austerity they have started curtailing social security measures. As a first step, salaries of employees and workers are drastically cut. In Greece approximately wages are cut by 30-40 per cent. Pensions are the second casualty. Bonus, unemployment allowances, holiday allowances are all pruned and retirement ages are being increased in all these countries. VAT and other forms of indirect taxes are hiked by 10 per cent. Spain is axing 13,000 public sector jobs. Casualisation of work force has become the norm. Contract workers are increasing in numbers. These are to meet the conditions imposed by the European Union (implying Germany and France the dominant economies in the region) and the IMF. This is the cost that countries like Greece, Portugal, Ireland and Spain have to pay in lieu of the money they receive as 'bailout' from the debt crisis.


The ruling classes in countries like Germany ran a campaign stating that the people of countries like Greece, Spain and Portugal are 'lazy', unwilling to work, parasites on government subsidies and welfare measures. 'They need to be punished for not only wreaking their economies but also in the process trying to bring down the economies of other countries too', is the line of campaign that they have run. Thus instead of the speculative policies of the finance capital it is the working class who are being blamed. In order to 'instil discipline' among the people of these countries, IMF which was roped in to help bailing out these countries, stated that it would set targets for these countries and constantly monitor their implementation. 'This alone would give confidence to those who have invested their money to rescue these countries from the crisis'. A Greek professor, drawing parallels with what IMF did to Argentina in 1990s, had called its present move as putting these countries “on the ice.”


The neo-liberal globalisation policies have already increased income inequalities. Fifteen years ago, the assets of the six largest U.S. banks made up 17 per cent of US gross domestic product. Today, the top six banks make up 63 per cent of GDP. This process continued even during the present crisis. All the banks that needed taxpayer monies to bail them out are now reaping super profits, while the majority people in the world are suffering from unemployment, poverty and hunger. In 2007, the richest Americans earned 6900 times more than the average household, while in 1992 they earned just 1124 times as much. That means the gap between the richest Americans and the average family is 6 times higher today than it was in 1992. According to the report of the UNDP brought out in October 2009, US is ranked third, Portugal fifth, Britain seventh along with Italy, while Greece and Ireland shared the tenth spot among the advanced countries with glaring inequalities.


US recorded unemployment rates in double digits. Spain is leading the pack of these countries with the highest unemployment rate – around 20 per cent. Among Spaniards under 25 years of age, 40 percent are jobless – a rate twice what it was a mere two years ago. Portugal has more than 9 per cent unemployment.




The 'austerity' prescription of the IMF and the European Union thus added to the already burdened people of these countries. This had led to widespread resentment and brought them out in protests. Unlike the anarchist elements that used to be in the forefront in some of the earlier protest struggles, all these protests are led by the organised working class movements in these countries with the communist parties playing an active role. People are responding in huge numbers to the various protest calls given by them, with reports claiming many first time participants in these protests and strikes. This naturally frightened the capitalist classes and they have further intensified their efforts to malign and isolate the communist parties in these countries.


The ruling social democratic party in Greece had raised the issue of de-recognising the Communist Party of Greece (KKE) in the parliament stating that its acts are causing severe economic losses, adversely affecting the image of the country and 'tourism'. This anti-communist tirade was taken to an altogether new level in Czech Republic and Poland. In these two countries attempts were on to ban the use of all sorts of communist symbols and organisations. Apart from all this, a virulent ideological campaign against the communist parties and communists is being carried out under the auspices of the EU.


The communist parties in the region are giving a fitting reply to these attacks. They not only joined this battle of ideas but are using it to raise the political-ideological consciousness of the people. Consistently taking up the issues of the people, they are standing in the forefront in the struggles. They have called: 'People of Europe Rise Up' and there is an encouraging response.