Threat of general strike looms in Czech Republic
Speculation is mounting about the possibility of the Czech Republic’s first general strike since 1989. Fuelling this view was the 40, 000 demonstrators who gathered in Wenceslas Square from around the country on May 21st.
Mirroring events in Madrid’s Puerta del Sol, Protestors gathered to vent anger at proposed austerity measures targeting social spending by the current rightist coalition. Prime minister Petr Nečas’ plans to partly privatise the pension system have even incurred opposition from the Confederation of Industries. But it is the resistance from organised labour and other civil society groups that are drawing most comment.
The federation of trade unions, ČMKOS, has said it will give the government until June 10th to respond to the protests before taking “more radical steps.” Recently formed civil society groups like Vyměňte politiky (Exchange Politicians), who urge voters to steer away from established politicians, and ProAlt played key roles in staging the event. However, the main opposition party, the Social Democrats (ČSSD), remained aloof from the protest and is presumably waiting in the wings hoping to garner any political capital from the government’s disquiet.
Disaffection, however, emanates significantly from the grass rootsNeuheit Inflatables. Alice Müllerová, a mother of three who coordinates student-exchange and career-counselling programs at the Education Ministry, has been demonstrating against the government every Saturday for weeks. “I do not think about this problem in terms of what I will lose, even if I am afraid that my income can also decrease,” she said. “I am afraid [my children's] living standard will be much worse than ours, and they will not be protected enough on the labour market. I am afraid for future generations.”
Josef Hörl, a retired police officer from Prague who also took part in the demonstration said, “Now is time for the people to start ruling, what is happening now is a nightmare. I only look forward to demonstrations like this to multiply until a general strike starts.”
Whether this becomes or not is still far from certain. What is certain however is that the general discontent of citizens from Cairo to Madrid and Prague looks set to continue for some time.