EU Observer (Link) - Leigh Phillips (May 18, 2009)
Hundreds of thousands of workers took to the streets of European capitals over the weekend as the economic crisis squeezes wages and jobs across the continent in a series of official actions led by European trade union leaders.
Some 350,000 people marched through the streets of Berlin, Brussels, Madrid and Prague, with smaller demonstrations elsewhere, including Birmingham and Bucharest, according to figures from the European Trade Union Confederation.
The workers were taking part in the ETUC's 'Action Days' from Thursday through Saturday (14-16 May), the European trade union central's response to the growing crisis intended to call for more ambitious action by Brussels and EU member state governments "to help the growing armies of unemployed."
They also marched against "financial capitalism" itself, saying it should "never again" be allowed to wreck the world economy.
The size of these Euro-demonstrations reveals the widespread concerns for the future. "The world of financial capitalism seems to assume that after a few 'green shoots' of recovery, it will be soon business as usual for them despite their recent heart attack," said the ETUC's general secretary, John Monks.
"But they are still on life support provided by Europe's tax payers, and never again can greed and selfishness be allowed to cause damage of amounts of trillions of euros."
"Tighter regulation of financial markets is needed now and more workers influence on boardrooms. Workers want life support systems for industry and jobs too, and ambitious action to help the fight against growing unemployment."
Around 40,000 demonstrated in Brussels on Friday, according to police, targeting the European institutions. The ETUC said 50,000 took part in the rally.
Sizeable protests also took place in Madrid the day before, where an estimated 50,000 marched through the Spanish capital.
In Prague, around 20,000 protesters demanded the Czech Republic's current caretaker government abandon the previous cabinet's scheme to exit the crisis by making it easier for employers to fire employees.
The demonstrators accused companies of taking advantage of the crisis to shed workers and called on the new government to improve employment conditions and boost pensions.
The economy of the central European republic has been hit hard by the crisis, with unemployment climbing to 7.9 percent in April and the economy contracting 3.4 percent in the first quarter
The head of the Bohemian and Moravian Confederation of Trade Unions (CMKOS), Milan Stech, who is also a senator with the opposition Social Democrats attacked the outgoing administration of siding with company executives against ordinary people.
Slamming the National Economic Council of the Government - the body put in place by former prime minister Mirek Topolanek to draft a response to the crisis, Mr Stech said the council was composed of "those who were pushing neoliberal concepts through," Ceske Noviny reports.
Between 5,000 and 10,000 marched in the Romanian capital, Bucharest.
Some 7,000 braved the rain to take part in a similar protest in Birmingham in the British West Midlands, the heart of the UK's remaining manufacturing sector.
The march, organised by the country's Unite union under the umbrella of the ETUC's Action Days saw the group's joint general-secretary, Derek Simpson say: "Billions have been spent to save the banks, but those same banks are still throwing people out of their houses when they can't meet their mortgage payments because of a recession those very banks caused."
"They've taken food from the mouths of our families, threatened our jobs and homes. Are we are supposed to accept this?"
The union's other co-leader, Tony Woodley said: "Workers are not going to pay the price for the crisis created by bankers."
The demonstration was notable for the presence of the former head of the Confederation of British Industry and current member of government, Digby Jones.
But the largest demonstration, Confederation of German Trade Unions (DGB), took place in Berlin, where as many as 100,000 rallied.
The head of the DGB, Michael Sommer, warned that if politicians did not act, they risked widespread civil unrest.
"If we don't act now, there will be consequences for democracy and social peace," he said, according to Deutsche Welle.
Germany's Ver.di union called for a third stimulus package for the country, beyond the Social-Democrat-Christian-Democrat coalition's already committed €81 billion.
The chairman of the Social Democrats, Franz Muentefering, who also put in an appearance at the demonstration, rubbished such suggestions but took the opportunity to try to focus anger on the capitalist system. "We are here to oppose international financial capitalism," he said, adding: "We must do all we can at the moment to protect jobs."
While Mr Muentefering is known for his populist rhetoric, having infamously referred to private equity firms as "locusts" in 2005, the politician is widely seen as coming from the right of the party. In the autumn of last year, he was part of moves to shift the party back to the centre late after previous chairman Kurt Beck had attempted to counteract the growing popularity of the far-left Die Linke party by softening the edges of some economic reforms.
The ETUC co-ordinated series of protests come amid growing anger amongst European workers, but nonetheless is dwarfed by the general strikes and wave of ‘bossnappings' that has hit France since the advent of the crisis, in which millions have taken to the streets.