Suddenly Europe is aflame. There are mass demonstrations of workers on the streets, students in revolt in the colleges and schools, and pensioners are joining a movement to defend the welfare state they created.
In Italy, Greece and Ireland signs that working people are refusing to pay for the economic crisis and are fighting back are starting to show.
The biggest protests were in Italy, where students, teachers and parents are battling prime minister Silvio Berlusconi’s decision to slash 100,000 teaching jobs and axe £6.4 billion from the education budget.
Across the country universities and high schools are occupied. In Rome students demonstrate daily, targeting the finance ministry, the senate and even the Rome film festival. In the working class area of Centocelle thousands of school students are blockading the main roads into the city.
A 100,000-strong march in Milan was sparked by an attempt by police to break up a student sit-in at the city’s main railway station. The following day Berlusconi threatened to “intervene with the police forces to stop these things happening”.
Despite the warning, the occupations and road blockades continued and 24 hours later Berlusconi was forced to backtrack, saying, “I have never said or thought that the police must enter the schools.”
At the weekend the centre left Democrat party called a national protest that became a focus for everyone. Some two million people joined the march through Rome and there is now growing pressure for a general strike.
Meanwhile in Greece, workers and students took to the streets during last week’s general strike chanting, “Make the capitalists pay for their crisis.” The day before, railworkers occupied their company’s head office in Athens against plans to break up the network and sack 2,000 workers.
In the northern city of Salonica 400 workers occupied the Siemens plant against closure while 2,000 textile workers facing redundancy clashed with riot police outside the economics ministry in Athens.
Next month it is expected that primary and secondary school teachers will join the battle with a 150,000‑strong nationwide strike.
The mood of protest has not been confined to the Mediterranean. In Ireland, where the government has just spent £3.2 billion bailing out the banks, opposition to an emergency budget that slashes public services swept the country last week.
Around 15,000 pensioners took to the streets against a proposal to scrap free medical care for the over 70s and to raid the country’s pension funds. This show of people power forced the government into a humiliating U-turn.
On the same day 15,000 students poured out of the colleges to demonstrate against the introduction of tuition fees. Panicking police did their best to keep the two generations of protesters apart but when the pensioners eventually joined the students they received a hero’s welcome.
Now Ireland’s coalition government is in disarray, with support for Fianna Fail, the main governing party, down to just 26 percent and MPs quitting the party.
The political crisis has also extended to the Greens, Fianna Fail’s main coalition partner, as the party backed bank bailouts, slashing public services, and cuts in workers’ pay.
A mood of anger at the capitalist crisis is sweeping Europe. The radical left has an historic opportunity to shape the struggle and win a new generation to the battle for a society that rests on social justice.
Reports compiled by Alexandre Gaudilliere in Rome, Leandros Bolaris in Athens, Donal Mac Fhearraigh in Dublin and Chris Bambery in London