By Charlie Kimber
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Workers across Europe strike back against austerity

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Issue 2642
Workers across Europe strike back against austerity
Belgian ports were brought to a standstill last week by a general strike

The economic and social policies pushed by the European Union (EU) are often described as a haven from inequality and crisis.

But last week millions of ­workers were fighting back against the EU-sanctioned policies of austerity.

On Wednesday of last week a national strike in Belgium stopped most public transport, air travel, refuse collection, postal services and non-emergency hospital ­services. Some private sector ­workers also took part.

The breweries AB InBev—which produces Stella Artois—and Hoegaarden, were closed for a day.

Hundreds of supermarkets closed because of strikes and lack of deliveries. Bosses said a third of small and medium size enterprises reported problems because of the strikes.

Belgium’s three main federations, with a combined membership of four million members, called their workers out.

Strikers are fighting over ­nationally-agreed pay rises. These are based on the size of wage increases in France, Germany and other countries so that Belgium can be “competitive”.


Bosses’ groups say rises must be capped at 0.8 percent. The unions want a—wholly inadequate—1.4 percent.

“What we want is to tell employers, whoever they are, that we’re sick of them putting all the dough that we create in their pockets,” said Robert Verteneuil, president of the General Federation of Belgian Labour. “It’s time to give some of it back to the workers.”

Two days later tens of thousands of public sector workers joined a national strike in Portugal.

The government of prime minister Antonio Costa is ­sometimes portrayed as the example of what a real Labour-type ­­government can do.

But it has faced repeated strikes from low-paid workers who are angry that ruthless austerity remains despite Costa being in office for more than three years.

Unions say the pay of around 600,000 public sector workers has been frozen for the last ten years.

Costa’s regime has come under fire from the UGT, Portugal’s second biggest and traditionally pro-socialist trade union.

“We are witnessing a revolt by the public and the unions against a government which gave high expectations but below par results,” said Carlos Silva, general secretary of the UGT union federation.

Meanwhile three French trade union federations plus student and school student organisations have called for a national strike on 19 March. It has similar demands to the one on 5 February which saw for the first time significant union backing for the Yellow Vest ­movement’s aims.

Health worker Angelique told Socialist Worker, “Some of us came out at my hospital on 5 February. I think we can get more for 19 March. But the union leaders have to make this real, not a token call.

“And we should be escalating to more than a day.”

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