On Saturday, 1 October 2011, I attended the conference Europe Against Austerity in London. The conference was hosted by the British Coalition of Resistance. Representatives from all over Europe discussed the economic crisis, the way governments and the European Union were attempting to make working people pay for the bailout of banks as well as the possibilities of resistance against a European-wide policy of austerity.
Sonia Mitralia from the Greek section of the Committee for the Abolition of Third World Debt (CADTM) outlined the severe situation in Greece as a result of the cuts. Old people have their pensions cut by 30 to 50 per cent, 35 per cent of shops are closed, restaurants are empty because nobody can afford to eat out, cinemas and theatres go out of business. This September, 1000 Schools were closed down and many more are in danger of the same fate. People are hungry and there is mounting despair. As it was written in the Observer in June, ‘a year of wage and pension cuts, benefit losses and tax increases has taken its toll: almost a quarter of the population now live below the poverty line, unemployment is at a record 16% and, as the economy contracts for a third year, economists estimate that about 100,000 businesses have closed’ (The Observer, 19 June 2011). But there is also mounting anger and people are fighting back against the imposition of cuts by the Greek government, the EU Commission, the European Central Bank and the IMF. In order for this resistance to be successful, this was the general consensus of this conference, domestic resistance alone, however, is not enough. Resistance against austerity needs to be organised across Europe. While Greek people face the worst excesses of cut-backs, elsewhere too governments pursue a disastrous policy of austerity.
A range of tentative conclusions emerged from the conference. First, the current cuts across Europe clearly have a gendered impact. Cut-backs in the public sector affect women, who are predominantly fulfilling the care needs in society, most severely. Second, the struggle against cuts needs to be linked to wider struggles. Capital will seek to create scapegoats for the cuts to divert attention from the real culprits of all the hardships. Struggles against racism, nationalism and imperialist war are absolutely necessary to ensure that people will not be divided.
The role of imperialist wars and its relation to the current crisis was debated. The wars have placed an enormous financial burden on economies and are clearly one of its causes in the first place. The war in Libya could cost the British tax payer as much as £1.75 bn in addition to the £5bn the war in Afghanistan will cost this year (Stop the War Coalition, 25 September 2011). While School refurbishments are postponed or cancelled and the education budget is drastically cut back, there seems to be no limit to what can be spent on foreign policy adventures. Nevertheless, while the costs of war to some extent caused the economic crisis, the crisis in turn, it was argued, makes foreign interventions more tempting for the ruling class. The Libyan intervention could be interpreted as the attempt by Western capital to control the revolutionary changes in the Middle East.
Supporters and participants included several British trade unions including the RMT, the Communications Workers’ Union (CWU) and Unite, British NGOs and social movements such as BARAC and War on Want as well as a whole range of delegates from Europe. The Italian trade union COBAS was present as were the French trade unions Solidaires and CGT. Parties present included the European Left Part, the German Die Linke and Sinn Fein from Ireland to mention just a few. Transform Europe also attended as did ATTAC Germany. In short, it was a broad based event of political parties, trade unions, social movements and NGOs from across Europe.
Overall, this was an important meeting by the forces of the progressive left in Europe. Analyses were shared and common concerns debated. How to organise international solidarity in concrete terms, however, still needs to be sorted out. The conference Europe Against Austerity was only the first step.
Prof. Andreas Bieler
Professor of Political Economy
University of Nottingham/UK
Personal website: http://www.nottingham.ac.uk/~ldzab
11 October 2011