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Europe: crisis, austerity and rebellion

John Bell

April 20, 2012

The European economic zone never recovered from the disastrous slump of 2008. Since then it has been an endless round of governments scrambling to slash workers’ wages and social services in order to transfer wealth to tottering banks.

But across the continent workers, students and the growing army of the unemployed are demonstrating, striking and repeating in every language: “We won’t pay for your crisis.”

Electoral politics are in turmoil. Socialist (in name only) governments in Greece and Spain are booted out for imposing austerity measures. In a recent by-election, British firebrand George Galloway humiliated both Tory and Labour candidates by running on a strong anti-cuts, anti-war platform. And in France, far-left candidates stand to make historic gains in elections that will certainly see Sarkozy’s conservative government thrown out.

Early in April a Greek pensioner committed suicide in Athens’ main square, saying he would rather die than sift through garbage for food. He also called on young people to rise up in revolt.

Panos Garganas is editor of Workers Solidarity, Socialist Worker’s sister paper in Greece. He spoke about how grinding austerity was ripping through the lives of pensioners.

“Pensions have been cut by around a quarter since the crisis first hit in 2008,” he said. “And the government has pledged to cut pensions further this summer. This is what causes the levels of desperation that have led to this latest suicide.”

All is not despair. Workers at Eleftherotypia, once Greece’s second biggest selling newspaper, took over production after months of not being paid. They turned it into a voice of the revolt, selling it directly to ordinary people at big public events. Similarly, workers occupied and ran AlterTV after bosses stopped paying them. They turned the station into a voice for all workers’ struggles. When bosses cut the power, electrical workers came in and hooked them up again.

In Italy, the unelected Monti government has imposed increased sales taxes and health care user fees in an effort to transfer wealth from workers to the banks and bosses. Strikes by transportation workers and fishers resulted. New “reforms” making it easier for bosses to fire rebellious workers sparked a massive strike involving the three biggest unions.

Late March saw a massive general strike in Spain. Official unemployment is at 23 per cent (youth unemployment is far higher) and government austerity measures would throw thousands more out of work: more people defaulting on mortgage and credit card debt, buying fewer goods and services, all dragging the economy further down. The ability of the four-month-old right-wing Rajoy government to impose the cuts demanded by the banks and IMF is in doubt.

Greece’s economic crisis and the heroic struggles it spawned almost brought down Europe’s financial system. Spain has an economy twice as big as that of Greece, Portugal and Ireland combined. Growing resistance to austerity in Italy and Spain is the last thing Europe’s bosses and bankers want to see.

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