IN response to an appeal by the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC), a large-scale strike action took place across Europe yesterday.
The ETUC statement launching it said: ‘The aim of this European day of action and solidarity is to call upon Europe’s leaders to demonstrate their determination to really get to grips with the deterioration in employment and to respond to the growing social anxiety felt by Europe’s citizens.
‘Austerity is a total dead end, and must be abandoned. Social protection and wages can no longer be sacrificed.
‘This is a social emergency, and it is time to listen to what the citizens and workers have to say, and to change course.
‘The day of action will take various forms: for example, there will be strikes in Spain, Portugal, Greece and Italy.
‘For the first time in its history, an ETUC day of action will include simultaneous strikes in four countries.
‘Strikes are not the only type of action involved. Demonstrations will be held in France and in some Eastern countries (Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovenia and Romania).
‘Today is also a day of solidarity. Many countries will be holding actions to show their solidarity with the countries which are facing the brutality of the austerity measures and their consequences (Germany, Austria, Luxembourg, Switzerland, Scandinavian countries and the Netherlands etc.).
‘Other awareness-raising and information actions are planned.
‘Approximately 40 trade union organisations from 23 countries are involved in the European day of action and solidarity.
‘By sowing austerity, we are reaping recession, rising poverty and social anxiety,’ argues Bernadette Segol, ETUC General Secretary.
‘In some countries, people’s exasperation is reaching a peak. We need urgent solutions to get the economy back on track, not stifle it with austerity.
‘Europe’s leaders are wrong not to listen to the anger of the people who are taking to the streets.
‘The Troika can no longer behave so arrogantly and brutally towards the countries which are in difficulty.
‘They must urgently address the issues of jobs and social fiscal justice and they must stop their attacks on wages, social protection and public services.
‘The ETUC is calling for a social compact for Europe with a proper social dialogue, an economic policy that fosters quality jobs, and economic solidarity among the countries of Europe. We urgently need to change course.’
l Spain’s two union centres CC.OO and UGT, with the support of some 150 civil society organisations grouped in the Social Summit, were on strike yesterday, the European day of trade union action against austerity.
It was the second nationwide strike action held by the two union centres this year, a reflection of the government’s stubborn refusal to reverse policy and the European Union’s commitment to inflicting massive social pain in the service of finance.
The unions are demanding that the government reverse the revisions to labour legislation which have shredded collective bargaining, adopt active measures of support for youth and the unemployed who now make up over 25% of the population, and implement a programme of investment linked to sustainable job creation to combat the deepening crisis.
The unions are also calling on the European Union to drop its aggressive austerity promotion, adopt alternative measures for tackling sovereign debt problems and develop a Europe-wide Social Compact for the crisis jointly with the European trade union movement.
The Portuguese CGTP-IN trade unions organised a mass strike action with over a million workers taking part in the action.
This mass strike followed on from the 29 September action when hundreds of thousands of Portuguese workers participated in action and issued an immense cry against the austerity measures.
The unions said then: ‘Portugal cannot continue being submitted to a government whose class option is submitted to big capital, with increased sacrifices for the workers and people, only to satisfy the private interests of economic and financial groups.
‘There is a brutal offensive including cuts in salaries and pensions, deregulation of working hours, increased unemployment and job precariousness.
‘The National Council therefore decides:
• To salute all public and private sector workers who are leading struggles in their work places, in defence of their rights
• To also salute the young, the unemployed, the pensioners and all Portuguese who participate in struggle and protest actions
• To attribute great value to the current struggles
• To call on the engagement of all trade unionists for the intensification of the struggle
• To appeal to the unemployed and other popular layers to participate in the CGTP-IN Great March Against Unemployment, to be held from 5 to 13 October
• To call for a General Strike for 14 November 2012: “Against Exploitation and Impoverishment; Change of Policy – For a Portugal with a Future”. The National Council launches an open appeal to all the trade unions and workers, and other sectors of society, because this struggle is a struggle of all.
‘The proposal for the 2013 State Budget, presented by the PSD/CDS government, clashes with the interests of the country and of the Portuguese, because it chooses recession, with immediate consequences in company closures and in job destruction, in higher unemployment and in widespread poverty and social exclusion, in the weakening of democracy and in the loss of sovereignty.
‘This State Budget is a fiscal monstrosity and an instrument that accentuates injustice and inequalities. The government’s proposal has no economic credibility, is socially disastrous and politically unsustainable.
‘Without a change of course, the experience of the execution of the 2012 State Budget will be repeated. Its result was an increase of the deficit (6.8% in the first 6 months) and of the public debt (119% of the GDP, 11% more than in 2011).
‘We are facing economic disaster, placing the wealth created in Portugal, at the end of 2012, at an inferior level of that in 2001; we are facing a process of destruction of the state social duties and a risk of social rupture. If the present course is maintained, we will have a second bail out and a situation very similar to Greece.
‘The alternative cannot be to put the burden on the workers and the popular strata, with more taxes. Nor can it be by cutting public expenditure (in education, health or social security) that we will take the path of economic and social development.
‘The government and the neoliberal sectors have been putting strong pressure so that public expenditure is reduced, by demonising it and trying to make the population believe that it is far too high (“a monster”). However the truth is that the expenditure level is not higher than the eurozone, in fact it is inferior (49.4% of the GDP in 2011, compared with 49.5% in the eurozone, according to recent Eurostat figures).
‘What is needed is finding alternatives and accordingly the CGTP-IN presents proposals for an alternative State Budget:
• It is imperative that the economy grows; without this there will be no job creation, nor reduction of an unemployment rate which does not cease going up. We already reached the figure of 1.4 million unemployed, inactive and underemployed;
• The State is capable of obtaining resources to bring down the state deficit and the public debt, through growth that generates revenues and cuts expenditure (with unemployment benefits, to start with), more fiscal justice and reduction of expenses that result from the growing appropriation of the State by private economic powers;
• It is urgent to respond to the problems affecting the people severely hit by the austerity policies, policies implemented supposedly to solve a crisis for which the people are not responsible. This is why the CGTP-IN chose as main demands for 2013: economic policies that favour growth, job creation and social cohesion; enhancement of work and workers’ rights; better wages; strengthening of social welfare; fiscal justice.’
Flights were set to be disrupted for three days as a result of yesterday’s general strike.
Passengers booked to fly on all affected European sectors were advised they should check the updates on their airline’s website.
EasyJet cancelled 26 flights, including services from Gatwick to Barcelona and Madrid, and re-scheduled 10 others, including flights from Gatwick and Manchester to Athens and from Gatwick to Thessaloniki.
TAP Portugal announced that London to Lisbon flights would also be affected yesterday and today.
Many flights were cancelled or delayed, including Gatwick to Oporto and Manchester to Lisbon.
Most airlines urged passengers to re-book free of charge for alternative dates.
EasyJet said: ‘We regret this situation and are doing our utmost to reduce the inconvenience caused by this action.’
Ryanair listed some flights which the Spanish government ‘guaranteed’ will not be cancelled but may be delayed on its website.
It said the position was still under review and passengers should check for updates. Those on affected routes could change their dates.
British Airways also said passengers due to travel to or from Spain yesterday could change to another date free of charge and warned there could be disruptions on services to other European countries.
Different countries were affected at different times as workers in Spain and the Canaries walked out from midnight on Tuesday until midnight on Wednesday.
A spokesman said BA believed the strike would only affect Spanish routes and that it was putting on larger aircraft to help as many customers as possible.
The Iberia Group said it cancelled more than 350 flights including Madrid to London as a result of the strike which also affected air traffic control workers.
The strike was in protest at the austerity measures being imposed on many Europeans and the overthrow of labour rights and national collective bargains.