Hungary: Budapest protest at Finance Ministers’ Summit

“We are workers not slaves!“

Last Saturday, 9 April, a protest demonstration in Hungary, called by the European Trade Union Federation (ETUC), was one of the biggest to take place in Eastern Europe in the recent period. About 45 trade unions from across Eastern Europe joined in the call. The ETUC general secretary, John Monks, explained last Friday that the protest was against workers having to pay the cost of the economic crisis. It was called because the meeting of European finance ministers, being held in castle Gödöllö near Budapest, would be demanding that workers must accept lower wages.

About 35,000 people from Hungary, Romania, Poland and other East European countries took an active part in the demonstration which ran from Heroes’ Square to the central area known as “Octogon”. Only a very small proportion of the protesters were really young, and many were quite old. This shows that many young people and workers are not attracted by what are mainly symbolic protest actions, organised by social democratic trade union leaders. Unfortunately, the ETUC does not set out to mobilise serious struggle against cuts and in defence of living standards.

The Committee for a Workers’ International (CWI) organised an intervention with comrades from Austria and Hungary taking part. The first 450 trilingual leaflets (Hungarian, English and German) were given out very quickly to the demonstrators. A lot of protesters were interested in the CWI’s ideas, although the comrades do not speak Hungarian. The fact that especially older people asked to take leaflets to distribute speaks well of our ideas, as did the fact that another 600 leaflets which we quickly produced in a copy-shop during the demonstration were also snapped out of comrades’ hands. (See web-site of SLP for leaflet.)

The CWI was the only organisation distributing leaflets, selling papers, pamphlets and badges and putting up a banner. Other organisations – whether it be political parties, who were not strictly speaking allowed to participate as such, or trade union groupings – no one else produced or distributed material to the protesters. There were only a few self-made banners. There was a strong representation of Hungarian trade unions. Especially noticeable were the Hungarian railway workers’ union whose members wore printed T-shirts saying “We are Hungarian Railway-workers, not slaves” in Hungarian and English.

The demonstration was a strong signal against cuts. When talking to Hungarians on the demonstration it became clear that their main reason for participating was to protest against the Hungarian prime minister, Orban, and his policy of cuts. The headline of our leaflet – “Orban cuts jobs and enforces racism against Roma” – was met with great sympathy. But the Hungarian trade unions hardly used the demonstration to protest against their own government. Many participants from Hungary would have wished for a clearer statement!

The strong participation of Hungarians in this international demonstration, and the fact that there will be workers’ protests against the cuts in the coming days, as well as protests from Roma people against the government’s racist policies, show that Hungarian society is not as much to the right as the media present it. Hungary needs a strong left force which offers an alternative to the existing social and economic conditions – a democratic and genuinely socialist society.

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April 2011