Anti-austerity protests

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This article deals primarily with the phenomenon of opposition to austerity measures currently being undertaken worldwide, especially in Europe.

Anti-austerity protests, chiefly taking the form of massive street protests by those affected by them and some of them also involving a greater or lesser degree of militancy, have happened regularly across various countries, especially on the European continent, since the onset of the ongoing (as of February 2014) worldwide Great Recession. The phenomena are, collectively, decidedly separate, conceptually, from the austerity measures themselves, even though the enactment of the latter is a prerequisite for the former. This is because they are of the sizes they are; that they cut across age groups (e.g., both students and older workers) and other demographics; that they can incorporate many different types of actions in many different segments of a given country's economy including education funding, infrastructure funding, manufacturing, aviation, social welfare, and many others; and that the phenomenon of austerity, when explained by itself, is inadequate to properly encompass the phenomenon of widespread opposition to it, and that opposition's nuances and fluctuations.

Anti-austerity actions are varied and ongoing, and can be either sporadic and loosely organised or longer-term and tightly organised. They continue as of the present day. Upheavals in Tunisia and in Egypt in 2011 were originally largely anti-austerity and anti-unemployment before turning into wider social revolutions.[citation needed]

The global and still-spreading Occupy movement has arguably been the most noticeable physical enactment of anti-austerity and populist sentiment.

Background[edit]

Prior to the 2010 European sovereign debt crisis, in many situations, austerity programs were implemented by countries that were previously under dictatorial regimes (e.g., Portugal, Greece, Spain), leading to criticism that the citizens are forced to repay the debts of their oppressors.[1][2][3]

In the present-day enactments of various "austerity budgets", however, a prior history of dictatorship is not necessarily a precondition for the implementation of such a budget by a given government. Examples of countries implementing severe austerity measures without a history of what the world's mainstream media would typically consider a 'dictatorship', include both Ireland and the United Kingdom, the former of which witnessed its housing market completely (rather than partially as elsewhere) collapse, and Ireland eventually applying for a bailout from the International Monetary Fund, "in exchange for" implementation of an austerity programme. The austerity measures and the terms of the IMF bailout became major aspects of the 2008–2011 Irish financial crisis, and popular anger over these issues played a major role in the loss of governmental power of Fianna Fáil to opposition parties in the 2011 Irish general election. The loss was for Fianna Fáil was so great that many commentators remarked that the results were "historic". Fine Gael and the Labour Party entered into a coalition government with one another, and Fine Gael's leaders vowed to re-negotiate the terms of the IMF bailout so that austerity is slowed or stopped and the Irish economy can be given a chance to grow again.[4] Sinn Féin, which for the first time also won a notable percentage in the election, has called for a nationwide referendum over whether the bailout agreement should be scrapped altogether, but this suggestion has been met with dismissal by officials.[5]

Examples[edit]

100,000 peaceful anti-austerity protesters in front of the parliament of Greece on 29 June 2011.
  • The May–July 2011 Greek protests, also known as the "Indignant Citizens Movement" or the "Greek indignados", started demonstrating throughout Greece on 25 May 2011;[6] the movement's largest demonstration was on 5 June, with 300,000 people gathering in front of the Greek Parliament,[7] while the organizers put the number to 500,000.[8] The protests lasted for over a month without any violent incidents, while on 29 June 2011, amid a violent police crackdown and accusations of police brutality by international media and Amnesty International,[9][10][11][12][13][14][15] the square was evacuated but demonstrations continued the next day despite the crackdown;[16][17] they officially ended on 7 August 2011,[18] but resumed in October.
  • The 2011 Spanish protests, whose participants are sometimes referred to as the "indignados", are a series of ongoing anti-austerity demonstrations in Spain that rose to prominence beginning on 15 May 2011; thus, the movement is also sometimes referred to as the May 15 or M-15 movement as well. It is a collection of several different instances of continuous demonstrations countrywide, with a common origin in internet social networks and the Democracia Real Ya web presence, along with 200 other small associations.[19]
  • In late March 2011 the Portuguese Prime Minister resigned a few hours after the latest austerity bill he backed was rejected by the rest of government. The government called that particular austerity round unacceptable.[20] In his resignation speech, Jose Socrates expressed concern that an IMF bailout akin to Greece and Ireland would now be unavoidable.
  • In mid-March 2011 the British Medical Association held an emergency meeting at which it broadly decided to emphatically oppose pending legislation in the British Parliament, the Health and Social Care Bill, that would overhaul the functioning of the National Health Service. Dr Layla Jader, a public health physician, said: "The NHS needs evolution not revolution - these reforms are very threatening to the future of the NHS. If they go through, our children will look back and say how could you allow this to happen?" And Dr Barry Miller, an anaethetist from Bolton, added: "The potential to do phenomenal damage is profound. I haven't seen any evidence these proposals will improve healthcare in the long-term."[21] There have also been various grassroots groups of UK citizenry virulently opposing the pending new bill, including NHS Direct Action,[22] 38 Degrees,[23] and the trade union Unite.[24]
  • The 2010 UK student protests mark the coming into force of one of the United Kingdom's most severe austerity measures. On 9 December 2010 spending for higher education and tuition subsidies and assistance in English universities — historically rather substantial in scale — was cut by a total of 80%.[25] That announcement and its implications, which included a near-tripling of student tuition fees from their previous levels[26] up to a new ceiling of £9000/year, led to a huge backlash amongst students who almost immediately took to the streets over various non-sequential days against this announcement, squaring off with police on several occasions including an instance where some students angrily entered the Conservative headquarters and smashed windows and destroyed its interior.[27] On the day of the passage of the measure itself, there was an explosion of street violence by enraged students and their allies, especially in London. There is an ongoing law enforcement investigation into, and even active pursuing of,[28] the participants of the violence over the various protest days, with particular attention focusing on the moments when a number of protesters successfully attacked a royal car driving on its way to a London event,[29] although they did not injure its occupants. Shouts of "off with their heads" were reportedly heard.[30] On 25 March 2011, Charlie Gilmour, son of Pink Floyd guitarist David Gilmour, became one of the more high-profile individuals to be officially charged in relation to those events.[31] As a result of these protests, a number of groups formed to combat the austerity measures that began with the cuts to higher education. One such example is Bloomsbury Fightback!, which is a group of radical students and workers in Bloomsbury, London, centred on the Bloomsbury Colleges in the University of London and focusing on organising around education and employment issues, of which many are the result of the austerity measures.
  • The group UK Uncut is one outgrowth of the anger felt by average citizens at austerity, albeit the group focuses not so much on combating the cuts themselves as on demanding that the rich, rather than the poor, pay the shortfalls causing the austerity in the first place — a sort of "tax the rich" movement. UK Uncut attempts to organise flash mob protests inside the highest-profile buildings of the businesses of the rich people avoiding tax or paying less than they should.
  • Around the same time as the heating-up of the England protests (but before the passing of the bill), students in Italy occupied the leaning tower of Pisa in a similar protest regarding its own educational system.[32]
  • On 27 November 2010, a massive protest against pending austerity took place in Dublin;[33] The Irish Examiner news service also reports on a 7 December 2010 clash around the Dáil where protesters threw smoke bombs and flares at police.[34] Additionally, La Scala in Italy experienced a clash on 8 December 2010 including scuffles with police.[35]
  • More generally, throughout 2009 and 2010, workers and students in Greece and other European countries demonstrated against cuts to pensions, public services and education spending as a result of government austerity measures.[36] There was a brief airport strike in Spain in December 2010, and assorted brief "general strike"-like actions in France have taken place, particularly around the very controversial plan of the French government to raise the retirement age from 60 to 62, a proposal which eventually successfully passed.
  • Participants in more militant forms of protest engaged in during the 26th March demonstration, who in total only comprised 1,500 people out of the estimated 250,000-500,000 total participants, have been relentlessly attacked by the government as "mindless thugs"[39] with the UK's mainstream media including the BBC generally supporting this perception. This remains the case even though the fundamental seriousness of damage thus far remains debatable; much reporting seems to have focused on the smashing of a Santander bank branch's glass entranceway doors by largely anarchist activists, who would have also been behind the simultaneous destruction of several automated teller machines and the scrawling of "class war" in graffiti on neighbouring walls.
  • By July 2014 there was still anger and protests in Greece about the austerity measures implemented there, with a 24-hour strike among government workers on 9 July 2014, timed to coincide with an audit by inspectors from the International Monetary Fund, the European Union and European Central Bank.[40]

Perspectives[edit]

Economist Richard D. Wolff has stated that instead of cutting government programs and raising taxes, austerity should be attained by collecting from non-profit multinational corporations, churches, and private tax-exempt institutions such as universities, which currently pay no taxes at all.[41] Groups like UK Uncut and the campaigners for a Robin Hood tax argue for a "tax the banks" strategy that is similar, as well as to argue that the banks and corporations severely underpay the taxes they already owe, and need to stop tax-dodging.

There are also those like Nobel Prize winning Princeton economist Paul Krugman, who argue that austerity measures tend to be counterproductive when applied to the populations and programs they are usually applied to.[42] The fact that the political sphere has been so heavily influenced by a paper know as "Growth in a Time of Debt" based on flawed methodology has led Krugman to argue:[43]

What the Reinhart-Rogoff affair shows is the extent to which austerity has been sold on false pretenses. For three years, the turn to austerity has been presented not as a choice but as a necessity. Economic research, austerity advocates insisted, showed that terrible things happen once debt exceeds 90 percent of G.D.P. But "economic research" showed no such thing; a couple of economists made that assertion, while many others disagreed. Policy makers abandoned the unemployed and turned to austerity because they wanted to, not because they had to.

In October 2012, the International Monetary Fund announced that its forecasts for countries which implemented austerity programs have been consistently overoptimistic.[44]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Harvey, D (2005) A Brief History of Neoliberalism
  2. ^ Klein, N. (2007) The Shock Doctrine
  3. ^ Chomsky, N (2004) Hegemony or Survival
  4. ^ http://www.irishcentral.com/news/Enda-Kenny-and-Eamon-Gilmore-will-renegotiate-EU-bailout-117573543.html
  5. ^ http://www.irishexaminer.com/breakingnews/ireland/bacik-dismisses-sinn-fein-calls-for-bailout-referendum-497233.html
  6. ^ "Στα χνάρια των Ισπανών αγανακτισμένων (On the footsteps of the Spanish 'indignados')" (in Greek). www.skai.gr. 26 May 2011. Retrieved 26 May 2011. 
  7. ^ "300.000 πολίτες στο κέντρο της Αθήνας!" (in Greek). www.skai.gr. 5 June 2011. Retrieved 5 June 2011. 
  8. ^ ""Αγανακτισμένοι": Πρωτοφανής συμμετοχή σε Αθήνα και άλλες πόλεις" (in Greek). www.skai.gr. 5 June 2011. Archived from the original on 17 July 2011. Retrieved 5 June 2011. 
  9. ^ "Greece passes key austerity vote". www.bbc.co.uk. 29 June 2011. Archived from the original on 30 June 2011. Retrieved 29 June 2011. 
  10. ^ Siddique, Haroon; Batty, David (29 June 2011). "Greece austerity vote and demonstrations - Wednesday 29 June 2011". London: www.guardian.co.uk. Archived from the original on 29 June 2011. Retrieved 1 July 2011. 
  11. ^ Smith, Helena (1 July 2011). "Greek police face investigation after protest violence". London: www.guardian.co.uk. Retrieved 3 July 2011. 
  12. ^ "TEAR GAS FIRED AS GREEK POLICE CLASH WITH ATHENS PROTESTERS". www.amnesty.org. Retrieved 30 June 2011. 
  13. ^ "GREECE URGED NOT TO USE EXCESSIVE FORCE DURING PROTESTS". www.amnesty.org. Retrieved 30 June 2011. 
  14. ^ "Back when peaceful demonstrations in Greece were massive and meaningful...". www.ireport.cnn.com. Retrieved 3 July 2011. 
  15. ^ Donadio, Rachel; Sayare, Scott (29 June 2011). "Violent Clashes in the Streets of Athens". www.nytimes.com. Retrieved 3 July 2011. 
  16. ^ "Επιστρέφουν στην Πλατεία Συντάγματος οι Αγανακτισμένοι για να εμποδίσουν την ψήφιση του βασικού εφαρμοστικού νόμου" (in Greek). Retrieved 30 June 2011. 
  17. ^ "Πλήγμα για την Ελλάδα το βομβαρδισμένο κέντρο" (in Greek). Retrieved 30 June 2011. 
  18. ^ "Απομακρύνθηκαν οι "Αγανακτισμένοι" από τον Λευκό Πύργο". www.protothema.gr. Retrieved 9 August 2011. 
  19. ^ "Movimiento 15-M: los ciudadanos exigen reconstruir la política (15-M Movement: citizens demand political reconstruction)". Politica.elpais.com. 2011-05-17. Archived from the original on 22 May 2011. Retrieved 2011-05-22. 
  20. ^ "Portugal PM Jose Socrates resigns after budget rejected". BBC News. 23 March 2011. 
  21. ^ "Doctors want halt to NHS plans but reject opposition". BBC. 15 March 2011. 
  22. ^ http://www.nhsdirectaction.co.uk/
  23. ^ http://www.38degrees.org.uk/page/s/Protect_our_NHS_Petition#petition
  24. ^ http://www.unitetheunion.org/sectors/health_sector/unite_4_our_nhs.aspx
  25. ^ Mulholland, Hélène (2010-12-09). "Lib Dem parliamentary aide quits over tuition fees as MPs prepare to vote". guardian.co.uk (London: Guardian News and Media). Retrieved 2011-01-04. 
  26. ^ http://www.thisisleicestershire.co.uk/news/Lib-Dems-join-key-vote-tuition-fees-rise/article-2974808-detail/article.html
  27. ^ "California university students protest tuition hikes". CNN. 18 November 2009. 
  28. ^ "Latest Suspects Wanted For Violent Disorder And Affray". Daily Mail (London). 20 March 2011. 
  29. ^ "Student protests: Radio failure claims rejected". BBC News. 11 December 2010. 
  30. ^ http://abcnews.go.com/International/british-prince-charles-royal-car-attacked-luck-photographer/story?id=12363034
  31. ^ Davies, Caroline (25 March 2011). "Charlie Gilmour to stand trial over attack on royal convoy". The Guardian (London). 
  32. ^ "Italian student protesters occupy Leaning Tower of Pisa". BBC News. 25 November 2010. 
  33. ^ http://www.thirdage.com/news/dublin-unions-protest-harsh-austerity-plan_11-27-2010
  34. ^ http://budget.breakingnews.ie/news/protesters-target-dail-over-cuts-484837.html
  35. ^ "Italian cuts spark fight at the opera for La Scala". BBC News. 8 December 2010. 
  36. ^ Kyriakidou, Dina (4 August 2010). "In Greece you get a bonus for showing up for work - Arcane benefits add billions to Greece’s bloated budget". Toronto: thestar.com. Retrieved 29 September 2010. 
  37. ^ "Riots in Greece as austerity measures start to bite". Austerity Bill. 23 February 2011. 
  38. ^ Taylor, Matthew (14 March 2011). "Anti-cuts campaigners plan 'carnival of civil disobedience'". The Guardian (London). 
  39. ^ "Home Secretary Theresa May condemns protest 'thugs'". BBC News. 28 March 2011. 
  40. ^ "State workers in Greece hold strike to protest layoffs". Greek Herald. Retrieved 9 July 2014. 
  41. ^ Wolff, Richard (4 July 2010). "Austerity: Why and for Whom?". RDWolff.com. Archived from the original on 6 October 2010. Retrieved 29 September 2010. 
  42. ^ Krugman, Paul (1 July 2010). "Myths of Austerity". The New York Times. 
  43. ^ Paul Krugman The Excel Depression. The New York Times. April 18, 2013
  44. ^ Brad Plumer (October 12, 2012) "IMF: Austerity is much worse for the economy than we thought" Washington Post