Millions of workers in Portugal, Spain, Italy and Greece are set to walk out together in less than two weeks time, in an unprecedented general strike across southern Europe.
The day of action on 14 November was first called in Portugal. It was rocked in September by the biggest protests since its revolution in 1974–5. Between 5 and 10 percent of the population were on the streets.
Spain’s unions have been under pressure to call a new general strike since July, when the government announced new cuts and police attacked demonstrations in support of striking miners.
A wave of strikes and protests in the autumn made the pressure impossible to ignore. Spanish unions came in behind the Portuguese date, and asked the European trade union confederation (ETUC) to call for others to do the same.
Helios Alonso, an IT worker from Madrid, told Socialist Worker, “Let’s hope it can bring together the militancy of the 15 May movement and the mobilising capacity of the unions.
“Union leaders have little option left but to give up on getting a social pact from the government and to stop holding back the struggle.”
In both countries the call came following a groundswell of fury from rank and file workers, unofficial “indignados” organisations and student protests.
The ETUC leadership is about as distant from ordinary workers as it can be, and its calls for action don’t always translate into reality.
But the 14 November call has struck a chord with workers in a number of countries. Strikes are planned in Italy and Greece (see below).
The situation in France is very different—but the five main union federations are now also in favour of mobilising.
Cathy from the New Anticapitalist Party’s workplace intervention committee said, “We’re not at the same place as Spain or Greece. Since Francois Hollande’s Socialist Party government was elected, unions have tried to build a ‘social dialogue’ with the bosses.”
But workers’ discontent is starting to make itself heard in France. On 9 October the CGT union federation called for strikes against job cuts in the car industry. Tens of thousands marched across eight different cities.
“That call was taken up in a lot of workplaces, not just those facing job losses,” continued Cathy. “We want to keep pushing in that direction for 14 November too.”
Unions in many countries have yet to call action on the day, although the ETUC encourages those not striking to at least call protests.
In Britain some workers are organising for symbolic solidarity action on the day as well as protests when George Osborne publishes his autumn statement on 5 December.
Italy’s biggest trade union the CGIL has called a four-hour general strike across the country on 14 November. The austerity policies of the unelected prime minister, technocrat Mario Monti, are starting to bite.
Up to 100,000 marched through Rome on “No Monti Day” on Saturday of last week. The protest was called by trade unions and anti-austerity campaigns. Disabled people led it.
“We are here against Monti and his politics, the same politics as all over Europe, that brought Greece to its knees and that is destroying half of Europe,” said demonstrator Giorgio Cremaschi.
At the same time some 20,000 doctors and nurses marched to protest at cuts to the national health service.
Greece could see another general strike next week as the government fights to pass a fresh round of cuts. A parliamentary vote is set to take place on Wednesday of next week.
This will happen once the cuts package is agreed by the “troika” of the European Union, European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund.
It’s far from clear if the government can win the vote. Junior coalition partners, the Democratic Left, oppose one of the measures—cuts in redundancy pay. And members of the larger Pasok and ND parties have said they may vote against the package.
“Even if the government gets the 151 votes to get the cuts though parliament they will come out of this defeated,” says Panos Garganas, editor of Greek newspaper Workers’ Solidarity.
“With a reduced vote in parliament, and strikes and protests outside, they will not be able to implement the cuts they’ve voted for.”
Meanwhile, a number of unions are now preparing for strikes. A local government workers’ strike due to start this week will see rubbish uncollected. A Metro strike from Monday will mean there’ll be no trains in Athens. Hospital workers are preparing to strike too.
Combined protests against austerity and fascism last Sunday increased the pressure upon unions to escalate. Official celebrations of “No” Day, which commemorates Greece’s entry into the Second World War, could only take place behind battalions of police and the army.