Those European Strikes

by Denis Boyles

Yesterday, European anti-frugalists struck across Europe, complaining about cutbacks in government spending. Spain was especially hit hard, according to this BBC report: The country suffered its first general strike in eight years.

The strikes may be directed at national governments — France has seen these broad strikes twice in the last month, and has two more to come in October. Workers are angry at being asked to wait until age 62 to retire.

But the real target is Brussels, where one of the biggest demonstrations yesterday took place. As this piece in the Independent explains, the EU, prodded by a sensibly austere Germany, is determined to get serious about national deficits. In the last quarter alone, France’s debt grew by another 60 billion euros, pushing it past the $2 trillion level. The debt-to-GDP ratio now amounts to nearly 83 percent of French GDP — far above the EU’s target of 60 percent.

The European media doesn’t usually link the EU with these kinds of protests, however. The usual narrative is a domestic one — strikes against Sarko and all that. But even if the unions know where the exposed nerves are, they also know these aren’t local issues. As John Monks, the European Trades Union Confederation leader, told the Guardian yesterday:

“It’s a crucial day for Europe. This is the start of the fight, not the end. That our voice be heard is our major demand today — against austerity and for jobs and growth. There is a great danger that the workers are going to be paying the price for the reckless speculation that took place in financial markets. You’ve really got to reschedule these debts so that they are not a huge burden on the next few years and cause Europe to plunge down into recession.”

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