Published On: The Canadian Charger, January 5th, 2011
During 2010 as Europe was trying to bring itself out of the pits of a worldwide economic meltdown, the continent’s rightwing forces have tried to usher in an age of austerity/cutbacks amidst the chaos.
A country with a mountain of debt worth up to €300 billion, the Greek government accepted a €110 billion loan arranged by the European Union (EU) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
A slash in salaries for Greek workers who operate the country’s public utilities (known as Deko’s).
In France, the legislature has already approved pension reforms that extend retirement age from 65 to 67.
In Britain, the Coalition government’s decision to raise university tuition fees up to £9,000 per year has triggered the largest protests the country has seen in a generation.
As the world reels from recessions, several European countries have essentially allowed the weight of a dwindling economy fall on the shoulders of its most vulnerable.
Despite the loud and clear voices of their constituents, members of parliament from the aforementioned countries have chosen expediency over principle. 15,000 protestors filled Syntagma Square this in Greece, while hundreds of thousands poured out into the streets of France and Britain. The anger is palpable, and so was the violence that eventually became manifest in protestor-police clashes.
England’s tuition fee vote passed narrowly (323-302), and was accompanied by several resignations and abstentions. Aaron Porter, the president of the National Union of Students stated that the students have won over public opinion. According to Porter, the measure was passed “only because MPs have broken their promises.” Chief amongst the “promise breakers” is Nick Clegg, leader of the Liberal Democratic camp of the coalition government. Clegg campaigned on “scrapping tuition fees” during the elections, and seemed to have gone through an about-face. Assuring that all 17 Liberal Democrat ministers would vote for the fee hike, Clegg has earned his stripes as a “traitor”.
Hardly any substantial difference can be discerned from the anger and frustration in Greece and France. Greek transport minister Kostis Hatzidakis was chased by 200 protestors throwing stones as they chased him into a nearby building while shouting “Thieves! Shame on you!” This followed the massive May 2010 protests in Athens, where at least three protestors died when a bank was set on fire during a general strike. In France, much of the country came to a halt as workers in French oil refineries walked out.
The French president Sarkozy suffered from an approval rating of 29%, which was only bolstered to around 34% after his vicious immigration crackdown.
Those who run away with their coffers full (of taxpayer money) during crises are not doing anything novel. The European people, however, seem to understand this. In the face of tremendous economic pressure, austerity, and cutbacks on social welfare, the people of France, Greece, and England are not afraid to use the language of class warfare. They protest, riot, strike, and shout. They attempt to “throw the bastards out,” and grind the city centers to a halt. When their governments collude with international bankers and institutions to “lift” their failing economies out of debt via austerity, the working classes of these countries immediately note the pillaging that happens.
If only this type of anger and frustration existed in North America. If only downtown Toronto in the summer of 2010 was shut down by citizens instead of oligarchs. If only Wall Street was occupied in the latter months of 2009 by protestors instead of bankers, then perhaps North Americans would have learned something from the people of Europe.