On November 14 there will be general strikes across Portugal, Spain, Italy, and Greece, along with solidarity demonstrations in other European countries. This internationalism and working class resistance is essential to fight both the economic crisis and the fascist threat it is breeding.
After five years of economic crisis there’s no end in sight, and the only solutions from Europe’s rulers are “bailouts” that enrich the 1% while attacking everyone else. In Spain, unemployment is near 25 per cent (double that for youth) and the Red Cross has launched an appeal to help feed 300,000 more people across the country. This is on top of the two million who needed food last year. Despite all this, the 2013 budget calls for massive cuts to education, health care and unemployment benefits, while maintaining military spending and corporate tax cuts, and spending more to pay the interest on the debt than the combined salaries of public sector workers who have been blamed for the crisis.
These austerity measures are coming from parties across the political spectrum, revealing a crisis in social democracy and exposing the trade union bureaucracy that orients to it. “Left” governments in Britain, Spain and Greece imposed austerity, leading to the return of right-wing governments that have continued it—a pattern that could repeat itself in France. Meanwhile in Italy, anger at Berlusconi led to his replacement by the unelected technocratic government of Monti that has continued his policies.
Like the last severe economic crisis in the 1930s, there is a polarization to the right taking place in society. Fascism is emerging to channel people’s despair into hatred and violence, using electoral platforms to build street fighting armies to unleash on oppressed groups and the left.
Media and Tory governments in Britain and France have scapegoated Muslims for the economic crisis, encouraging the rise of the fascist British National Party, Front National and their street fighting squads. But in Britain, Unite Against Fascism has built a multiracial working class movement to confront the right-wing menace and keep them at bay.
In Greece, the fascist Golden Dawn is the third most popular party, using their recent electoral gains to call on their supporters to “drag migrant children from their kindergartens.” Their paramilitary wing has growing confidence to attack migrants, queers and the left. The mainstream media encourage this scapegoating, while the police have stood by or even participated in fascist attacks, but anti-fascist campaigners have confronted Golden Dawn in the streets.
This is the Europe—of austerity and rising fascism—that was just awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
But there’s also been a polarization to the left, and interplay between social movements, students and the labour movement.
In Britain, mass student occupations against the Gaza war of 2009 and against tuition hikes last year have given confidence to workers to take action. Last November, two million workers went on strike. Last month 200,000 marched across the country and there is a push on the union leadership to call a general strike.
This September, Portugal had its biggest protests since the 1974 revolution and was the first to call for a general strike on November 14. Spain has been gripped by mass protests—from the Indignados movement, to student protests, to striking miners. There was a general strike in March, and pressure from below has pushed the union leadership once more to call a general strike on November 14, and to ask the European Trade Union Confederation to call for broader protests across the continent.
In October, 100,000 people marched through Rome on a “No Monti Day,” and now Italy’s biggest trade union has called for a general strike on November 14. Greece’s election saw not only the rise of the fascists but also a new left party, Syriza. Since the election there has already been a general strike on September 28, and workers will join the November 14 general strike movement as well.
In France the trade union bureaucracy is pushing for negotiations under the Hollande government but there have already been strikes in the auto industry, and rank-and-file workers are pushing solidarity demonstrations for November 14.
Building working-class resistance against austerity and scapegoating are twin tasks to confront the economic crisis. As the Spanish group En Lucha writes, “14 November must be a great day of collective action, of international solidarity, of stopping the economy and showing that it is the workers who make society work, showing the power they have to stop the cuts.” The power to stop fascism lies in that same working-class resistance.