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November 14: Europe's workers take to the streets

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On 14 November, more than 10 million people joined strikes and protests in 23 European countries in the biggest ever example of internationally co-ordinated industrial action.

General strikes in Spain and Portugal were matched by sectional strikes in France, Italy, Greece, Belgium, Cyprus and Malta.

The massive action was called by the European Trades Union Congress (ETUC) in response to the never-ending austerity which has left nearly 26 million people unemployed across the Eurozone.

Business leaders condemned the strikes as ‘harmful to the economy’ – ignoring the fact that four years of austerity in Greece has seen the economy contract by more than 7% year-on-year and the Eurozone itself has been plunged into a double-dip recession.

State governments responded with levels of violence that have become their favoured response to those who oppose the cuts. Hundreds were injured in Spain when police opened fire with rubber bullets. In Italy and Greece, baton-wielding police were deployed to ensure people were in no doubt about the attitude of the ruling elites.

The international character of the demonstration certainly boosted participation in the strikes. In Spain, energy consumption slumped by 13 per cent as automobile production and public transport ground to a complete halt. Union leaders estimated 60-70 per cent of unionists participated in this, the second general strike this year, but many more industries were forced to close by pickets which formed from midnight.

In Belgium, public transport came to a standstill across virtually the whole country as striking workers occupied train stations and railway tracks, while in Portugal, 45 per cent of flights were grounded and more than half of public sector workers joined mass demonstrations in around 40 towns and cities.

French workers, angry at Hollande’s refusal to stop cuts, held major strikes in transport and staged protests in 130 towns.

In Greece, less than a week after a 48 hour general strike against yet more government cuts, the unions were still able to mount a three-hour stoppage, marching with Spanish, Portuguese and Italian flags to demonstrate solidarity with the international movement.

Some of the most violent confrontations took place in Italy and Spain. In Italy, the largest trade union, CGIL, called a four-hour walkout and tens of thousands demonstrated in Rome, Naples and Milan. Nationally, 300,000 joined the protests. Across the country, it was students and “social forums” that were at the forefront of every protest, occupying the central station in Naples, blockading the ferry port in Genoa and confronting the riot police in city after city. Two government ministers had to be rescued by helicopter after their meeting was besieged in Sardinia.

Meanwhile, around 80 people were arrested in Spain as police turned out in force to protect scab workers as pickets formed from midnight on the 14th. The non-confrontational tactics of the ‘indignados’ movement have long since been replaced by more militant and effective action which has seen students and youth – suffering 50 per cent unemployment – link up with workers to close shops and industries which tried to defy the strikes.

At the end of nearly 24 hours of protest, hundreds of thousands flooded Madrid city centre in some of the biggest protests to date in a country where more than a quarter of the workplace is unemployed.

Large demonstrations were held in a number of European countries which did not join the ETUC’s strike call, most notably in Germany where a sizeable Greece Solidarity campaign has been building opposition to Chancellor Merkel who has consistently put the interests of German banks before the Greek people.

In Britain, however, the “official movement”, the TUC, did nothing even to alert its millions of affiliated members to the importance of the European strike, let alone mobilising them to take part. It was left to unofficial activists around the country to organise meetings and rallies in solidarity with the workers on the mainland. In London, the Coalition of Resistance, to its credit, did organise a demonstration outside the European Commission and a solidarity rally with speakers and live feeds from the demonstrations in Greece and Spain. For a full report of that meeting, go to http://www.workerspower.co.uk/2012/11/john-mcdonnell-mp-calls-for-genera...
  

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