IT’S begun in France now. After last week’s massive demonstrations in Greece and Spain, on Sunday thousands took to the streets of Paris in opposition to the austerity package introduced on Friday by President François Hollande’s Socialist Party government. Having called for austerity to be imposed on the economically troubled countries of southern Europe, Hollande has now been obliged by the deepening crisis to bring in measures of his own.
Sunday’s was the first major demonstration against the government, which four months after its election has clearly demonstrated that it rules on behalf of the banks rather than its electors. With all the arrogance of a died-in-the-wool social democrat, budget minister Jérome Cahuzac described those who joined the demonstration as committing a “fundamental error”.
The 80,000-strong demonstration was headed by the Left Front, a loose grouping including the French Communist Party and the Party of the Left, whose leader Jean-Luc Mélenchon proclaimed: “This is the day the French people join the movement against the policy of austerity.”
Also on the march were the NPA, the New Anticapitalist Party, which includes the Ligue Communiste Révolutionnaire (prominent in the events of May-June 1968), trade unions, feminist organisations and the globalisation activist organisation ATTAC, whose president Aurélie Trouvé said: “The social movement will not just stay silent for the next five years.”
The CP-led trade union bloc, the CGT, had refused to put out a call to join the demonstration, but that didn’t stop many of its members from taking part.
For the Stalinists of the French CP and the reformists of the Party of the Left, the demonstration was a way of putting pressure on the Hollande government to modify its policies. They are appealing to nationalist sentiment by making the European Union treaty their target, and blaming German Chancellor Angela Merkel rather than Hollande. “It’s not a rally against the government,” Mélenchon told reporters. “It’s a protest against the austerity measures.” CP leader Pierre Laurent claimed: “Pressure from us is salutary for the left and for the parliamentary debate.”
But others on the march were going much further than the organisers. “No to austerity – For a social Europe,” several banners read. ATTAC members carried placards of Hollande emblazoned with the words: “WANTED – to be answerable to democracy”. Some mocked Hollande’s election slogan “Change is now” with placards asking, “Change? What change?” A huge banner read: “In spring we elected him, in autumn he betrayed us” (It rhymes in French).
ACTION ACROSS BORDERS
It’s a pattern being repeated across Europe as labour and trade union leaders, forced into protests against austerity measures, are rapidly outflanked by their own members.
In Madrid, where protests continue, the crowd this weekend chanted “Resign! Resign!” at right-wing prime minister Mariano Rajoy. The anger of the demonstrators has been fuelled by reports of unbridled police violence against the previous weekend’s mass turnout. In just one incident riot police chased demonstrators through a train station, beating up and arresting waiting passengers with a brutality which would have been unsurprising in the Franco years.
In Lisbon on Saturday almost 200,000 answered the call to demonstrate against the “theft of wages and pensions”. Faced by militant crowds Armenio Carlos, head of the CGTP union federation, announced there would be a meeting on October 3 to discuss the calling of “a great general strike”.
And in Greece, rocked by last Wednesday’s 24-hour general strike, the call has been raised across the country for an indefinite general strike to bring down the Samaras government and reject the troika package. “Down with austerity and nationalism!” read banners endorsed by union members from across Europe. “For international solidarity!”
GERMANY ON A WARNING
This is the stuff of nightmares for right-wing think tanks. They’ve been pinning their hopes on the old parliamentary parties, especially in France and Germany, keeping the lid on Europe.
An article posted a month ago by Malcolm Lowe on the website of the American Gatestone Institute is instructive about their concerns. “During the late twentieth century,” he wrote, “the typical parliament in a Western country was dominated by a large centre-right party and a large centre-left party, which alternated in office in successive elections… So the leading politicians in both major parties could be sure of enjoying the perks of office in their turn.
“So, just when the centre-right and centre-left blocks have got Europe sorted out to their convenience, the voters are overwhelmingly fed up with the lot of them. This makes Europe ripe for revolution…”
He goes on to warn Germany of the coming danger: “The anti-Greek hysteria in Germany is shortsighted. German politicians should reflect that if the revolution against the old regime is not stopped in Greece, it may turn up on their own doorstep.”
It should not be forgotten that however divided Europe’s rulers may be, solidarity among working people across the continent has a long tradition. Think of the year of revolutions, 1848 – it spread like wildfire. And that was long before Twitter, Facebook or even the telephone.