Sharply Contrasting Reactions to Austerity Programmes in Europe and America

9 Oct 2010

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Militant protests have erupted across Europe over governments' austerity programmes. The European population is angered that they are being forced to pay for a crisis that they did not create.

The news that jobs would be cut, pensions frozen and wages lowered, fired up the masses in Europe. Europeans have overcome their cultural and language differences in a common struggle against austerity programmes. 

In a historic event, coordinated strikes and demonstrations have occurred in nearly every country. From Spain where a general strike literally brought the country to its knees, to strikes in Scandinavia, Poland, Great Britain, Greece, Portugal, France and Germany.

People have been protesting in the streets demonstrating solidarity across unions representing different kinds of workers, different levels of skills and immigrants and native people alike, are joined in a united effort, reports economist Richard Wolff.

Demonstrations culminated in a coordinated demonstration at the European Parliament in Brussels attended by tens of thousands of Europeans. Protestors stormed Brussels in response to news that participating governments would be “fined” if they ran up deficits.

According to Wolff, European solidarity is built around a central demand: "We are the working people who produce the profits, goods and services of the capitalist economy. We are not going to pay for its crisis."

European's are demanding greater taxation of the rich and the capitalist class to reduce government deficits.

Across the Atlantic, Americans, too, have hit the streets to demonstrate, but in a manner that commentators are referring to as mild protest.

Some 14 million Americans are unemployed. But while the European demonstrations highlight class differences, the US message has promoted the notion of  "one nation," which in essence ignores class difference.

Overall, while the Europeans have demanded more government help and intervention to hold the capitalist class accountable, Americans have been more conciliatory.

The difference between the American and European demonstrations is that Americans are not demanding specific benefits like wages and retirement. American demands are more in the nature of "an appeal" and "a hope" for something to be done.

Why this difference in reaction to austerity programmes between Europe and America?

According to Wolff, Europe has had a vibrant trade union movement in the last 30 years compared to diminishing labour activity in America for the same period.

Europe is also home to active radical and socialist organisations that analyze what is going on in an ongoing manner through daily newspapers and other media outlets, which has resulted in an educated population that can recognize the danger of these austerity measures.

Americans can see the issues, but have lost their organized base. It is argued that the historical decline of left wing movements in the US has left those struggling, without a voice.

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