Solidarity against austerity: How the protests took shape across Europe
Athens:Weary after four general strikes in seven weeks, Greece’s trade union federations decided that a three-hour work stoppage would be their contribution to what was billed as a European-wide day of anti-austerity action.
The crowd of a few thousand that attended at a protest rally in central Athens was minuscule in comparison to similar demonstrations in the past.
The majority of those in attendance were public sector workers, mostly middle-aged and above, but there were also cohorts of students from the city’s universities.
At best a symbolic offering to the pan-European effort, the protests were entirely peaceful. There was even some street theatre on Syntagma Square, a welcome alternative to petrol bombs and riot police, as many commented. Nonetheless, the language of the protesters was militant.
“Greek workers have been struggling for three years against neoliberal policies that are destroying the social state. These policies are ahistorical: just as austerity destroyed democracy in Weimar Germany, today it threatens our democracy,” said Kostas Tsikrikas, leader of the civil servants’ federation Adedy.
While Ireland may not have taken part in the protest, one Greek worker was flying the flag for the country. Kostas Minaidis, a municipal street cleaner, said he brought along the Tricolour “to send a greeting our Irish colleagues, to show them that we are all on the one side and face similar problems”.
More co-ordinated, European-wide protests could, he added, “reverse the neoliberal policies that are against the people’s interests”.
Like others at the demonstration, Mr Minaidis expressed his surprise when told that Irish workers had not joined the protests, but was diplomatic in his criticism. “It doesn’t matter if Irish workers are not striking today. Their unions have told us that they are in solidarity with us. If they decide to strike another day, then the better for all of us.”
Union leader Tsikrikas was more direct, describing the decision of the Irish unions as a bad one. “All workers must participate in the struggle as that is the only way we can we hope to embark in another political direction that serves the people.”
In front of parliament, members of the youth wing of leftist Syriza, the country’s main opposition, marched holding massive Greek, Italian, Spanish and Portuguese flags.
DAMIAN Mac CON ULADH
Heavy industry and many smaller businesses were brought to a virtual standstill in much of Spain as the country saw its second national strike in eight months yesterday.
In many car and metal production plants and other factories there was almost no activity, as workers took part in a strike led by the country’s two main labour unions, the UGT and Comisiones Obreras. Public transport offered minimum services that were negotiated ahead of the strike.
Several cities saw large street demonstrations and there were a number of violent clashes between strikers and police, with more than 80 people arrested and about 30 injured by the early evening.
In Madrid, many small shops and businesses closed down for the day, although larger establishments, such as Zara and El Corte Inglés, opened with a heavy police presence to ensure customers could shop without being harassed.
“The poorer sectors of the country are facing the brunt of the crisis, while the upper classes, people with money, the businessmen, are able to take their money to tax havens,” said Ruben Abad, a teacher who took part in the strike.