On November 14th, millions of workers across Europe went on strike and participated in mass protests in the first internationally-coordinated strike action in Europe against austerity since the crisis began. Protests and strikes took place in over 20 different countries in response to the call by the European Trade Union Confederation – ETUC. In Spain and Portugal in particular, where mass general strikes were taking place, the protests were enormous. Also, a common feature of the demos in Italy, Spain and Portugal was the unprecedented level of State repression.
Socialistworld.net is publishing short reports from CWI activists who participated in these mass protests. Further analysis and comments on the significance of November 14 and what will flow from it will be carried shortly.
In Spain, electricity consumption was plummeted almost immediately after the stroke of midnight. Industry was paralysed reflecting an overwhelmingly solid strike. Unions claim that 77% of salaried workers downed tools, bringing all strategic sectors of the economy to a halt. In local “barrios” throughout the country, a greater number of small and local enterprises were shut, giving an expression both to the capitalist crisis and credit crunch’s hammering of the “middle classes”, and the tremendous activity carried out by thousands of local strike committees and assemblies which mobilised locally for the action.
While the percentage of those called on to strike was higher than in previous mobilisations, a slightly smaller number of workers joined the strike. This was largely due to the criminal sectarianism of Basque nationalist unions, ELA and LAB – which organise a majority of workers in the region - who refused to call their members out.
This action is particularly absurd in the light of the international mobilisation, and Iberian general strike which took place on 14-N. The decision was met with significant discontent among the rank and file of the unions whose historically militant class fighters share consciously internationalist tradition. This mood compelled many organisations of the nationalist movement, including EH Bildu and Aralar, to support the mobilisations on 14N.
Perhaps the most powerful expression of the strike strength were the huge demonstrations which kicked off one after another throughout the Spanish state. In Sevilla, Andalucia, 100,000 reportedly marched. 500,000 took to the streets of the northern region, Galicia, which was recently dubbed “pro-government” following regional elections! Finally, the evening closed with demonstrations which numbered 1 million in both Madrid and Barcelona. In Barcelona, the demonstration was so unexpectedly big, it was eventually unable to move off and was dispersed! Unions claim that throughout the state, over 5 million took to the streets in over 130 towns and cities in the biggest demonstrations yet seen. The huge power and militant anger which was reflected in this solid strike must now be channelled into a continuous and intensifying plan of action.
Socialismo Revolucionario (CWI) intervened in the strike and demonstrations in 7 cities, fighting to popularise the call for a 48 hour strike, as the next step in a struggle to bring down the government and its suicidal policies. The governments’ fundamental weakness and fear of the mass of people was later reflected in the brutal repression of demonstrators, thousands of which again surrounded the Madrid parliament following the main demonstration.
In Portugal thousands-strong protests took place in about 40 towns and cities across the country. A militant mood was reflected in slogans such as “Government get out, stop austerity”, “Down with the government, traitor to the nation”, “The Troika cannot command here”, “Hunger, misery and the IMF: get out”, “The street belongs to us, not the debt”, etc.
The strike in itself was the biggest general strike of the 4 which have taken place in recent years. The unions put the level participation in the strike in many services at over 90% - especially in the transport sector. Trains, metros and ferries closed. Refuse collection also ground to a near halt and hospitals provided only minimum services. In Lisbon the capital, demonstrators attempted to storm the Parliament building, which was followed by unprecedented police repression in the evening.
The FGTB regional section of ‘Liège-Huy-Waremme’ had called for a general strike and a rally in front of the union headquarters. After the rally a spontaneous protest of hundreds of people came together to go to the building of the PS, a party responsible for austerity and whose Liège’s local federation had dared to release a press statement…supporting the general strike! Then, the protest went to the City Hall where some speeches were given, particularly in solidarity with the workers of ArcelorMittal.
The strike to protest Europe’s austerity measures has been a success in La Louvière, where 2,000 people raised their fist to say “NO” to these neoliberal policies. No buses or trains operated and most of the traffic was blocked at the entrance to the city. Most school gates remained closed. PSL-LSP activists were present to support the striking workers. The atmosphere was marked by a sense of solidarity and determination to continue the struggle and not just to limit it to one day of action. The need for a plan of action by the organised working class is being felt more than ever.
In Charleroi, the strike went very well. From 5am onwards, pickets were set up at the SNCB (the railway company) and in a number of other companies, mainly by steelworkers. The CGSP (public services’ union) had a large delegation that blocked various places and organized filtering blockades at the main entrances of the city. The delegation then left in a demonstration towards the town hall, numbering about 3,000, who invaded the building. The CSC (Catholic union) was also present. The PSL-LSP activists were well received and have sold all the papers they had with them. The idea of the necessity of a plan of action to build for a European wide general strike was warmly welcome. Many shop stewards said it was good to have this day of action and to strike, but that on the other hand, it was poorly organized. Some sectors were on strike others not. Consequently many workers did not know what to do. The general opinion was that it would have been better to organize, before the strike, general meetings in all workplaces, but also in the workers districts, in the neighborhoods or even in the schools to explain more concretely the austerity measures that the entire population will suffer from. That would have convinced more workers about the need to go on strike and allowed a better mobilisation.
Britain: Coventry trade unionists organise solidarity protest with workers taking action across Europe
Around 50 people attended a protest organised at short notice by Coventry trade unions in solidarity with workers taking action across Europe. Earlier in the day a walkout took place at the Tax Office involving members of the PCS took place.
The rally was initiated by Coventry District Unison, and saw members from the following unions take part – Unison, Unite, CWU, UCU, PCS, NUT, TSSA, NUS, Coventry TUC and the pensioners group BPTUAA.
The crowd was addressed by speakers from a wide range of unions who made excellent points; urging solidarity but also pointing out that this is a crisis of the capitalist system that needs socialist policies to fight back. Chants of ‘What do we want? A general strike! When do we want it? NOW!’ rang out across Broadgate Square.
Several speakers pointed out the lack of action from the TUC, and that we can’t afford to wait before fighting back. We need to build the pressure in every union, every workplace, every community, for a 24 hour general strike as part of a strategy to defeat the cuts – but at the same time, we need to link this to the struggle for socialism, to put an end to this dead end capitalist system. In other citris solidarity protests were also organised.
Demonstrations took place in a number of cities in Germany including Berlin. In Cologne between 500 and 600 people demonstrated on November 14th, in solidarity with the general strike in Southern Europe. The mood was very combative. The DGB unions were conspicuous by their absence, but the mobilization of 500 people in the middle of the week, done by the left and anti-capitalist groups alone, was a success.
Members of the CWI and others also organised pickets in solidarity with this struggle in Caracas, Venezuela and also in New York USA.