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Europeans Pushing Back Against Austerity

Protesters in Ireland: "When the Bankers Pay, We'll Pay!"

- Common Dreams staff

Europeans are pushing back against government-imposed austerity measures, with protests  growing and unions issuing general strikes. 

Protesting the household charge in Dublin. (photo: William Murphy)

Today in Ireland thousands are protesting a new household tax seen as an "outrageous attack on the poor." On Friday Spain passed its "most austere" budget ever, which had prompted a general strike bringing massive numbers of workers and students to the streets. Greece has seen continued protests over what are seen by Greeks as "barbaric" cuts, while Portugal has held two anti-austerity general strikes in the last several months.

With unemployment rates in the EU at their highest point in the last 15 years, people foresee more misery in sight as austerity measures being imposed by governments has left social safety nets in tatters.

The most recent unemployment figures from Eurostat (pdf), the statistical office of the European Union, show eurozone unemployment at 10.8%, with the highest rates in Spain, Greece, Portugal, and Ireland.

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Ireland

Current unemployment rate: 14.7%

NPR: The Two-Way: Irish Protest Against Household Tax As Austerity Pain Bites Further

The introduction of the household tax, as part of the EU/IMF deal, has triggered a protest campaign led by community and political activists, who are calling for a boycott. They seem to have struck a nerve. Thousands of people took part in what seems to have been an unsually angry demonstration on Saturday in Dublin, waving banners bearing the slogans "Can't Pay, Won't Pay" and "When The Bankers Pay, We'll Pay!".

Opponents of the tax say it is regressive because the rich pay the same as the poor. The public's indignation is being fueled by the common perception in Ireland that a corrupt super-rich elite — bankers, politicians and property developers — destroyed the economy, yet have largely gone unpunished.

Irish Times: Threats over household tax 'outrageous' - Socialist TD

Government threats to withdraw public services where the household charge is not paid are an "outrageous" attack on the poor, it has been claimed. [...]

“If they go along these lines they will be encouraging massive social dislocation and further social inequality. It will simply not be permissible,” said [Socialist TD] Mr Higgins. “There will be an outcry, an upheaval against that. It will be outrageous.”

Minister for the Environment Phil Hogan hinted over the weekend that he would reward authorities that pulled out all the stops to collect outstanding registration payments. Mr Higgins said poor areas would suffer further as a result.

“The wealthiest areas in the country will get more resources than they have already, while the poorest will continue to go without. It’s irresponsible,” he said. "This would cause a further gap in the massive inequality that already exists. It would be socially destructive.”

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Greece

Current unemployment rate: 21%

The Guardian: Business Blog: Eurozone crisis live: Recession fears intensify as unemployment hits record high and manufacturing suffers

From Athens, Helena Smith reports that party leaders have hit the campaign trail, giving interviews about their future plans:

[...]  Although [Greek Prime Minister] Papademos last week insisted that a "silent majority" of Greeks want change, and certainly want to stay in the euro zone [as also borne out by polls] opposition to belt-tightening policies that are widely perceived as unfair, and given Greece's contracting economy increasingly counter-productive, is never far away either.

Analysts expect street protests to re-erupt after the elections with trade unionists already speaking of June (when more measures are expected to be unveiled) as a "very hot month."

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Spain

Current unemployment rate: 23.6%

Common Dreams: Spain's New Budget: 'As Austere As It Gets'

Spain has unveiled its most austere budget in democratic history today in the wake of massive protests.

The government's budget calls for cuts of 27 billion euros ($35 billion). It cuts central government spending by almost 17% and freezes civil servant wages while requiring them to work an additional 10 hours per month. Another cut hitting households is an 7%-increase in domestic electric prices and 5%-increase on gas.

Protesters in Madrid during yesterday's general strike (photo: Jesús Pérez Pacheco)

The austerity has been greatly resisted by the population. Yesterday Spaniards flooded the streets in a general strike to oppose the government's austerity push and labor reforms, which many believe would exacerbate the unemployment levels already the highest in the EU...

* * *

Portugal

Current unemployment rate: 15%

Common Dreams: Anti-Austerity Mass General Strike Takes Portugal
Spain, Italy are next

Today in Portugal public services and transportation came to a halt, as unions enacted a 24-hour general strike for the second time in two months. The metros in Portugal's largest cities have closed as well as major ports. The strike was called in reaction to austerity measures agreed upon by the government in return for a European bailout.

Demonstrations and rallies are planned for the afternoon in 38 cities and towns across the country.

Today's events preclude similar strikes in both Italy and Spain among countries facing European austerity.

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