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Inside Story
United against austerity
Trade unions from 23 countries call for protests against budget cuts, but can they change the minds of Europe's leaders?
Last Modified: 15 Nov 2012 08:13

Millions of workers across Europe are protesting against austerity, as labour unions raise concerns about growing social anxiety.
 
Unions organised a day of action on Wednesday to urge eurozone leaders to abandon their austerity programmes.

"I think austerity is inciting unrest if you like. I think the policies are maybe trying to achieve their goals of undermining the public sector and weakening the trade union movement but there is terrific resistance from the people of Europe .... I think the leaders of Europe are inviting trouble in a very big way."

- Ann Pettifor, Prime

It was the biggest co-ordinated response yet to sweeping budget cuts being imposed in Europe's struggling economies.

The unions say government cuts are causing rising poverty, and people's frustration has reached a peak.

A major source of dissatisfaction among protesters is of course unemployment.

Spain now has the highest unemployment rate in Europe at 25.8 per cent, taking over from Greece, but just barely, as unemployment there stands at 25.4 per cent.

Portugal has the EU's third highest rate, at almost 16 per cent.

However, Europe's biggest economy Germany, has one of the lowest rates of 5.4 per cent.

About 40 trade union organisations from 23 countries were taking part in the day of action that was called by the European Trade Union Confederation.

"Austerity is a total dead end, and must be abandoned. Social protection and wages can no longer be sacrificed," the group says.

"If unions think that striking against government cuts is the answer then they are frankly just completely wrong. The fact is that the cuts that governments are having to make across Europe are absolutely necessary in order to get the public finances of all the respective countries back into order and if that doesn't happen the economic problems are going to remain for even longer."

- Jonathan Isaby, taxpayers alliance

"This is a social emergency, and it is time to listen to what the citizens and workers have to say, and to change course."

There have been simultaneous strikes in four countries, with workers walking out in Spain, Portugal, Greece and Italy.

Demonstrations have also been organised in France and in some Eastern countries, including Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovenia and Romania.

And organisers also called for solidarity, with support pledged from Germany, Austria, Luxembourg, Switzerland, Scandinavian countries and the Netherlands.

So, can these demonstrations and co-ordinated union action force Europe's leaders into a U-turn over austerity? Or are they just making the economic crisis worse?

To discuss this, Inside Story, with presenter Teymoor Nabili, is joined by guests: Vasilis Xenakis, the international secretary for the Supreme Administration of Public Employees' unions; Ann Pettifor, the director of Prime, an economic think tank, and a fellow at the New Economic Foundation; and Jonathan Isaby, the political director of the Taxpayers' Alliance, and an advocate for lower tax and lower spending.


AUSTERITY PROTESTS IN SPAIN:

  • The European Trade Union confederation called for widespread strikes across Europe including in Spain
  • Wednesday's strike organisers are urging governments to abandon austerity 
  • Spain's unemployment rate is at its highest since 1976, with 5.8 million people out of work
  • Unemployment is being blamed on labour reforms and continuing recession 
  • According to Eurostat the average unemployment rate in EU is 11.4 per cent 
  • Many Spanish people are angry with their government's austerity measures 
  • Spain has the fourth largest economy in the eurozone 
  • 32 people were arrested in Spain as scuffles broke out at picket lines

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Source:
Al Jazeera
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