By John Millington
European trade unionists gathered in their thousands in Brussels today to tell EU bureaucrats “no more austerity.”
Defying heavy snow and cold winds, trade unionists under the banner of the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) descended on the Parc de Cinquantenaire, raising the temperature in the debate about the future of Europe, as leaders from across the region met in the Belgian capital for their Spring Summit just metres away.
Amidst the music and upbeat mood, workers from across Europe delivered a serious message that austerity must stop and that EU member states begin investing in young people, jobs and infrastructure.
ETUC general secretary Bernadette Ségol said that the pain caused by austerity policies was leading to widespread resentment toward the EU.
“There policies are not working and they have to change it,” she said.
“When unemployment is up and up every month it creates despair. We may have to accept higher deficit for a while but all to save employment.”
Ms Ségol went on to express her personal “solidarity” with workers in Britain struggling against Tory led government cuts and even refused to rule out a European wide general strike to make EU leaders listen to workers’ demands.
“It very much depends on the national legal conditions but why not. I am not against it,” she insisted.
President of the Belgian socialist trade union ABVV/FGTB Rudy De Leeuw called for massive government investment in Belgium and throughout the EU to create “jobs of high quality and a sustainable economy.”
“Right wing governments are trying to solve the crisis by getting common people to pay for it. 25million are unemployed in Europe and 120 million are poor,” he said.
“The rich are not paying their taxes. For example in Belgian, the value they get from playing on the stock exchange; it is not taxed. It is incredible.”
He gave EU leaders a deadline of a “few months” to make significant changes adding that he would be in favour of a general strike in Belgian if austerity continued.
Unemployment across the 17 EU countries that use the euro rose to a record 11.9 per cent during January, from 10.8 in the previous year.
Youth unemployment is also continuing to rise unabated, peaking at 24.2 per cent.
And EU leaders could not have failed to hear the deafening roars of anger and the continuous echo of fireworks being let off around the Parc de Cinquantenaire – a park dedicated to Belgian national independence.
Representing the British TUC, Communication workers union leader Billy Hayes said: “People are fighting back in their various sectors, in the communications and postal sector which our union represents and others sectors as well. Living standards are dropping. The message is beginning to get through that austerity is not working. “