In what was billed as the “European Day of Action and Solidarity,” millions of workers across the European Union held a day of action Wednesday against the austerity measures which have been imposed on their countries.
The action was coordinated by the European Trade Union Confederation because, as one union official said, austerity isn’t working, "It'sincreasing inequalities. It'sincreasing the social instability in society and it's not resolving the economic crisis.”
According to the New Statesman, mass walkouts swept across the continent, with "over 40 trade unions from more than 23 countries taking part in the demonstrations." Transport networks were disrupted, which forced many businesses and schools to close.
An interaction map of Wednesday's protests can be found here.
Across Spain and Portugal in particular, protests turned violent. In one incident, picketers and police fought at a bus depot in Madrid where demonstrators were trying to prevent buses from leaving. Elsewhere in Barcelona, demonstrators set police cars on fire.
Spain has the highest rate of unemployment in Europe, reaching over 25%. Portugal has hit a record unemployment rate of 15.8%, accounting in part for the more extreme responses there. Clashes in Lisbon left nearly 50 people hurt, while in Spain at least 70 were injured, and some 140 arrests were made, according to BBC Europe.
As the police tried to contain the situation across the Iberian Peninsula, not all officers acted professionally. For example, this video shows three Spanish riot police lashing out at demonstrators in the city of Tarragona Wednesday.
Hundreds of flights to and from the striking nations were cancelled. The New Statesman reported that 600 flights from Spanish airports were cancelled as transport workers joined their counterparts in paralysing rail, road, and airport links.
How productive are these protests when they are further disrupting the economies that so desperately need to be stimulated? With businesses unable to work at full capacity, and visitors prevented from coming in to spend their money, are the strikes counter-productive? Is the fallout from these demonstrations only going to further weaken public morale?
One protester in Greece said, “There will be a revolt because we will have absolutely nothing to lose.” But this is not the case.
While it is difficult for the ordinary person to forcefully present their objections to the new measures, the disruption protesters are causing to the economy isn’t helping their cause. Businesses need to be able to fully operate, to stimulate income and create more jobs. Protesters are, in part, preventing this.
Tourism thrives in Spain and Portugal, as well as many of the other destinations where protests occurred. If further mass disruptions occur, visitors may be driven to holiday in more stable regions of Europe. Those countries facing austerity measures should fully capitalise on the tourist market as a key revenue generator. The demonstrators seem not to be taking this into consideration.
It is unacceptable in any circumstance for police to attack citizens, but these incidents are increasingly occurring as more protests are being organized. Such police action only diminishes confidence in the state, and decreases public morale. While the austerity measures do not create a climate of optimism, efforts should be made to avoid public morale from lessening even further. Further protests will not help.
Thursday it was reported that the euro zone had fallen back into recession, which increases the risk of more protests in the coming months.
The situation in Europe shows no signs of improving, nor do peoples’ attitudes. While demonstrations may be the last resort, individuals should think twice before taking to the streets. Protests are counter-productive to the economy that they want so desperately to improve.