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From The Socialist newspaper, 21 November 2012

Europe: 14 November shows workers' potential power to defeat austerity

On 14 November (N14), millions of workers across Europe went on strike and participated in mass protests against austerity.

Called by the European Trade Union Confederation, it was the first internationally coordinated strike action in Europe since the current capitalist crisis began in 2008.

The N14 action was preceded by another 48-hour general strike in Greece on 6 and 7 November.

Most of the strike action took place in southern Europe where the effects of austerity measures up to now have been more keenly felt.

In Spain and Portugal in particular, where mass general strikes took place, the protests were enormous.

Also, a common negative feature of the demos in Italy, Spain and Portugal was the unprecedented level of state repression meted out to strikers and protesters.

The following reports give a flavour of the scale of the protests but also comment on what further action is needed to roll back capitalist austerity.

More reports and analysis can be read on www.socialistworld.net


Spain: Name the date for a 48-hour general strike!

Socialismo Revolucionario (CWI, Spain) statement

The general strike of 14 November, like those on 29 March this year and 29 September 2010, shook society throughout the Spanish state.

The trade unions cite participation of 77%, a higher percentage than previous strikes. It was especially strong in manufacturing and transport.

Many more unemployed, young people, pensioners and 'precarious' workers in less well-organised sectors, unable to strike for fear of immediate sacking, showed their active support for the strike by participating in the enormous demonstrations which took place throughout the day.

Five million people marched, with over one million demonstrating in both Barcelona and Madrid respectively.

Almost the only black spot was the refusal by the leaders of the Basque nationalist unions - ELA and LAB - to support the general strike call.

This decision reflects an absurd sectarianism, especially when the international character of 14 November is taken into account.

Despite this, determined action was taken by many among the rank and file of those unions who in some important factories, including Volkswagen in Pamplona, walked out on strike despite their leaders.

Demobilisation?

The success of the strike and mobilisations clearly shows, once again, that the working class is not prepared to accept the imposition of austerity by the government and the dictatorship of the markets.

But 14 November must not become one more symbolic action called by the majority trade union leaders (of CCOO and UGT) in order to 'let off steam'. The lessons of the previous general strike must be learnt.

After the 29 March strike against the ruling People's Party labour 'reform', this strategy of demobilisation - when, after the strike, union leaders Toxo and Mendez only pleaded with parliament to "improve" the reform - led to the passage of an even more anti-worker labour law!

We now find ourselves at a similar conjuncture. Last week the leaders of CCOO and UGT, after announcing the great success of the strike, called on the government to change its policies, or if not, to seek the "approval of the people" in a referendum.

It must be clearly understood that no change in the government's policies will be achieved without a sustained and escalating struggle by the working class and youth.

A glimpse of this has been seen in the latest developments in the struggle against home evictions. New measures, albeit insufficient, announced by the government after the strike (to impose a moratorium on evictions in a small number of exceptional cases), were the direct product of struggle over the last years, including direct actions to prevent evictions, demonstrations and the occupation of banks etc.

Before N14, local initiatives by various platforms of activists, often from 'M15' (social movements) assemblies, set up functioning 'strike committees' in neighbourhoods, to organise workers to build for the strike locally.

These committees must now be used to organise and fight for a combative strategy, to defeat the demobilising strategy of the union leaders.

Some smaller unions (such as Cobas) have already come out in favour of calling a new general strike, as part of a strategy to defeat the austerity of the ruling PP and other autonomous governments.

Socialismo Revolucionario supports the call for a new general strike, this time of 48 hours, and an escalation of the action.

The partial occupations by workers which are spreading through the hospitals of Madrid, could also add another element to the strategy of struggle, that of occupations of workplaces, town halls and ministries, to resist layoffs and privatisations.

Democratic committees and assemblies could also take on a key role in the setting of 'minimum services' in key essential services, such as hospitals etc.

The administration of prime minister Mariano Rajoy is in a much weaker position than at the time of the 29 March strike.

Although the PP will try to cling to power it will weaken, opening up the potential for a successful struggle to bring this government down and fight for a workers' government to represent our interests: a government armed with a genuinely socialist programme which rejects the 'debt', and instead implements the nationalisation of the banks and key sectors of the economy, under democratic control and management.


Portugal: Biggest ever general strike... Now mobilise to oust the government

Anne Engelhardt, Gonçalo Romeiro and Francisco d'Oliveira Raposo, Socialismo Revolucionário (CWI, Portugal)

"Down with the government, traitor to the nation", "The Troika cannot command here". "Hunger, misery and the IMF - get out!" "The street belongs to us, not the debt".

These chants reflected the anger of demonstrators against the government's savage cuts in jobs, services and living standards.

Despite attempts in the mass media to downplay it, the 14 November general strike was the biggest and most successful national strike action in Portugal since the 1974 revolution.

Even the brutal state violence at the end of the day couldn't diminish the scale and impact of the general strike.

Militant spirit

Among firefighters, garbage collectors, metro and some other groups of workers, the strike was 100% solid.

At the main post distribution centre in Lisbon the picket line developed into a celebration of the strike. Students and workers were discussing and singing songs together.

Many shops, pharmacies and petrol stations closed down as the private sector and small businesses also joined the strike.

Unfortunately, the second largest union confederation (UGT - General Workers Union), did not support the general strike, alleging that it was "overtly political" and "sectarian" on the part of the General Confederation of Portuguese Workers (CGTP - the largest union federation).

However, as the strike approached many UGT-affiliated workers ignored their 'leaders' and joined in the action.

Even the union of the UGT's general secretary - who is also on the executive committee of the European Trade Union Congress which called the day of action on N14 - took part in the strike!

Unfortunately, despite the massive anger on the streets, neither the Portuguese Communist Party, the Left Bloc, nor the leadership of the CGTP have fulfilled their responsibility to develop the struggle.

The CGTP leadership at its rally at the end of the Lisbon demo refused to call for a 48-hour general strike before the end of the year, as the next step in a sustained plan of action to bring down the government.

Further action

Although during the day we witnessed several minor clashes between pickets and police the general mood of police was neutral.

But the events in the evening showed an obvious attempt by the state and the police to intimidate and criminalise the protesters.

Arménio Carlos (general secretary of the CGTP) correctly blamed the government and the police's brutal attacks on workers for the escalation of violence.

The CGTP has called a further demonstration for 27 November, in front of the national assembly, on the day that the final vote on the government's budget will take place.

This demonstration needs to become a massive event. It is an opportunity to call for a 48-hour general strike and further action to escalate the movement.

If such a plan of action, and a clear political alternative is fought for - starting from a united front of the left parties (Communist Party and Left Bloc) and the workers' and social movements and for a government to implement socialist policies - then this could decisively change the balance of forces in society and open up a new era for class struggle in Portugal and Europe.


Italy: Cgil reluctantly mobilises, but workers and students fill the squares

Giuliano Brunetti, ControCorrente (CWI, Italy)

On 14 November, in 30 Italian cities, hundreds of thousands of workers and students demonstrated against the government - against the policies of cuts and austerity.

The Cgil - main union confederation - called a 'four-hour general strike'. Given the scale of the crisis and of the attacks, four hours was insufficient.

However, some sectors, such as trade, telecommunications, schools and public employment extended the strike to eight hours.

In Milan, the strike brought together workers of the Cgil, students and the fighting workers of San Raffaele Hospital.

Transport workers, including train workers, also took part. In Turin a demonstration of 20,000 people marched through the city.

Of particular note was the presence of the Fiom, the militant metal workers' section of the Cgil, which actively participated in strikes and demonstrations in nearly 100 cities.

Unfortunately the Cgil decided only ten days before N14 to launch a symbolic strike, leaving little time for union delegates to explain to workers the reasons for the protest.

Nor did the union organise any workplace meetings in advance. Moreover, the slogans used to prepare for N14 were vague and very general.

As far as the various 'Unions of the Base' are concerned, of note was the total absence of the USB, who chose in a sectarian manner to boycott the day of action in order "not to collaborate with the yellow unions".

However COBAS (The Confederation of Committees of the Base), took an active part in bringing the majority of its members onto the streets, especially in the education sector.

Police repression

In Rome, about 50,000 people, mostly students and many public sector workers, blocked the whole city and tried to reach the parliament building.

Despite the relatively peaceful character of the demonstration, police received orders to charge and disperse the protesters.

Large amounts of tear gas were fired on unarmed and peaceful protesters. Police charges left many dozens on the ground. Demonstrators were surrounded by police agents and beaten before being dragged away.

Despite the timidity of the union bureaucracies N14 was, relatively, a political success. It demonstrated the will to fight and resist that is spreading at the base of society; at Alcoa, at Sulcis, at Ikea, at Coop, among metal workers, teachers, precarious and temporary workers, as well as among young people and students.

Now it is important to close ranks and to prepare immediately for a mass, 24-hour general strike.

Only a full and well-prepared mobilisation of the working class will be capable of reversing the present recessionary policies which will continue to be pursued by a new government - technical or political - after elections next spring.


Committee for a Workers' International

The Committee for a Workers' International (CWI) is the socialist international organisation to which the Socialist Party is affiliated.

The CWI is organised in 45 countries and works to unite the working class and oppressed peoples against global capitalism and to fight for a socialist world.

For more details including CWI publications write to: CWI, PO Box 3688, London E11 1YE. Email cwi@worldsoc.co.uk

The CWI website www.socialistworld.net contains news, reports and analysis from around the world.

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Coronavirus crisis - Finance appeal

The coronavirus crisis has laid bare the class character of society in numerous ways. It is making clear to many that it is the working class that keeps society running, not the CEOs of major corporations.

The results of austerity have been graphically demonstrated as public services strain to cope with the crisis.

The government has now ripped up its 'austerity' mantra and turned to policies that not long ago were denounced as socialist. But after the corona crisis, it will try to make the working class pay for it, by trying to claw back what has been given.

  • The Socialist Party's material is more vital than ever, so we can continue to report from workers who are fighting for better health and safety measures, against layoffs, for adequate staffing levels, etc.
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  • When the health crisis subsides, we must be ready for the stormy events ahead and the need to arm workers' movements with a socialist programme - one which puts the health and needs of humanity before the profits of a few.
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