Social Protests on the Rise As Europe Sinks into War Economies
France and the United Kingdom have been hit with huge demonstrations and strikes since the New Year, to protest the heightened austerity measures taken as a result of the shift toward a war economy in all of Europe. Similar protests are breaking out in Denmark and Germany.
A steadily growing movement in France, supported by two-thirds of the population according to polls, is more immediately directed against the “pension reform” which President Emmanuel Macron and the government insist on imposing (cf. SAS 3/23). While demanding that Frenchmen work longer before being entitled to full pension benefits, and pay skyrocketing prices for energy, Emmanuel Macron announced on Jan. 20 that military spending would be increased by over one third in the next few years. Thus, by 2030, France’s military budget will have doubled since he took power in 2017, he added proudly.
Over two million people joined the protests in one form or another on Jan. 31 (2.8 million, according to the CGT trade union), including 500,000 in Paris alone and tens of thousands in dozens of medium-sized cities. The actions severely disrupted transportation, with three-quarters of trains outside Paris canceled. According to the CGT trade union, at least 75% of workers were on strike at the big TotalEnergies oil refineries and fuel depots, and power plants had to cut back production due to the number of workers on strike at the main electricity company, EDF. And one of the main teachers’ unions reports that some 55% of secondary school teachers failed to report to work. A publication of the CGT, Unité, posted an article Jan. 30 blasting the delivery of additional weapons to Ukraine by NATO countries. The struggle for peace in Ukraine, and against military escalation, it states, “is inseparable from our struggles, in France, for social progress”.
In the U.K., the new government of Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has only just begun really to increase military spending, after raising taxes, while working households have faced double-digit inflation and fuel shortages. After the House of Commons passed “minimum service” legislation Jan. 30, intended to block strikes by compelling employees to scab on their unions, more than half a million workers walked off the job (300,000 teachers, joined by 100,000 civil servants, 100,000 train and bus drivers, 70,000 university workers, etc.). Ambulance drivers and nurses have been striking at intervals for months, and plan to continue the movement. The Parliamentary Undersecretary of State for Enterprises and Markets Kevin Hollinrake, in arguing against the planned strikes, explained on Jan. 30 that an “inflation-matching pay increase of 11% for all public sector workers would cost £28 billion”.
That figure should be put into perspective. Former Prime Minister Boris Johnson increased military spending by £24 billion in three years as of 2019, and the current government proposes to raise it by £157 billion more from 2023-2030, an average annual increase of £20 billion or 40%. That is very far above the 11% “inflation-matching pay increase”, which Hollinrake found so impossible.
For comparison, the military budget of the United States is gargantuesque, at $847 billion a year, against $772 billion for all non-defense discretionary spending combined!