The first European general strike in history

Submitted by Matthew on 14 November, 2012 - 8:45

Wednesday 14 November, the day this paper goes to press, will see the first Europe-wide general strike in history.

There will be strikes in Spain, Portugal, Greece (for three hours) and Italy (by CGIL, for four hours). The common demand proclaimed by the European TUC is “For jobs and solidarity in Europe: no to austerity”.

In many other countries unions will organise demonstrations: France, Germany, Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovenia, Romania, Belgium. In Lithuania, unions are organising a transport strike in Vilnius.

Outside the borders of the European Union, the Turkish union DISK is organising a solidarity strike in the transport sector, and demonstrations in Istanbul, Ankara, and Izmir.

The ETUC estimates that about 40 trade union organisations from 23 countries are organising action.

Britain lags behind. Construction electricians, in dispute over sackings at the Crossrail site at Westbourne Park, have called a mass picket for 14 November (7am at the Crossrail site on Oxford St). The Coalition of Resistance has called a protest at the European Commission office at 32 Smith Square, London SW1, for 5pm.

Sheffield Trades Council is organising a demonstration. Some civil service offices will have 15 minute stoppages. But the top union leaders are organising no action.

The crisis and the cuts are Europe-wide. The cuts are coordinated politically at a European level, and serve the interests of giant corporations and banks which operate far beyond national boundaries.

To fight back only country by country is as foolish as waging a trade-union dispute in a workplace only by uncoordinated battles in different workshops or offices.

In Greece, the solid support of the coalition government is down from 180 MPs after the June 2012 elections to 151 MPs, the smallest possible majority in the 300-seat parliament. Strikes and demonstrations are escalating again after the lull of the summer

Within months or weeks the coalition government could fall. A new election would probably create the possibility of a left coalition government led by Syriza, which is pledged to cancel the cuts Memoranda, stop payment on Greece’s debt, and nationalise the banks.

What happens then depends on Europe. Either concerted pressure from European capital will crush the Greek left. Or the example of the Greek left will spur on big working-class mobilisations in Spain, Italy, and Portugal, destabilising the conservative governments there, and workers in the rest of Europe will rise up to oppose and block the EU leaders’ action against the Greek workers.

The mobilisation on 14 November is a dress rehearsal for that turning point.

The general conservatism of Britain’s union leaders has reduced our participation on 14 November, but there is another factor too. Blinkered nationalism, and foolish ideas that a simple political decision to separate the country from the rest of Europe would insulate it from the laws and trends of global capitalism, are stronger in the British labour movement than in any other labour movement in Europe. Often they are stronger in what reckons itself to be the left of the British labour movement than they are on the right. The RMT rail union, for example, one of Britain’s more combative unions, supports the People’s Pledge, an anti-EU political campaign designed by right-wing Tories.

Those nationalist ideas have always been toxic. With the capitalist crisis, the poison is becoming deadly.

Workers’ Liberty members will be joining protests where they exist on 14 November, and working to explain the importance of workers’ unity across the borders wherever we are active.

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