News / Europe

In Europe, Angry Workers Protest Austerity

Protesters are pushed away by Spanish police officers during a 24-hour nationwide general strike in central Madrid November 14, 2012.
Protesters are pushed away by Spanish police officers during a 24-hour nationwide general strike in central Madrid November 14, 2012.
Al Pessin
Workers in several European countries went on strike Wednesday to protest austerity measures designed to help their governments get out of debt, but which cut their salaries, pensions and benefits. 

Angry workers chanted "strike, strike" inside Madrid’s main train station as they scuffled with police.  Outside, workers blew whistles and set off firecrackers, as commuters rode by, many on bicycles for the day.

Commuter and inter-city trains were canceled in several countries, along with flights and other forms of transport, while government services and some businesses also went idle.

  • A student holds a lighted torch during a demonstration against austerity measures in downtown Rome, November 14, 2012.
  • A demonstrator blows a horn in front of Spanish riot police during a strike against government austerity measures in Pamplona, Spain, November 14, 2012.
  • Workers from Telefonica phone company take part in a demonstration against the dismissals at their company in Barcelona, Spain, November 13, 2012.
  • Protesters march through Syntagma square in Athens with flags of Italy, Spain, Greece and Portugal, November 14, 2012.
  • A woman dressed as a nun holds a board reading "marriage for everybody" as part of a demonstration against austerity in Paris, November 14, 2012.
  • A protestor lies on the ground during clashes with riot police in Madrid, Spain, November 14, 2012.
  • Demonstrators hold a banner reading 'For solidarity in Europe' in front of the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, November 14, 2012.
  • A protester covers her head in a plastic bag, meant to show that austerity measures are suffocating Greeks, outside Parliament in Athens, November 14, 2012.
  • Demonstrators march in Porto, Portugal, November 14, 2012.
  • Riot police clash with students in downtown Rome, November 14, 2012.

“They are taking all our rights away," complained a Spanish union member who spoke for many of his co-workers.  "The banks and other business people are bringing us onto the streets, they are stealing our salaries.  We do not have any rights anymore.”

French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault admonished workers to be patient in what is a global crisis, and said what is at stake is nothing less than the identity of the French nation.

“Today, this social model is in danger.  There are many things to correct, to change, to modernize and to reform.  And France will reclaim somehow its freedom and its autonomy," Ayrault said.

The one-day strike was called by the European Trade Union Confederation, which has called for more fairness as European countries work their way out of debt.  The strike drew large numbers of workers in economically hard-hit Spain and Portugal, with less-widespread strikes in France, Italy, Belgium and Greece, which has seen large protests this week over its government’s latest austerity program.

At London’s Kingston University, labor union expert and Professor Craig Phelan is sympathetic to the workers’ concerns.

“It's a sense of crisis.  It's a sense that austerity programs have not worked," Phelan said. "Trying to fight recession by simply making budget cuts hasn't been working in Africa, in South America for decades.”

Professor Phelan says the unions are right to urge governments to fight recession mainly through economic growth.  That would require borrowing more money, which the European Central Bank and other international lenders are not willing to provide without austerity.  But Professor Phelan says the political ground may be shifting.

“At this stage there is very little that can be done by political leaders," he said. "They have made this commitment, recovery through austerity, and they are kind of boxed in at this stage.  We are going to see a continuation of these protests, lower productivity levels, increasing unemployment, insecurity.  But it will lead to a change in policies in the next few years.”

That will likely sound like a long time to workers in countries that have already had several years of recession.

You May Like

Isolation, Despair Weigh on Refugees in Remote German Camp

Refugees resettled near village of Holzdorf deep in German forestland say there is limited interaction with public, mutual feelings of distrust

Britons Divided Over Bombing IS

Surveys show Europeans generally support more military action against Islamic State militants, but sizable opposition exists in Britain

Russia Blacklists Soros Foundations as 'Undesirable'

Russian officials add Soros groups to a list of foreign and international organizations banned from giving grants to Russian partners

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
by: MuckrakerW from: USA
November 14, 2012 2:42 PM
Austerity is terrible. It means the current economic climate for the nation-state has a debt to GDP ratio of nearly 100 percent or more. Moreover, people are going to have to give up even more, meaning a standard of living akin to abject poverty lay ahead in order to bring down the debt. Austerity is worse than sequestration in America, but still both are signs that the debt and deficits, and interest on both are threatening to bring the country or nation-state to total ruin. Living below one's means when one has lived high off the hog for years, is what austerity is all about. Furthermore, inflation eats away all the money a poor person has if they have any at all. For some it means the end of the world. For others it means the world has already ended. When a nation-state reaches a level of austerity they are vulnerable to a total take over by the IMF....

by: Sensi
November 14, 2012 2:11 PM
So there was 0.0001 percent of the actual workforce striking? I just love how the media take things out of proportion and spin reality. It was nothing but business as usual here in Paris...

by: Trevor from: San Diego
November 14, 2012 2:05 PM
Economies do well when manufacturing is doing well in that country or region. Eastern Asia is just out producing and creating cheaper products than Europe and USA can. Banks will only invest in growth. There is no growth in Europe because of the high cost to manufacture a "good" be it a toothbrush or a car. The only way the USA is keeping up with China, they are not though huge deficite, is new technology. Its a horrible cycle people want cheap products so they go over seas, thus loses jobs at home, thus economies go down, thus life style goes down. Stop wining and create a business or service.

by: V from: Chi Town
November 14, 2012 1:48 PM
what else is new, banks get money from the gov't and gov't steals the money from the people

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
With HIV, Can We Get to Zero?i
Carol Pearson
November 29, 2015 1:23 PM
The theme of this year's World AIDS Day is "Getting to Zero." The U.N. says new HIV infections have been reduced by 35 percent since 2000 and AIDS-related deaths are down by 42 percent since the peak in 2004. VOA's Carol Pearson takes a look at what it might take to actually have an AIDS-free generation.

Video With HIV, Can We Get to Zero?

The theme of this year's World AIDS Day is "Getting to Zero." The U.N. says new HIV infections have been reduced by 35 percent since 2000 and AIDS-related deaths are down by 42 percent since the peak in 2004. VOA's Carol Pearson takes a look at what it might take to actually have an AIDS-free generation.

Video Political Motives Seen Behind Cancelled Cambodian Water Festival

For the fourth time in the five years since more than 350 people were killed in a stampede at Cambodia’s annual water festival, authorities canceled the event this year. Officials blamed environmental reasons as the cause, but many see it as fallout from rising political tensions with a fresh wave of ruling party intimidation against the opposition. David Boyle reports from Phnom Penh.

Video African Circus Gives At-Risk Youth a 2nd Chance

Ethiopia hosted the first African Circus Arts Festival this past weekend with performers from seven different African countries. Most of the performers are youngsters coming form challenging backgrounds who say the circus gave them a second chance.

Video US Lawmakers Brace for End-of-Year Battles

U.S. lawmakers are returning to Washington for Congress’ final working weeks of the year. And, as VOA's Michael Bowman reports, a full slate of legislative business awaits them, from keeping the federal government open to resolving a battle with the White House over the admittance of Syrian refugees.

Video Taiwan Looks for Role in South China Sea Dispute

The Taiwanese government is one of several that claims territory in the hotly contested South China Sea, but Taipei has long been sidelined in the dispute, overshadowed by China. Now, as the Philippines challenges Beijing’s claims in an international court at The Hague, Taipei is looking to publicly assert its claims. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.

Video After Terrorist Attacks, Support for Refugees Fades

The terrorists who killed and injured almost 500 people around Paris this month are mostly French or Belgian nationals. But at least two apparently took advantage of Europe’s migrant crisis to sneak into the region. The discovery has hardened views about legitimate refugees, including those fleeing the same extremist violence that hit the French capital. Lisa Bryant has this report for VOA from the Paris suburb of Cergy-Pontoise

Video Syrian Refugees in US Express Concern for Those Left Behind

Syrian immigrants in the United States are concerned about the negative tide of public opinion and the politicians who want to block a U.S. plan to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees. Zlatica Hoke reports many Americans are fighting to dispel suspicions linking refugees to terrorists.

Video Thais Send Security Concerns Down the River

As Thailand takes in the annual Loy Krathong festival, many ponder the country’s future and security. Steve Sandford reports from Chiang Mai.

Video Islamic State Unfazed by Losses in Iraq, Syria

Progress in the U.S.-led effort to beat Islamic State on its home turf in Iraq and Syria has led some to speculate the terror group may be growing desperate. But counterterror officials say that is not the case, and warn the recent spate of terror attacks is merely part of the group’s evolution. VOA National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more.

Video Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continues

One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

VOA Blogs