Across Europe this week, an unprecedented and well-coordinated series of transnational mass strikes and protests led largely by Big Labor took to the streets in major European capitals and cities to demand an end to so-called “austerity” policies – mostly government spending cuts. In many cases, the massive demonstrations turned violent.
Analysts, however, say the seemingly spontaneous chaos may actually have been orchestrated by forces behind the scenes. Indeed, much of the media focus was on the relatively new phenomenon of so-called “pan-European” action, with labor leaders and activists framing the conflict as a regional European Union struggle rather than separate national efforts to influence domestic policy.
From Spain, Portugal, Italy, and Greece to France and even Germany, millions of workers and union leaders representing virtually every sector of the economy in the EU joined forces on Wednesday. The mass action was, according to organizers at least, an effort to stop budget cuts and labor reforms that policy makers across the continent say are necessary to stave off an even deeper economic crisis.
“There is a social emergency in the south," claimed Secretary General Bernadette Segol with the European Trade Union Confederation, which played a large role in orchestrating the cross-border unrest throughout much of the region. “All recognize that the policies carried out now are unfair and not working."
Another official with the ETUC, representing nearly 90 groups across Europe, echoed those remarks but went even further. "The people of Europe will not stand for fiscal fundamentalism and will fight for an alternative based on social and economic justice," said General Secretary Designate Frances O'Grady. "'Those in the corridors of power in Brussels and Frankfurt need to understand this — that if ordinary European workers feel that the EU is about little more than cuts, open markets and privatization, then the European project will collapse just as surely as night follows day."
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Photo of protesters and riot police clashing in Rome, Italy, during strikes over EU austerity measures: AP Images