"Those in power starve our children" – trade unions threaten a general strike on 31 May.
On 19 May, tens of thousands of workers and pensioners demonstrated in Romania’s capital, Bucharest, against the slaughter of wages, jobs and public services demanded by International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the European Union, as a condition for paying out further loans to the Romaninan government. This reflects a new area of turmoil and protests in Eastern Europe, after the complete failure of capitalism and two decades of stagnation and decline.
The 60,000-strong protest was one of the biggest carried out since the mass struggle that brought down the Stalinist dictatorship of Nicolae Ceausescu in 1989. Car workers, miners and civil servants, including thousands of police officers, as well as students and pensioners, took part.
“Either us or them”
The mass demonstration was marked by an enormous anger against the government and a determination to fight until the government is toppled. ”We want the government to fall or they will destroy us. It’s either us or them”, said one demonstrator to Reuters. There is also an awareness that if these cuts are implemented they will soon be followed by new brutal cuts and tax increases. "We are aware that the government will not stop at these measures. In a few months they will increase VAT and the income tax," said a 64-year-old teacher.
"Down with the lying government!" and "You have pawned our future," shouted the demonstrators.
"People are desperate and urge us not to give in, we are prepared to stop the economy next week to make our voice heard to the government", said the president of the public sector union, Cartel Alfa. Another union president symbolically tore apart the government and the IMF’s loan agreement and Marian Gruia, head of the policemen’s union, called on Romanians to unite, "as we did in 1989, when we overthrew the dictatorship".
The mood on the demonstration forced union leaders to announce a general strike on 31 May, if the government does not retreat. If it goes ahead, this general strike may be the largest mass mobilization since 1989.
Protests in the former Stalinist states
On the same day, tens of thousands of students demonstrated in Ljubljana, smashing the facade of the Slovenian parliament. The instability of capitalist regimes in the region can be seen in Kyrgyzstan, where a revolutionary uprising overthrew the government in April. Developments in Kazakhstan show the potential of these struggles, with workers raising the ideas of nationalisations and workers’ control in their fightback.
The failed promises, of capitalism developing these countries, are now bouncing back in rage and anger. A lot of confusion exists in the mass consciousness of workers and working people in general about a way out of the misery of capitalism. But the experience of the inability of Stalinism and then the complete failure of capitalism is pushing workers and youth to draw political conclusions in a socialist direction.
Romanian agriculture workers during the protests on 19 May in Bucharest
Austerity plans for Romania
The proposed cuts package, which probably is the most draconian proposed by any European government so far, includes a cut by 25% in public sector wages, a 15% cut in pensions, a 15% cut in unemployment benefits; the curtailing of child and child rearing allowances by 15%, and cutting wages of employees in state-owned companies. The cuts are set to start next month if the government succeeds, which is far from certain, after yesterday’s protest and the proposed general strike on May 31.
In addition, it will reduce the number of civil servants by 80,000-150,000 by 2011, which, for example, means that 15,000 teachers will lose their jobs. The public sector is the country’s largest employer, with 1.3 million employees.
Romania is the EU’s poorest country; the average salary is no higher than €350 and the minimum pension as low as €80 a month. Many workers earn far less than the official average salary.
”Our salaries are very small. They weren’t good before but with the cuts we don’t see anything good coming," said Valentina Voinea, 33, a nurse who earns 900 lei (€260) a month, and participated in the demonstration to the Associated Press.
The new cutbacks threaten mass poverty and decay. "We’re living in a country where those in power starve their children, starve their parents, and condemn pensioners to death. ", said one of the placards on the demonstration.
Even before the new package cut the salaries of civil servants, bonuses had been frozen and many had been forced to take leave without pay, while the public sector slimmed down.
In autumn last year, the government’s austerity measures, at the instigation of the IMF and the EU, provoked a series of mass demonstrations and strikes of up to 800,000 in early October. Faced with the threat of a general strike, the government collapsed. But a new coalition, with largely the same ministers as before, was formed shortly before Christmas.
It is this weak government that now wants to carry out far worse attacks than the previous government that was forced to resign Autumn 2009.
For a socialist answer to economic decline
The so-called “market” has already begun to count on the fall of the government. "Analysts and investors (the speculators] apparently fear that the government may lose its nerve and cave in to the protesters. An auction of government debt earlier this month failed to attract enough interest. " (British BBC on 20 May).
As time runs out, Romania’s economy is being driven into the ground and the state does not even have money for current expenditure.
Trade unions and other social movements now need to continue the fight to oust the government and the IMF to debate and campaign for the construction of a workers’ alternative in the form of a genuine socialist mass party.