Euro summer unrest again in Prague
Prague grounds to halt in transport strike
As the Arab Spring appears to be turning into a Euro summer, the threatened Czech transport workers’ strike, delayed by court injunction, went ahead on Thursday June 16th.
Czech PM Petr Nečas said that the strike was a “political act”, adding that it caused millions in damage. The delay undoubtedly gave union leaders, workers, students and community members more time to co-ordinate and mobilize, so the 24 hour strike saw thousands of protesters take to the streets. Many appeared to agree with Nečas calling for a general strike and the end of the government. Workers marched, alongside students and pensioners, carrying placards, waving union flags, and calling for the immediate end of the government. Police, fire-fighters’ and other unions gave support to the strikeMickey Park Combo C4.
The action was part of the continuing campaign against proposed government “reforms” on healthcare, pensions, tax, social services and labour rights. Trams, trains and buses were shut down for the 24 hour strike. The metro system alone carries 1 million people around the city every day, but was ‘closed for strike’ – for the first time. Add to that the half million who use the bus service daily and the level of disruption becomes clearer despite Nečas’ claims that the strike failed to live up to expectation. The CZK 70mil (EUR 2.88mil) in lost ticket purchases by passengers and wagon rental payments from foreign railway companies will also have hurt where it hurts most. This figure, however, does not include lost work hours and any knock on contractual costs.
Whatever the final cost, whether you judge it a success or failure will largely be framed by how you approach the issue. And the issue can be captured with a single word – austerity. In the wake of the most serious financial collapse in decades induced by a deregulated financial system which now boasts around 40% (from 3% around 30 years ago) of world corporate profit; people are being asked across Europe to tighten their belt to balance national deficits. Presumably this is to avoid a sovereign debt crisis, as in Greece, which magically erupted out of the financial crisis. When public health, education, transport and social security systems are starved of funding – that’s the equivalent of a tax on many. And it’s highly regressive; generally most heavy on those least able to pay it. The question being increasingly asked around Europe and North America right now is: why aren’t those most able to pay (those who made the most during the good harvest times), paying more? Why are profits privatised and losses socialised? The fact is more and more people are hurting from these policies and when you’re hurting, you’re inclined to ask the question why.
Although not matching the numbers generated in Madrid and Athens recently or the threatened one million strong strike by public service workers in Britain, the Prague action certainly puts the Czech Republic on the map of the rising discontent in many European countries.
Anyone who pays much heed will know a great deal of the commentary on these expressions of social unrest in all these nations tends almost reflexively to focus on reports of acts of individual violence and property destruction. Broad and serious discourse on the issues and grievances that are inspiring them can often seem illusory. First prize for comedic reference to protester violence, however, must go to the Czech, Aktuálně.cz. Commenting on the vegetables thrown at Finance Minister Miroslav Kalousek as he addressed the crowd, ironically or not, Aktuálně.cz suggested that: “after the E. coli outbreak in Germany, throwing vegetables at somebody can potentially be an act of biological terrorism”. One humorous slogan that attempted to succinctly express the chagrin of people on the street was seen in Spain: “There is not enough bread for so much chorizo”. Chorizo means both sausage and crook.