I, along with many others, did not have to go into work on November 14. Actually, we could not go into work. The 24 hour Train strikes spread all across Europe from 22:00 to 22:00 (10pm – 10pm). They were in response to the European austerity measures taking place in Spain, Portugal, Italy, and Greece. Subsequently, strikes occurred in those four countries as well as Belgium, Germany, France, the UK, some eastern EU states.
Luckily for me, I have not seen riots or dangerous situations where I currently reside. However, in areas such as Madrid, citizens saw a clash between protestors and police. In addition, airlines have been affected as well, leading to the cancellation of more than 700 flights. A great deal of businesses and schools had to close as well.
The European Trade Union Confederation, co-ordinators of the Europe-wide action, has urged workers to walk out. “Austerity is a total dead end and must be abandoned. Social protection and wages can no longer be sacrificed.” stated the group.
My U.S. program director explained the situation to us students:
This train strike is part of an unprecedented, coordinated strike action by workers in many EU member states. These countries include: Greece, Spain, Portugal, France, Germany, the UK as well as some east European countries.
The strike action is in protest against cuts in government spending and tax increases in countries such as Greece, Spain, and Portugal especially. Such so-called “austerity measures” are being blamed by workers and trade unions for prolonging Europe’s economic recession as they inhibit economic growth. They want to see such measures come to an end. Bear in mind these austerity measures are potentially destabilizing in the worst-hit countries (e.g. riots in Athens).
Governments in Greece, Spain, and Portugal and Italy – which are all in the Eurozone – are imposing such measures in order to rectify their public finances. This means that their annual budget deficits and public debt levels are currently above EU limits (as set out in the Maastricht Treaty, 1992) and must be lowered. The EU has in recent years introduced a number of measures in order to increase the legal enforcement of such economic convergence criteria for Eurozone member states. The aim is to ensure the stability of the Euro.
It brings forth the traditional question in rough times – should the government cut or increase spending? Parallels to Europe’s debt crisis are often drawn to the United States’, and the results of one might influence the results of the other. It will be interesting to see where the Obama administration will go in dealing with not only our own fiscal crisis, but Europe’s as well.