Published on Socialist Worker.org, by JONAH BIRCH AND ALAN MAASS, October 16, 2012.
THE ECONOMIC crisis wracking Europe–particularly the countries concentrated in the south that have borne the brunt of a catastrophic debt crisis–is producing dramatic new confrontations between governments and financial officials intent on imposing further austerity and masses of working people.
The growing tensions are shaking the foundations of the Eurozone–the 17 countries that use the euro as their currency–and the European Union, with implications that will be felt around the world.
The international media’s spotlight has fallen recently on the Spanish state, where a wave of anti-austerity protests have been met with harsh repression by riot police, leading to street battles in Madrid, Barcelona and other cities. The latest demonstrations come in the wake of strike action and militant protests by miners from the Asturias region against threatened job cuts, which likewise ended in battles with police … //
… Though with less fanfare than Spain and Greece, opposition to Portugal’s push for extensive spending cuts and other austerity measures has escalated sharply. In late September tens of thousands poured into Lisbon’s Praca do Comercio in response to calls by union leaders to protest the government. In the days afterward, transportation workers launched a series of job actions that caused major disruptions throughout the country.
- – -
SIGNS OF upheaval have been common for many months in the countries that are suffering the most because of the debt crisis–the so-called PIIGS, Portugal, Italy, Ireland, Greece and Spain.
But protest against austerity is spreading across the region. In France–which, under former President Nicolas Sarkozy, was the chief collaborator with Germany’s Merkel in demanding harsh neoliberal measures in the indebted countries–some 80,000 people marched in Paris after the government publicized its plan to balance the budget by 2017.
The government was only elected a few short months ago, when the Socialist Party rode enormous popular anger at Sarkozy to a crushing victory in both presidential and parliamentary elections. But President François Hollande and Jean-Marc Ayrault of the Socialists have been plagued by the country’s growing economic difficulties, which include a rash of layoffs and reports that the French economy is tagnating.
Hollande and Ayrault also had to quash a potential legislative revolt by lawmakers allied with the Socialist-led coalition government. The dissenters have been objecting to the terms of a new constitutional treaty for Europe, agreed to by representatives of the continent’s ruling classes earlier this year, which stiffens penalties for governments that allow their annual fiscal deficits to rise above 3 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) or their total debt to creep past 60 percent of GDP … //
… THIS CONSENSUS reflects the position of the German ruling class in the debate among European elites over how to save the euro in the face of the debt crisis.
Since its introduction in 1999, the euro has been immensely beneficial to European capital. This in large part because of the neoliberal and anti-democratic character of the Eurozone—something it shares with other institutions that compose the foundations of European unity, such as the EU–which has ensured that the interests of capitalists are favored over those of workers.
For instance, the Stability and Growth Pact, agreed to by EU members states as monetary union was being established, required governments to carry out spending cuts and neoliberal reforms in order to join the Eurozone–this gave neoliberal political leaders as useful weapon to bludgeon their opponents in national governments across the region.
Likewise, the European Central Bank (ECB) was set up in a manner that guaranteed control over monetary policy for unelected elites committed to preventing any increase in inflation–which would hurt the interest of global investors–no matter what the costs in terms of jobs and wage stagnation.
The euro has therefore played an important role in weakening the bargaining position of labor, reinforcing the trend toward greater inequality and facilitating neoliberal restructuring across the continent … //
… The far right has been able to grow in other countries, too–a frightening reminder of the fact of history that economic and social crises provide opportunities for the right to grow, as well as the left.
But the Greece where Golden Dawn is spreading its influence is also the Greece of general strikes, massive protests, occupations of the squares and the radical organization SYRIZA. The Spain where Col. Alaman threatens to crush Catalan nationalists is also the Spain of a growing left-wing upheaval that is uniting miners and other workers with a radicalizing youth movement.
The challenge for the left in Europe is to present an alternative to crisis and austerity–not only in the day-to-day struggles against cutbacks and anti-worker attacks, but with a vision for a different kind of society, based on justice and democracy.
(full long long text).
Economics of ending poverty: 0.7% of GNI is all it takes;