Europe’s Summer of Discontent Is Here

Faced with economic hardship and runaway inflation, the European population is taking to the streets to protest. On June 20, some 80,000 unionists representing Belgium’s largest trade unions marched through Brussels to protest againsts the rising cost of living and demand better wages. In the city where NATO is headquartered, some participants also chanted “Spend money on salaries, not on weapons”.

In the Netherlands, 40,000 farmers and their families demonstrated against the government’s decision to drastically cut nitrogen use, driving their tractors on key stretches across the country with signs saying “No Farmers, No Future” and “What the Hague Chooses Is To Ban the Farmers”, the Hague being the Parliament. The government announced last week its plan to end up to 70% of the nitrogen used in farming by 2030, which will severely reduce the number of livestock allowed as well as the use of fertilizers.

The most dramatic action, however, is taking place in the United Kingdom, where the Rail Maritime and Transport Union, representing 40,000 workers, held three days of strike actions on June 21, 23 and 25 across Network Rail, the national rail network provider and 13 train operating companies. The workers, who have been suffering a pay freeze for the least decade, are demanding wage increases commensurate with the high inflation as well as job security. Boris Johnson’s government is committed to breaking the strike and has so far refused their demands, promising that a new strike action will take place. Indeed, the government plans to introduce a law allowing employment agencies to provide labor to companies and government enterprises during the strike, which would overturn the current labor laws prohibiting such practices.

As for the Labour Party, its president Keir Starmer, who is as neo-liberal as former Prime Minister Tony Blair, called on Labour members of Parliament not to join the picket lines, but his order was quickly ignored by several of them, who offered solidarity to the strikers.

The railway strike could very easily develop into a national general strike as other unions are involved in or preparing similar actions. This includes the Teachers and National Health Service unions, as well as airline and airport workers and even barristers. Furthermore, attempts by the government to drive a wedge between strikers and the public have failed, as the collapse in living standards has hit the entire population.

This brewing summer of discontent is intersecting the growing political woes of Boris Johnson, whose Conservative party suffered crushing defeats in June 23 bi-elections for two parliamentary seats. They had been vacated by Tory MPs Neil Parish (who had to resign after watching pornography on his phone in the House of Commons), and by Imran Ahmad Khan (jailed for sexually assaulting a teenage boy…). The result was a drumbeat in the Tory press demanding Johnson’s resignation.

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