Europe Rocked by Growing Social Protests
Throughout Europe, from North to South, protests are growing against the established parties. Specific grievances may vary from country to country, but the common denominator is the rejection of the current neo-liberal order, which has brought economic destruction, brutal social cuts and war, as the following examples show.
France: Macron Saves His Skin, for Now. The situation is perhaps the most explosive in France, with millions of workers demonstrating on several occasions since January against the infamous “pension reform” pushed by Emmanuel Macron (cf. SAS 06/23). Given the lack of a majority in the National Assembly, the government finally had to adopt the reform by invoking Article 49.3 of the Constitution allowing legislation to be passed by force, without a parliamentary vote.
This, in turn, led to a “no confidence vote” on March 20 in the National Assembly, which the government very narrowly survived after much wheeling and dealing with the conservative Les Républicains. Macron had threatened to dissolve the parliament and call for new elections in the event the motion passed, which was even more alarming for a number of deputies than facing the anger of their constituents at home. But the protests will certainly continue.
Support for Dutch Farmers Exploding. Farmers in The Netherlands are up in arms over the EU orders to drastically limit nitrogen emissions by up to 50%, which will force many farms into bankruptcy, reduce food production and raise food prices. They are protesting against the EU’s Green Deal Farm-to-Fork program which mandates severe cuts in livestock numbers and use of fertilizers and crop protection chemicals, etc., with each member state responsible for figuring out specifics and timetables to ensure compliance.
On March 11, some 25,000 Dutchmen answered the call of the Farmers Defense Force (FDF) and Together for the Netherlands (SvNL) to demonstrate at The Hague. The mayor forbade them to bring more than two tractors into the city, and threatened military intervention if they disobeyed.
Among the few foreign speakers was Bob Baker, the coordinator for U.S. farm belt organizing for the Schiller Institute. He raised the point that people are starving internationally, which is a deliberate policy of the “financial nexus of the City of London, Wall Street and Amsterdam”, as well as of the Green Deal, for which Russia and China are not to blame.
The wave of farmer protest against the agriculture shutdown has resulted in a surprising election victory for the recently formed BoerBurgerBeweging party (Farmer Citizen Movement) in provincial elections on March 15. The BBB received more seats in the Senate than the current ruling party – which is a huge defeat for Prime Minister Mark Rutte.
The irony in the victory is that BBB has not been in the forefront of the farmer movement but is just riding the growing wave of protest. Popular anger is also directed against the EU’s war policy, which has driven natural gas prices sky-high and already bankrupted a large number of family-run bakeries!
Great Britain: Strike Wave Gathers Strength. Hundreds of thousands of workers went on strike on March 15 in the United Kingdom, including teachers, London Underground train drivers, civil servants, doctors, nurses, lawyers, university staff, and even BBC journalists. Work stoppage by train staff in the ASLEF union, as well as by the Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) unions left the entire train network and Underground in London at a standstill. According to some estimates, over half a million workers participated in the day of action, which intersected several ongoing strikes by public sector unions.
It was the largest show of force by the unions since strike actions started last year as runaway inflation hit deep into the population’s livelihood (cf. SAS 06/23). Inflation now stands at over 10% in Britain.
Among the strikers were an estimated 130,000 members of the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS), who walked out from government departments and agencies like Border Force. Workers, who say salaries have not kept up with inflation, are also striking over conditions, job security, and pensions. PCS General Secretary Mark Serwotka said it was a scandal that some of those administering government services were now so poorly paid that they were forced to rely on handouts themselves.
The actions intersected the announcement of the budget by Chancellor of the Exchequer Jeremy Hunt, which offered no relief to the striking workers.
General Strike in Greece Protesting the “Crime of Tempi”. In major cities in Greece, tens of thousands again took to the streets on March 16, to demand justice for the victims of the “crime of Tempi”—as last month’s deadly train crash is being called (cf. SAS 11/23). A strike by the railway unions was supported by the public sector (ADEDY) and private sector (GSEE) union federations. All public transportation was shut down, including railways, ships, and airports, while schools closed the same day as both students and teachers supported the strike.
Demands of the unions and other organizations are not confined to the train crash; they extend to the entire policy of privatization that has been implemented in Greece. They include modern, safe, and cheap mass transportation; strengthening the public health system; free healthcare for all; immediate anti-flood, anti-fire, and anti-earthquake protection measures, including in schools, colleges, hospitals, and workplaces.
The government of Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, which has been conducting a very clumsy and transparent effort at covering up its responsibility in the privatization-caused train crash, killing 57, chose to deploy riot police, tear gas, and flash bombs to try to break up the demonstrations.