Bird’s Eye: Austerity isn’t working for the people, however much it may help the bankers. And across Europe, the people are protesting it, with increasing violence. Analysis first, then examples, with a hat tip to the Guardian Weekly which focussed on this issue.
* The Root Of Europe’s Riots Ha-Joon Chang The Guardian
What has been happening in Europe – and indeed the US in a more muted and dispersed form – is nothing short of a complete rewriting of the implicit social contracts that have existed since the end of the second world war. In these contracts, renewed legitimacy was bestowed on the capitalist system, once totally discredited following the great depression. In return it provided a welfare state that guarantees minimum provision for all those burdens that most citizens have to contend with throughout their lives – childcare, education, health, unemployment, disability and old age.
Of course there is nothing sacrosanct about any of the details of these social contracts. Indeed, the contracts have been modified on the margins all the time. However, the rewriting in many European countries is an unprecedented one. It is not simply that the scope and the speed of the cuts are unusually large. It is more that the rewriting is being done through the back door.
Instead of it being explicitly cast as a rewriting of the social contract, changing people’s entitlements and changing the way the society establishes its legitimacy, the dismembering of the welfare state is presented as a technocratic exercise of “balancing the books”. Democracy is neutered in the process and the protests against the cuts are dismissed. The description of the externally imposed Greek and Italian governments as “technocratic” is the ultimate proof of the attempt to make the radical rewriting of the social contract more acceptable by pretending that it isn’t really a political change.
As unemployment hits 25% and keeps rising, parts of the country’s fabric are beginning to tear. Half a million homes have no breadwinner. More than half of the under-25s and half of immigrants are jobless. And with one-third of them not qualifying for unemployment benefit, desperation is setting in.
One of the alarming tendencies is the removal of old people from care homes, with families either unable to pay or simply desperate to have the stable, if meagre, income provided by a pension back in the house. Some 8,000-10,000 of the 240,000 people in private residential homes have returned to their families this year alone, according to the FED association of private care homes, which account for about 75% of private beds.
* French Protesters March In ‘Resistance’ To Austerity The Guardian
Thousands of demonstrators took to the streets of Paris on Sunday to protest against the spread of economic “austerity” in France and Europe.
Chanting “resistance, resistance”, the crowds had been rallied by around 60 organizations, including the leftwing Front de Gauche and the French Communist party, which oppose the European budget treaty.
“Today is the day the French people launch a movement against the politics of austerity,” said the Front de Gauche president, Jean-Luc Mélenchon.
* Hundreds Of Thousands Of Greeks March Against Austerity The Guardian
Hundreds of thousands of anti-austerity protesters took to the streets of Greece on Wednesday as the country was paralysed by a general strike in the first mass confrontation with Athens’s three-month-old coalition government.
In one of the biggest demonstrations in the capital in recent years, as many as 200,000 marched on the Greek parliament, according to unions in the public and private sector, which called the strike to oppose new wage and pension cuts – the price of further rescue funds from international lenders.
Clashes broke out between riot police and hooded youths hurling rocks and petrol bombs at the finance ministry. The protesters, many shouting: “We can take no more. Out with the EU and IMF,” and said to be part of the crisis-hit country’s vibrant “anti-establishment” movement, then set light to rubbish cans and bus stops, sending plumes of acrid smoke above the capital. TV footage showed demonstrators running for cover in Syntagma Square, seat of the Greek parliament, as noxious fumes filled the air. More than 100 people were detained.
“We have reached the limit. People are tired of making sacrifices because you don’t see any improvement whatsoever. Quite the opposite.” Marina Padeiro, 36, is one of Portugal’s estimated 1.3 million unemployed – a number that has shot up in the past year and a half, as a result of the stinging austerity measures imposed on the country in exchange for a €78bn bailout.
Sitting in a café in the northern industrial belt of Lisbon, she shrugs. “If there was some sort of hope you may see a decent future … the problem is they are not showing it to us.” Her father, a retired lorry driver, says the evidence is on the streets. Out here – far from the capital’s pretty, cobbled centre, which still attracts tourists – shops are closed up for good, or open only sporadically.