Wednesday was a turning point for the movements against austerity in Southern Europe. The viciousness of the repression faced by protesters illustrates how desperate bankers and their political allies have become to force the public sector to pay for the errors of banks and investors. But broad sectors of the public have shown increased courage and solidarity to fight for an alternative path.
Although these strikes were organized by labor, their success was attributable to the participation of broad sectors of the population – the young protesting education cuts, the old protesting healthcare cuts, the unemployed protesting for jobs, the employed protesting to keep their jobs, the middle class protesting to keep their homes, the homeless protesting to get one. An entire generation in Southern Europe is being radicalized.
After a grandmother threw herself from a balcony in advance of her eviction, Spain awoke to the word “assassins” scrawled on banks and ATMs across the country. The general strike in Spain saw clashes with police in many cities, with significant events in Madrid, Barcelona and three Basque cities. In Madrid, police chased protesters into the winding side streets leading into plazas and crevices. The evenings normally fill these parks and plazas with people smoking cigarettes, reading the newspaper, and enjoying a pint at café tables. Now storm troopers invade with noxious gas and rubber bullets. Screams and explosions terrorized residents, hiding in their residential apartments from the sounds echoing from their stone edifices.
In Portugal, the government has bribed police with significant wage increases in order to keep order, and protesters were faced with especially harsh repression. Protesters supporting the general strike fled the Parliament building and set dumpsters ablaze in the middle of the main thoroughfares of Lisbon in an attempt to slow police down. Portugal’s President Mr. Cavaco Silva said of the protesters that they are “people who want to destroy society.” Asked about the level of police brutality documented by Amnesty International, Mr. Silva responded, “statements of this kind can only be an insult to police.”
Greece, on the verge of bankruptcy and with a dramatic rise in homelessness, keeps promising with each round of cuts that it will be the last. Unions and other protesters were not buying it. They went on strike and protesters threw Molotov cocktails at police. On Thursday, students at Polytechneio dumped various liquids on the Education Minister, to protest education cuts. Workers occupied a building in Thessaloniki, where Greek and German officials were meeting to discuss the tensions. Protestors attacked one German diplomat with water bottles and fought police in an attempt to reach him.
In Italy, the largest union called a work stoppage of several hours and students, motivated by steep education cuts, spilled into the streets across the country. Reports of street fights with police in Trieste, Turin, and Milan describe the brutality with reports of injuries in several cities. Protesters occupied the railroad station in Naples. Cars were torched in Rome. There were arrests in Padua. Eggs were thrown at Bankitalia in Ancona.
Rail service was disrupted in Belgium. In France, unions marched in cities throughout the country. Unions held support rallies in the U.K. Over 600 flights were cancelled, mostly by Iberia and Vueling.
There is a huge potential energy building in these countries. The pent-up idleness of millions of unemployed and young people is a powder keg waiting to explode. Workers, the unemployed, and the elderly, understandably, do not want their children and the youth of their countries to grow up in this kind of environment. Neither do the youth themselves accept drastic cuts to their own education.
These events are not far off–rising suicide rates, plummeting health and decaying infrastructure could portend our own future as politicians prepare to strike a “grand bargain.” Will we follow Europe’s example, and strike back?