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Year 2010 No. 47, September 29, 2010 ARCHIVE HOME JBBOOKS SUBSCRIBE

Actions against the Cuts:

There Is An Alternative!

Workers' Daily Internet Edition: Article Index :

Actions against the Cuts:
There Is An Alternative!

Strong Protests Mount in Europe against Austerity Measures

Millions Demonstrate in France against Anti-Social Attacks on Pensions

Anti-Social Offensive in Greece

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Actions against the Cuts:

There Is An Alternative!

Today, European-wide actions are taking place against the austerity measures of the capitalist governments in power.

A day of action is being organised by trades unions and the European TUC are affirming the workers’ determination throughout Europe that there is an alternative to the cuts and austerity measures, that there is a way out of the crisis and it is the very opposite of what the governments are proposing. These governments are intent on wrecking society in pushing through the programme of the monopolies, centred around making cuts to decrease budget deficits. The financial and economic crisis has not been caused by investment in social programmes and ensuring that the economy serves the needs of the peoples of Europe. It has been caused by the reckless and gross irresponsibility of the monopolies and the financial oligarchy. This has been the agenda of the EU, as well as successive British governments.

The mood of delegates recently at the TUC Congress in Manchester was that the workers themselves must become political and affirm the alternative and take up responsibility for the fate of society. There can be no going back!

In this issue of WDIE, we are carrying reports showing that throughout Europe workers are taking a stand in defence of public services, getting organised to oppose the cuts and the all-round assault on the public interest that are taking place, and are affirming that only the working class can save the day.

Article Index

Strong Protests Mount in Europe against Austerity Measures

Austerity measures in EU countries have caused mounting social anger, and today angry workers are taking to the streets right across Europe. 100,000 are expected on the streets in Brussels where workers from 30 countries will say, "No to austerity!"

The protest, the biggest such march since 2001 when 80,000 people spilled into the EU capital, is being held to coincide with a plan to fine governments running up deficits. Detailed proposals are due to be released today by the EU’s executive arm, the European Commission, with the continent's finance ministers also gathering in Brussels this week.

EU finance ministers agreed on May 9 to establish a rescue mechanism worth around €750 billion to protect the euro from collapsing under the weight of debt accumulated in countries such as Greece, Spain or Portugal. Crisis-hit EU countries have adopted highly unpopular austerity measures, which in the case of Greece sparked violent street protests.

Marchers are expected to travel from across the continent to assemble in the EU capital for one of the largest demonstrations in recent years. Solidarity protests are also planned in numerous member states, including Greece, Ireland, Italy, Latvia and Poland.

Spain, meanwhile, is experiencing its first general strike since 2002 as the country's main unions – the UGT and CCOO – march against austerity measures introduced by José Luis Zapatero's government. The unions previously made threats of a general strike in May 2010 as talks with the government over labour reform remained deadlocked.

In a September 28 interview, European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) Secretary-General John Monks explained that unions believe both national governments and EU leaders went too far, and too soon, panicking at the onset of the Greek crisis and adopting austerity measures which have led to a "real risk" of a double-dip recession.

Conny Reuter, president of the Social Platform, a network of European social NGOs, shares the unions' view, and before leaving to join today's Brussels march said that the over-the-top budgets have led to a dangerous slashing of social spending across the EU, giving the example of a 30% cut in teachers' salaries in Latvia.

What national governments and EU lawmakers have failed to understand, he argued, is that in a time of crisis social needs are higher, and "we have to mobilise to highlight the fact that there are other choices". The Brussels strike is hoping to be particularly influential on EU policy.

"We will demonstrate to voice our concern over the economic and social context, which will be compounded by austerity measures," John Monks said. "This is a crucial day for Europe," said Monks, "because our governments, virtually all of them, are about to embark on solid cuts in public expenditures. They're doing this at a time where the economy is very close to recession, and almost certainly you'll see the economy go back into recession as the effect of these cuts take place."

In Spain, where trade unions have called a general strike on Wednesday, unemployment has more than doubled, with one in five workers jobless in July.

Madrid in consequence is looking at a drastic overhaul of its labour legislation to ease flexi-time and hiring and firing. Pensions are frozen, wages cut for civil servants and VAT taxes on the rise.

But elsewhere labour leaders are equally concerned. Portugal's leading labour confederation, the CGTP, which is close to the communists, has called protests in Lisbon and Porto and hopes for more than 10,000 participants.

Poland's main unions, Solidarity and OPZZ, expect "several thousand" at a protest outside government headquarters.

Similar marches are scheduled in Greece, Ireland, Italy, Latvia and Serbia, with labour leaders across the board clamouring for growth and protesting the injustice of workers paying for the errors of the financial sector.

"Those responsible for this crisis, the banks, the financial markets and the ratings agencies are all too quick in asking for help from states and public budgets and today want the workers to pay for their debts," said French labour leader Jean-Claude Mailly, who heads the FO union.

(AFP, EurActiv)

Article Index

Millions Demonstrate in France against Anti-Social Attacks on Pensions

On September 23 across France, more then 3 million people took part in strikes and other protests demanding the repeal of the Pension Reform Bill which attacks the workers' right to pensions that will provide them with a dignified life in retirement.

Similar nation-wide actions were held on September 7, the day the Bill was in plenary debate at the National Assembly. All the main trade unions of France participated in the September 7 and 23 actions ensuring the broad participation of the workers from all the major sectors of the economy.

Despite the Bill being passed in the National Assembly on September 15, a day also marked by mass demonstrations, the scale of people's rejection of this anti-social measure has only increased from the more than 2.7 million people who demonstrated on September 7. A General Confederation of Workers (CGT) statement said the growth reflected an increased number of workers from the private sector, particularly small- and medium- sized workplaces, as well as a larger participation by women and young people.

The Bill, which must now be passed by the Senate, raises the retirement age from 60 to 62, increasing the public sector workers' pension contributions, and increasing the required contribution period to 41.5 years before a worker is entitled to a full state pension.

The global economic crisis is being used as the justification for this major retrogressive step that the French ruling class is trying to impose on the workers. French President Nicolas Sarkozy claims the highest ideals in defending the attacks on workers and their pensions, saying they are necessary in order to reduce the deficit and ensure the viability of the state pension system in France for future generations. With similar arrogance, French Prime Minister Francois Fillon remarked, "Government in France also means knowing how to say 'No'. We will not withdraw this reform because it's necessary and reasonable."

French workers responded with their banners and slogans that the French working class did not cause the global economic crisis and should not bear its burden and that the attacks on the pensions are only going to worsen the crisis. They are demanding that employers foot more of the bill for pensions. Under the current regime, 84 percent of the 30 billion euros to be invested in the pension system by 2020 will be paid by workers and only 7 percent by employers.

The coalition of French unions which is co-ordinating the actions has called for further protests on October 2 and October 12. Some unions will also take part in the September 29 Europe-wide mobilisation called by the European Confederation of Trade Unions against austerity measures and to demand recovery plans in favour of quality jobs and growth.

The Union Coalition has said it will meet again on October 4, the day before the Senate begins its debate over the Pension Reform Bill, to determine further action.

Article Index

Anti-Social Offensive in Greece

Report of the World Federation of Trade Unions-International (Excerpts)

The September updated memorandum agreement promoted in Greece by the PASOK government, IMF, European Union and Greek plutocracy includes new anti-people measures.

New and Previous Measures on Working Relations

Law stating company-level agreements will prevail over sectoral agreements.

Law enabling individual enterprises not to implement those collective agreements with trade unions signed by sectoral employers' associations, if a company is not a member. Until now, all enterprises in a sector were obliged to implement a collective agreement after its validation by the Ministry of Labour.

Regulation that adapts the arbitration system for the signing of collective labour agreements to the demands of the capitalists. It specifies that the function of arbitration "should serve competitiveness on the basis of labour cost and job creation".

Law passed last May that abolished previous legal limits for part-time work and temporary contracts.

An extension of "probationary" periods for new hires from two months to one year. During a workers' "probation", employers can dismiss them without warning or dismissal pay.

Implementation of the Bolkenstein Directive eliminating the "restriction of the minimum wage to boost investments".

Drastic cuts to the already low unemployment benefits aimed at "saving" 500 million.

Measures on Social Security in the Updated Memorandum

Expenditures on public pensions must not exceed 2.5 per cent of GDP from 2010 to 2060 even with an increase in pensioners. This will lead to a drastic reduction of pension benefits.

Abolition of any guarantee granted by the state for auxiliary pensions. The stated goal of the government is not to pay a single euro [...] from the state budget for auxiliary pension funds. This means the elimination of any state assistance to the one million pensioners now receiving auxiliary pensions and to 2.8 million workers who are paying contributions into auxiliary pension funds.

Revised list of professions considered heavy and arduous to be applied July 1, 2011 to all current and future workers. The new list must reduce coverage of the labour force to no more than 10 per cent regardless of work. The retirement age in those sectors and professions now excluded from the list will increase by 5 to 7 years.

Indexing freeze for pensions resulting in a continuous erosion of pension benefits.

Introduction of strict requirements for disability pensions and the re-examination of thousands of disability pensions leading to cuts in pension benefits or their complete abolition.

Measures to Plunder Peoples' Wages through Tax Increases

Further increase of Value Added Tax (VAT) from 11 per cent to 23 per cent on more than 30 per cent of goods and services.

Broadening of the base of the real estate tax by updating asset values, amounting to an estimated 400 million tax bill for working people.

"Green tax" on CO2 emissions.

Presumptive taxation on professionals to yield at least 400 million (presumption of a professional's income without direct evidence).

Measures within Strategic Sectors

Public Railway: new dismissals to reduce personnel by 35 per cent. A rise in railway tariffs (user fees) to increase revenues by 55 per cent. Reduction of the minimum railway wage by 20 per cent. Sale of railway assets and assignment of profitable lines to private companies that will increase tariffs. Closing of "loss-making lines" leaving many regions of the country without train service.

Public Transport: mass dismissals, wage reductions and abolition of labour rights. Rise in ticket prices by 30-50 per cent. Service cuts and closing of routes.

Energy: liberalisation of energy market including distribution of Public Power Corporation infrastructure and energy resources (lignite, water-supplies) to business groups. Drastic increase in regulated tariffs for households and farmers by 40 to 100 per cent.

Regulated Professions: the "opening" of regulated professions to create new areas for capitalist for-profit investment. Business groups demand the elimination of the self-employed within the regulated professions.

Intensified Plundering of the People

Further reduction of allowances and overtime remuneration in state-owned enterprises.

Enforcement of a general 3 user fee for regular outpatient services in public hospitals and Health Centres.

Hospital tariffs for medical services and examinations to increase 20 to 30 per cent.

Re-evaluation of all remaining social programmes aimed at their abolition.

Measures Adopted March 3 and May 3, 2010

Christmas, Easter and holiday allowance abolished for civil servants and all pensioners in both the private and public sectors.

Salary allowances cut 20 per cent.

Wages and pensions in private and public sectors frozen for the next three years.

Wages of workers in public utility enterprises reduced 10 per cent.

Pensions over 1400 cut 3 to 10 per cent.

Payment of the second instalment of a "solidarity allowance" addressed at alleviating conditions of the poorest segments of the population cancelled.

VAT (sales tax) rates raised two times in 2010.

Excise tax on fuels increased three times in 2010 resulting in a 63 per cent rise in the price of unleaded petrol.

Excise tax on alcoholic beverages and tobacco increased three times during 2010 after which the price of cigarettes will rise 40 per cent compared to the beginning of 2010. The increase on alcohol amounts to 3 euros per bottle.

Extra taxation imposed on professionals based on their 2009 revenue.

Entry level minimum wage of 750 for young and long-term unemployed reduced to 500.

Eight-hour working day abolished and overtime remuneration reduced. "Annual limits for the arrangement of working time" abolished. Workers are now obliged to work overtime within a period and then be underemployed or take compulsory holiday. Workers will no longer receive the current additional payment for overtime work.

The redundancy (layoff) threshold for enterprises employing 21-200 employees increased. Drastic cuts imposed on redundancy payments amounting to 50 per cent.

The retirement and pension system further attacked increasing the years required to retire and retirement age especially for women, and recalculating pension benefits reducing them an average 35 per cent. Pension system of professional civil servants demolished. Women forced to work 5-17 years more before retirement in the name of equity with men. Work until the age of 70 introduced as an institution for the "adjustment of pensions to life expectancy". "Means-tested pension" introduced for those over 65, similar to a welfare allowance, which drastically reduces state expenditures for pensions.

Article Index

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