Trade union workers launched a massive strike throughout Europe today in a protest against budget cuts. Marches are taking place in Brussels, Greece, Italy and Spain, among other countries, with additional protests planned for the near future. John Monks, general secretary of the European Trades Union Confederation (ETUC), organized the strikes as a day of action against austerity measures, stating, “This is a crucial day for Europe.”
Imposing large budget cuts, Monks said, is an extreme measure that endangers the recovering economy. “There is an alternative [to austerity]. And the alternative is not to pay back all the debts in the large amounts so quickly, but over a longer period. Keep growth in the economy. Order new schools from the private sector. Invest in green technologies. Invest in Europe’s industries. Some extra help for young people. We’re a rich part of the world. We don’t have to rush to eliminate all the red ink tomorrow.”
Many governments in Europe have implemented punishment fines on 27 member states that increase the debt to pay for welfare and job programs. Greece received a federal bailout earlier this year, but unemployment remains at its highest level in the past ten years, even as welfare continues to be slashed.
The cuts affect the building of new schools, roads and hospitals. Workers across the spectrum walked out on their jobs today, from doctors to bus drivers.
Like the US, Europe’s financial crisis is perhaps the worst it has seen since the 1930s. CNN reports that Ireland and Greece face credit downgrades as a result of their bailouts, which has increased the cost of borrowing. As their governments struggle to support their public, they are forced to run up the European deficit – which, in turn, is punished through the austerity cuts, preventing economic growth as services and jobs programs continue to be slashed.
Spain faces similar turmoil. The socialist government received a bailout under the condition of implementing pay freezes and making unpopular cuts to public programs. According to Julia Kollewe of the Guardian, if Spain’s credit is downgraded, the result could be several years of economic struggle for the country to recover from a property market collapse. Unemployment in Spain is the highest in the 27-member “euro zone” at 20 percent.
Workers in the UK joined demonstrators in Brussels as well. Trades Union Congress (TUC) General Secretary Brendan Barber echoed Monks’ message to union workers, stating, “All across Europe, governments have become obsessed with immediate deficit reduction and are embarking on cuts programs of such magnitude that the fragile recovery of the continent’s economies is threatened. Union aren’t asking governments to ignore the deficit, just to discard the timetable that demands deficit reduction now and instead concentrate on boosting growth and jobs.”
In total, 14 European countries have protests and strikes planned.