Last week and over the weekend, hundreds of thousands of workers, students, and the poor took to the streets in Spain, Portugal and Greece to show their opposition to a range of deep cuts against the population. Similar to the U.S., and many countries around the world, the response to the economic crisis in Europe has been to wage war on workers, students, and the poor.
The International Monetary Fund along with the largest European banks issued loans to countries that are running huge debts. But these loans have strings attached. Countries receiving these loans have to do whatever they can to squeeze as much profit from workers as possible. Everything from slashing wages, healthcare, and pensions, to privatizing the whole public sector, imposing massive tax increases, and making it easier to fire workers – whatever the bosses can get away with; the sky is the limit.
Last week, in Portugal about half a million workers organized a day of protesting, effectively bringing the country to a stop. Another protest was organized over the weekend with about 100,000 people. Portugal’s population is only 11 million people, so these are enormous turnouts.
The huge attacks on workers in Portugal have already slashed wages by about 25 percent through wage cuts and tax increases over the past several months. And now the government is planning to make workers pay even more for their retirements – making the whole working class take another seven percent pay cut.
In Spain, the situation is similar. The government’s latest budget plans to cut overall spending by 50 billion euros, freezing public employees’ salaries, privatizing most of public transit, cutting health care and education, raising the sales tax, and cutting unemployment benefits. In Spain, the official unemployment rate is 25 percent and over 50 percent for people under 30.
These cuts are on top of previous ones, including a new labor law that makes layoffs easier and cheaper for companies. It also gives bosses the power to change working conditions at their will, including hours, shifts and salaries, without having to negotiate with workers and unions.
Tens of thousands protested along with strikes by public transit workers last week and over the weekend in major cities in Spain. More protests and strikes are planned this week.
And in Greece, the story is the same. Official unemployment is also at 25 percent and 50 percent for people under 30. After months of bailouts coupled with deeper and deeper attacks, the European bankers and Greek bosses still want more from workers in Greece.
This year the minimum wage was cut by 22 percent, and by 32 percent for those under 25. Utilities have gone up by 20 percent. And by February the government has ordered that all union contracts will expire.
Over one million workers demonstrated in Greece last week, the first major action since huge demonstrations last spring. Workers in most sectors went out – public transit, airports, public services, including schools, universities and hospitals were stopped for the day, and some for the whole week.
These fights are far from over. For most workers they are just beginning. And amidst the constant attacks in this country, it can feel like a breath of fresh air to hear about workers organizing and fighting in such large numbers anywhere.
In many countries, facing the same problems, workers are beginning to realize the need to join their forces and come together in one fight against all the attacks.
In this country, it can feel tempting to dismiss the struggles of workers in other countries. Sometimes we hear people say things like, “it’s just different over there” and “it can never happen here.” But it in reality the similarities are far greater than the differences. The problems are the same and so is the solution. Of course it can happen here.