Denmark: 100,000 in ten cities demonstrate against the welfare cuts

Greatest protest for 20 years in country’s second city. Eye-witness report from the day of action

“I’ve heard that up to 100,000 were out on protests across the country yesterday. In Århus, Denmark’s second city, where I live, it was the greatest demonstration for 20 years! At least 35,000 people joined in to protest against the huge cuts in welfare. Most of them were worrying parents, angry students and workers who have all got together in the struggle against the neo-liberal policies the government is pursuing.

“For 3 weeks, nursery teachers have been striking and parents have blocked the entrances to the kindergartens. Instead of getting into a dialogue, the council has reported the parents to the police which has made them even angrier. The police have tried to stop the parents, but without luck.

Students have taken action too, blocking their colleges and schools – with support from their teachers. Even grandparents have established their own group, called ‘Grandparents Against Cuts’!

“The demonstration was clearly marked by people who have had enough of the excuses from the government and the message from the movement was clear: “No to cuts – yes to welfare!”

“The ‘Welfare for all’ movement, which is a new group of mainly students, has been doing a great job mobilising for this demonstration. But, as it is dominated by Social Democrats, the poster hasn’t been red and the message hasn’t been socialism.

“Unfortunately, the socialist parties and socialist organisations haven’t been clear about their alternative. They haven’t talked to the workers and students about socialism or about the inequality in capitalism. And, the most important thing, they haven’t been fighting the Social Democrats at all! This is very critical for the socialist parties and I hope the mood will change very soon.

“After the demonstration yesterday, the nursery teachers voted in favour of continuing the strikes. This will, hopefully, keep the students blocking their colleges and encourage others to take action too.

“The spirit is huge and we’re all very excited. This month has been the most important month for many, many years and it can – if we, in the socialist parties, take responsibility and keep supporting the workers and students – bring down the government.

“Tomorrow, when the council will carry on the negotiations, we’ll expect further demonstrations in at least Århus and Copenhagen.

“We won’t stop here though, as a parent told me at the demonstration: ‘We’ll carry on as long as we have to. If Fogh (our prime minister) don’t get it today, we’ll make him get it on Thursday!’”


Revolt against austerity cuts

Background to yesterday’s demonstrations written by Per Olsson for Offensiv, paper of Rättvisepartiet Socialisterna (CWI Sweden)

After the mass demonstrations on 17 May this year a council revolt against cuts has unfolded in Denmark. This Autumn has seen many strikes and demonstrations. On 3 October the protest will unite in common action when the Folketinget, the Danish parliament, reopens.

In Aarhus, Denmark’s second biggest city, there is since the end of last week a total strike in the child care sector. This has been followed by strikes by teachers and school students, and parents have been picketing outside child care buildings.

Helsingborgs Dagblad, a daily paper in the south of Sweden reported on 23 September: “Social workers are also on a war footing. Around 600 social workers in Aarhus stopped work on Friday in protest against cuts in social and employment services… Social workers going on strike is increasing the pressure on the council to renegotiate the budget voted on last week. The demand on social services to save 68 million Dkr (8 m. euros) will undoubtedly lead to cuts in jobs”.

Every day for the last few weeks Denmark has been shaken by strikes, demonstrations and other protest action. Not least in Aarhus, one protest has followed another. On 12 September, 15,000 took part in a demonstration in Aarhus against the cuts in welfare. The same day, demos also took place in other cities.

The state budget has a surplus of more than 80 billion Dkr (more than 11 bn. euros) and tax income is increasing faster than the government predicted because of the current rate of economic growth. Most likely, the government consciously played down the tax income.

Council austerity

The economic growth, however, is not seen in the public services. The government has refused to give councils the resources needed and is instead demanding cuts. Council budgets have increased by just 0.6 per cent a year since 2003 (compared with 1.6 per cent annually in 1998-2001) while the economy as a whole has grown 3 per cent a year. Council spending would need to grow 3 per cent to keep up its services and meet increased needs in education, health care, child care and care of the elderly.

The right-wing government in Denmark – a coalition between the liberals and the conservatives – which is ruling with the support of the racist DFP (Danish People’s Party), is demanding that councils’ costs should stay the same in 2007 as they were in 2005. The result is the big cuts in child and elderly care, schools, and public libraries with further job losses in the public sector.

Refuse to cut

The government want to force the councils to cut at least 4 billion Dkr (600 million euros), according to the ‘left’ Socialist People’s Party. However, the list is not complete, since not all councils have published their plans.

The compulsory measures of the government (limits on expenditure and taxes, cancelled grants etc.) aimed at forcing councils to cut spending is part of a neo-liberal attack from the right and the employers against workers, youth and old people. Another part of this offensive is the continuous attacks on refugees and immigrants. A third is the demand from the employers for longer working hours.

The Social Democrats are supporting most of the policies of the government. Just before the Summer, they made a deal with the government to cut pensions. The racist DFP and the Radikale Venstre (a traditional liberal party) were also part of the deal. In particular, the conditions for early retirement were worsened. The Social Democrats afterwards said that they had made some of the cuts milder. But the fact that the government retreated on some of their proposals attacking the unemployed and the sick was a result of the struggle, especially the protest of 17 May when more than 100,000 people – one in 50 of Denmark’s population – were on the streets demonstrating.

The attacks from the government can only be answered by struggle. The demand of ”More money from the state – for a council uprising (or revolt)” is everywhere. It is the main slogan of the trade unions, the student and school student organisations, plus different local campaign organisations.

The protest day of 3 October could see as many on the streets as on 17 May. There will demonstrations in at least six cities. Already other local protests are planned, such as one on 12 October in Tønder.

The movement has to be prepared to step up the struggle, if the government refuses to retreat. A new date for joint action should be announced on 3 October – a day of demonstrations linked to a one-day protest strike. This would take the movement forward and put pressure on councillors across the country to join the revolt and stand by their promises not to make cuts.

The struggle in Liverpool

The struggle in Liverpool against the Thatcher government in Britain is an example of what can be achieved if there is a mass struggle for more money for council spending.

In the four years when Liverpool was run by a socialist majority, in which the Militant tendency – today’s Socialist Party (CWI in England and Wales) – was a leading part, 5,000 new council houses were built, more than in all the other council areas combined. This created 12,000 new jobs in the building sector. The minimum wage for council workers was increased and working hours shortened.

This was made possible through struggle – mass demonstrations and strikes against the government – which forced Thatcher to give back some of the millions the government had stolen from Liverpool.

Welfare for all means that councils must refuse to make cuts. Further mass action can force the government to retreat; this was shown on 17 May.

The struggles of today are creating the preconditions to form a political alternative to the government and the DFP, as well as to the right wing policies of the Social Democrats.

The organisers of the struggle should appeal for a national conference to discuss how to build a political alternative that can challenge the government in coming elections. The formation of a political alternative based in the struggle would be able to unite the socialist left, trade union activists, student and school student activists and others in something that could develop into a new workers’ party of struggle against right-wing policies and racism.

  • No to cuts and privatisations – fight for more resources to the councils. Local councils must say no to the government’s austerity plan – no cuts in public services. Council budgets based on needs – not the dictates of the rightwing government.
  • Prepare for further mass action – for a national day of protest including strike action.
  • Reverse all cuts in pensions.
  • Fight racism – a common struggle for health, child care and education.
  • Restore the right of Asylum.
  • Stop the slaughter of welfare provision.
  • Out with the Rasmussen government – for a workers’ government with socialist policies.
  • Let the struggle be the beginning of a process towards a new political alternative for workers and youth  a new workers’ party fighting for welfare for all.

From this week’s issue of Offensiv, paper of Rättvisepartiet Socialisterna (CWI, Sweden)

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October 2006