Workers rally across Europe to protest against cuts

Demonstrations planned in Brussels and dozens of European cities against austerity measures

Madrid protests – Paul White/AP

Ian Traynor

The cities of Europe are braced for protests, gridlock and mayhem today as hundreds of thousands of people take to the streets across the continent to demonstrate against assaults on national budgets, public services, and jobs.

In a test of the residual power of trade unions in an era of casino capitalism and cash-strapped government, workers and union members are expected to stage protests in at least a dozen cities across the EU, climaxing this afternoon in a mass rally in Brussels near the EU’s headquarters.

About 100,000 people from more than two dozen countries are expected to take part in the biggest protest seen in Brussels in a decade.

Two days before the Spanish government unveils a budget that will slash public spending, unions in Spain are mobilised for the country’s first general strike in eight years. Further large protests are predicted in Poland, Portugal, Greece, Ireland, Romania and Serbia.

“This is a crucial day for Europe,” said John Monks, general secretary of the European Trades Union Confederation which has organised the Brussels protest. “Our governments, virtually all of them, are about to embark on solid cuts in public expenditures. They’re doing this at a time where the economy is very close to recession, and almost certainly you’ll see the economy go back into recession as the effect of these cuts take place.”

The financial crash two years ago and the hundreds of billions spent to bail out the banks and shore up international capitalism rebounded with a vengeance this year on public purses across Europe, generating a sovereign debt crises in Greece and fears for collapse in Ireland, Spain and Portugal.

The remedy, in Britain and across a Europe that is emerging sluggishly from the worst recession since the 1930s, is generally to take an axe to public spending.

Later today, the European commission is to unveil its latest proposals to rein in public spending across the EU and impose sanctions, fines and political penalties for countries that fail to keep their budget deficits and national debt levels below agreed ceilings, leading to further austerity measures.

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