Cuts and strikes: Europe’s repetitive theme

Recent strikes by underground staff caused commuter mayhem. Image credit: C. G. P. Grey

Recent strikes by underground staff caused commuter mayhem. Image credit: C. G. P. Grey

The wave of protests and industrial action across Europe is expected to continue as Government spending cuts are announced.

Individual workplaces to whole industries have seen staff walk out over disputes ranging from job cuts to pay freezes, as consumers and business continue to feel the pinch of the recession.

The financially unstable countries in Europe have seen frequent strikes by the large body of public sector workers, who are against Government austerity measures. Strikes and protests in Greece have been ongoing throughout this year, with the latest bringing capital Athens to a standstill. Prime Minister Berlusconi’s plans in Italy, which include targeting public sector pensions, have caused sporadic protests across the country. Spain, having recently had its credit rating downgraded, had a nationwide general strike for the first time in eight years last month.

One of the largest anti-EU demonstrations ever occurred in Brussels on September 29, where tens of thousands of demonstrators descended on the EU headquarters. Police had to barricade the area.

No nationwide strikes have been planned in Britain, but individual business and industries have been targeted. British Airways’ cabin crew workers walked out several times earlier this year, and the two recent strikes by the RMT on the London Underground have caused controversy.

One of the largest anti-EU demonstrations ever occurred in Brussels on the 29th September

These tube strikes were severely criticised by London mayor Boris Johnson. He presented ideas for tougher strike laws against “these militants wrecking lives”, advocating a minimum 50 per cent participation in a strike ballot. The business lobby group CBI has also encouraged changes to the law over strikes.

Johnson grabbed headlines by stating that these strikes were political in nature, seen by him as “revenge for electoral defeats”. Nevertheless strikes are illegitimate if motivated by political and not workplace issues.

The Trade Union Congress is backing six protests this month. In addition, The Times highlighted the possibility of co-ordinated same day strikes by members of the RMT and Fire Brigades Union. Co-ordinated strike action would have a similar negative effect to Britain as those experienced by continental countries.

The economic outlook is gloomy. George Osborne’s huge £83bn spending review is set to unveiled on October 20. This comes at a time when the IMF has stated that more taxpayer support to finance markets is needed to ensure stability. Germany and Spain are set to be hit hardest by necessary financial refinancing of nearly £2.5trillion over the next two years.

Frequent strike action taken by workers and public protests will end up harming the economy. As a result, Governments across Europe are treading a very fine line between making sufficient cuts to stabilise the country in the long term, and maintaining support of the electorate through re-building confidence in the economy.

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