Ever since European bosses formed the European Union (EU) in 1993, workers’ demands for any improvements in their lives and working conditions have been rejected because the EU guidelines “wouldn’t allow it.” When working-class voters massively rejected the unified European Constitution in referendums in France and Holland in 2005, the rulers simply had the national parliaments adopt the Treaty of Lisbon in 2007, allowing privatizations, cutbacks and other attacks on workers throughout Europe.
But when the current economic tsunami hit Europe’s bosses, their EU guidelines were the first thing to go as each national group of bosses nationalized and bailed out banks and cut each others’ throats. Britain threatened Iceland because the latter’s banking crisis affected billions invested by British bankers there. European “unity” went out the window as each capitalist country’s ruling class tried to save its own bankers and bosses.
But the crisis has also sharpened workers’ militancy, involving mass protests and strikes, including a general strike in Belgium on October 6 (see CHALLENGE, 10/29).
On October 21, a massive general strike paralyzed Greece, the ninth one against the conservative Karamanlis government since 2004. There were huge protests nationwide, two in Athens organized by different union groups. The strike shut down airlines, heavy industries, transportation, health services and schools. It also opposed the 2009 draft budget, headed for parliamentary debate.
The Greek budget would “reform” the pension system, adversely affecting millions of workers. They are also angry at the recent $37 billion bailout of failed banks, the privatization of companies such as Olympic Airlines, the ports, utilities and education. This would attack even more public-sector workers.
Workers were even more irate because while billions of euros of public money are being used to bail out banks, huge financial scandals are erupting, involving many government cabinet members and the “holy rollers” of a Greek Orthodox Church monastery.
THOUSANDS MARCH IN ITALY
On October 17, a mass strike took place in Italy against the anti-working-class policies of Prime Minister Berlusconi. A governmental education “reform” threatens 87,000 teaching jobs, huge cuts in health services and allows temporary contracts in many industries, leading to wage cuts.
Workers marched in many cities, including 300,000 in Rome, where the cops had to guard the education ministry to protect it from angry college and H.S. student protestors. In Milan, students and cops clashed when students tried to take over the Polytechnic college.
The attacks against workers and students are occurring amid a huge racist campaign against immigrant workers and youth which has led to murders and pogroms of Roma people and violent attacks against immigrants from Africa and Asia.
Teachers, Parents Protest in France
In France, the teachers’ unions and the main parent organization called a national demonstration in Paris on October 19. It had tepid demands — “to defend the public education service, to demand a halt to the budgetary policy of austerity and that necessary reforms be made in a different manner,” according to the leader of the Christian teachers’ union. The “church bazaar” atmosphere only mobilized 40,000 protesters, although the union misleaders are claiming twice that number. Some analysts believe workers in France are “disoriented” by the economic crisis, not surprising since no organization is putting forward revolutionary politics.
The mass strikes in Greece and Italy are good but are not enough. Union leaders and opponents of conservative governments in Italy and Greece are using them as an electoral tool to bring back “pro-worker” bourgeois governments. In Italy, such a government preceded Berlusconi’s return to power last year. It was supported by Refondazione (the remnants of the old “Communist” Party). That government also attacked immigrants and workers, and sent troops to fight in the imperialist war in Afghanistan.
In the current situation of sharpening dogfights among imperialists to save their own skins during the global economic meltdown, any bourgeois government must attack workers more sharply.
A big victory workers and their allies could gain from these struggles is the building of a new revolutionary communist leadership, breaking with all the capitalist collaborators calling themselves “leftists.” Only then could the working class construct a truly united society without any bankers or capitalists.