European workers mobilize against austerity

By MICHAEL SCHREIBER

Last month saw huge street mobilizations in several European countries in which the working class has been besieged by austerity demands by their governments and the European Union. Demonstrations and general strikes took place in Portugal, Spain, and Greece.
On Sept. 26, over 100,000 people marched in Athens as workplaces closed down in a 24-hour general strike across the country. The airport closed for several hours, and shops, museums, transportation, and shipping stayed shut for the day.
While political activity was relatively subdued following the national elections last June, anger has burst forward once again as the government proposes a new round of cuts in order to secure aid from the EU and the International Monetary Fund.
This will mean more attempts to slash wages and jobs. Already, the official unemployment rate is about 24 percent, and 55 percent among young people. The government also wants to raise the retirement age from 65 to 67, to reduce social benefits, cut spending on education and health care, and to close or privatize public facilities.
The strike and main rally was called by the General Confederation of Greek Workers (GSEE), the union of civil servants (ADEDY)—the two largest union federations. PAME, a union attached to the Communist Party (KKE), held a separate rally.
ANTARSYA, the coalition of revolutionary organizations that the Fourth International-affiliated group, OKDE-Spartacos, participates in, fully supported the Sept. 26 strike. A day earlier, the Central Coordinating Committee of ANTARSYA issued a statement that said in part: “We need to take the streets again. To continue where we left it at, with strikes and demonstrations, occupations and mobilization in central squares. To organize resistance and solidarity. Through class reconstruction of the labor movement, with movements operating as safety nets, with popular assemblies everywhere. With an anti-capitalist program that opens a different path in the face of destruction. …
“We live at a critical time when the crisis deepens and the explosive contradictions of the Eurozone are made bare, when political crisis becomes more acute, and when the limits and insufficiency of the left “Europeanism” and “governmentalism” are obvious. New great possibilities are emerging for a left anticapitalist intervention and the rallying of the forces around a necessary anti-capitalist program. …
“ANTARSYA addresses a combatant call for common head on action to every activist, every collective, every force etc that is oriented towards a politics of rupture and subversion. Now, more than ever before, it is the time for all forces that move in an anti-capitalist, anti-imperialist, anti-EU direction to join forces. ANTARSYA seeks to open the discussion for left politics today and the necessary revolutionary strategy for the period we live in.”
Eleven days earlier, on Sept. 15, Portugal was shaken by a giant outpouring of workers into the streets. One million people demonstrated (a tenth of the country’s population), including 500,000 in Lisbon, against the calls for increased austerity.
This was the largest demonstration since the downfall of the Salazar regime in 1974. However, Rui Pereira Viana, an activist in the Committee for the Cancelation of the Portugese Debt, pointed out in the Fourth International journal International Viewpoint that “there is a significant difference between the two dates. On May 1, 1974, when a million people invaded the streets of Lisbon, what was striking was the way people laughed and hugged each other, after the fall of the Salazar dictatorship, which had taken place on 25 April with the Carnation Revolution. On September 15, 2012, it was this joy that was missing in the streets of Lisbon and Porto.”
Pereira Viana stated that the official slogans for the demonstration made the reasons for the revolt quite clear: “Out with the Troika!” “We want our lives!” “We have to do something extraordinary!”
“Everything is implied in these three sentences,” he wrote: “The urgency of bringing down the government, putting an end to the policy of austerity, reconnecting with the social functions of the state, suspending the payment of the illegitimate debt that benefits capital and dispossesses workers.”
Pereira Viana noted that “with an obvious lack of a sense of timing, two days after the calling of the demonstration, the Prime Minister announced the most offensive measures that workers could remember: an increase of 7 per cent in the social contributions paid by workers accompanied by a cut of 5.75 per cent in employers’ contributions and additional cuts in the social functions of the state. This measure comes on top of the previous austerity measures and involves a new wage reduction of at least 8.5 per cent.” After the marches had taken place, however, the government felt compelled to announce that it was withdrawing the most recent tax measures (though new measures might be imposed later).
In the Spanish state, on Sept. 25, tens of thousands attempted to “encircle” the seat of parliament in Madrid. Jan Malewski wrote in International Viewpoint that “amid cries of ‘Democracy kidnapped!’ and ‘Government resign!’ the demonstrators first organized massive popular assemblies, before heading for Neptune square, facing Parliament. … More than 1300 special anti-riot police officers were mobilized. They charged, firing rubber bullets, leading to confrontations that continued through the night, leaving more than 60 wounded with at least 35 arrests.
“However, the next day on Sept. 26, thousands again gathered before the Parliament. And the government, conscious of its growing social discredit, began to see that neither its campaign nor the police deployment had succeeded in intimidating the tens of thousands of people who denounced the sequestration of the presumed ‘seat of popular sovereignty’ by the ‘dictatorship of the markets.’”
Malewski noted that in both Portugal and Spain (unlike in Greece), “these great popular mobilizations have been initiated by new social movements and not by the big trade unions or political parties of the traditional left.” This, he said, “amounts to a new stage of the rupture with the historic organizations of the workers’ movement, locked into conservatism and increasingly clear in their heated defense of the status quo, and thus, in the eyes of a growing mass of those in revolt, useless if not hostile organizations.”

Photo: By NAP / ANTARSYA contingent in early September protest in Athens.