Workers from Portugal, Spain, Italy and Greece have called for a general strike next Wednesday, 14 November, to protest against government-imposed austerity measures. It is the first time in history that there has been a coordinated call for general strikes in four countries at the same time.
Moreover, protests are planned in Germany, Austria, Belgium, France, Poland, Denmark, UK, Netherlands, Romania, Finland, Switzerland, Sweden, Czech Republic and Slovenia.
Combat Troika policies
This action seeks to combat transnational social and economic policies that are being imposed on the European continent by the 'Troika': European Union, European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF).
The general strike is part of the call by the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) for a Day of Action and Solidarity for 14 November. The protest has also received support from the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC).
On 8 November, EI General Secretary Fred van Leeuwen attended a press conference in Madrid, held by Spanish and Portuguese EI affiliates to outline their reasons for the education strike.
The event involved leaders from the Spanish education unions - FE.CCOO, FETE.UGT, CSIF and STES - as well as the Portuguese FENPROF. Representatives from the Parents´ Association, CEAPA, and the student union were also present.
"EI is aware of the challenges facing governments due to the debt crisis and the need to reduce deficits. Cutting back on education, however, is not the solution," said van Leeuwen.
He stressed that EI has called for a collective debt reduction in the Euro zone by introducing European Bonds which will lower interest rates in the countries hit hardest by the crisis.
Van Leeuwen also said that the EU and IMF should eliminate tax havens, harmonize corporate tax legislation and take effective measures against tax evasion. “An EI study has revealed that an amount of 15 trillion dollars of corporate tax is not collected due to fiscal engineering by multinational corporations”.
Salary cuts in Portugal
FENPROF General Secretary, Mario Nogueira, described the effects of government austerity measures in Portugal. In two years, teachers’ salaries have been cut by 30 per cent while taxes for the middle classes have skyrocketed. Pensions have also been reduced.
Despite these measures, Nogueira explained, the deficit has not decreased. On the contrary, the population has become poorer. "Sacrifices cannot always fall on the general population," he complained.
Video of Mario Nogueira, General Secretary of FENPROF/Portugal, on the impact of the economic crisis on education in his country (in Portuguese):
On 9 November, a press conference will be held also in Lisbon. It will be attended by Martin Rømer, Director of EI European Region, ETUCE.
More than enough reasons
Portuguese and Spanish education unions have developed a joint statement, seconded by EI, in which they outline their arguments in favour of taking industrial action.
The document affirms that the IMF and European Union´s decisions require "submissive and obedient governments" such as those in Portugal and Spain, which impose policies that focus on the interests of big business with no concern for public opinion and which are contributing to a "worrying weakening of democracy."
For trade unions, the consequences of these policies are generalised impoverishment, increased labour exploitation and deterioration in public services and governmental social responsibility.
In addition, the manifesto explains how successive budget cuts hamper appropriate teaching practices and schools´ roles as educators.
Against this background, the unions have called for a unified and coordinated response in order to promote effective policies.
"Education workers and representative trade unions in each country must develop areas of common action to enable them to act in unison and solidarity in the pursuit of agreed policies,” the union statement says.
European workers "feel united and determined to face this offensive against workers´ democratic achievements which has been intensifying over recent years. We believe our strength lies in being united", states the manifesto.
Video of Pepe Campos, FE-CCOO/Spain General Secretary, on the trade unions' role in times of crisis (in Spanish):