By Nicky Dempsey
Sinn Féin has published its response to the Dublin government’s threatened plans to cut public spending once more in its Budget for 2011, There Is A Better Way. The Fianna Fail/ Green coalition in government has outlined planned further cuts totalling €6bn in both capital and current spending, including welfare payments to the poor. This would bring the total level of ‘fiscal tightening’ to €20.6bn since the end of 2008, which is now equivalent to 13.1% of GDP. For comparison the British government’s current plans – among the most draconian of any major European country – amount to 9.2% of GDP.
by Marie Dupont
Already six nationwide demonstrations since 7 September have taken place against the proposal to increase the pension age in France. This social movement is not declining. The government is now described as ‘autistic’ – refusing any dialogue and re-iterating on and on that it will not move one inch in favour of the mass movement demands.
In France in September there were two days of strikes, each with around three million people, demonstrating against the French government’s new pension Bill. Fifteen days later, on 2nd October, another demonstration took place with new social layers joining in. As the demonstrations were on a Saturday this allowed people who can’t go on strike to express their rejection of the pension scheme. Again, there were about three million demonstrators all over France. The strength of the protest has therefore remained intact, and a new phase has opened up with the proposal of unlimited strikes for the next national day of action which is to take place on Tuesday 12th October.
Photo marcovdzSix months ago it would have been impossible to imagine such a huge mobilisation in France against the raising of the legal retirement age from 60 to 62. When the National Committee for the Demands of Retired Workers decided to launch a campaign against the new law it had to confront a big media offensive launched by the government explaining that because the population is living older, it is no longer possible to pay for their pensions.
By Jane West
Photo: mrlerone/Toby Bradbury Far-right registers huge success in SwedenThe far-right Sweden Democrats party almost doubled its share of the vote in Sweden’s election last Sunday, winning its first seats in Parliament by breaching the 4 per cent threshold for representation with its 5.7 per cent of the vote. Its previous highest vote was 2.9 per cent in the 2006 elections.Even more disturbing is the fact that the party potentially holds the balance of power in the Swedish Parliament. While the elections were a victory for the ruling centre-right Alliance coalition, led by Prime Minister Reinfeldt’s Moderates, they were denied an overall majority. The Alliance’s 49.2 per cent of the vote was not enough for a Parliamentary majority under Sweden’s proportional representation system, giving them 172 of 349 seats in the legislature. The Sweden Democrats won 20.The Sweden Democrats’ origins are as an overtly neo-Nazi organization. Its current leader, Jimmie Akesson, has attempted to reposition the party as a ‘respectable’ but extremely right-wing, anti-immigration and anti-equalities party. As well as whipping up support through Islamophobia – claiming that Muslim immigration is the greatest threat to Sweden since the Second World War – the party also opposes anti-discrimination measures for the northern Swedish Sami ethnic minority.While the breakthrough for the Sweden Democrats had been predicted, it met widespread shock in Sweden, as it was the first time that the extreme right had achieved electoral success in the country.
The success of the extreme right in Sweden fits into an on-going pattern of rising support for the extreme right across Europe, given a boost since the financial crisis as the media and mainstream politicians whip up Islamophobia, anti-Roma sentiment and racism generally to divide the working class in the face of capital’s assault on living standards and welfare protection.Some signs of a left polarisation in response to this was also seen in the Swedish elections, with the best ever results for the Greens, with 7.2 per cent of the vote. They are now being courted by Reinfeldt to allow him to form a government without having to rely on the Sweden Democrats.The Swedish Social Democrats, which had formed the government in Sweden for 68 of the last 75 years, while just the largest single party, with 30.9 per cent, 1 per cent ahead of the Moderates, won its smallest share of the vote since 1914. It campaigned in the election as part of a ‘red-green’ alliance with the Greens.
By Marie Dupont The second round of the French regional elections confirmed the defeat of the right wing parties. Indeed it was a historic scale of defeat. With 35 per cent the right received its lowest share of the vote since 1958. The left received its highest share, 54 per cent, in the same fifty two year period with the sole exception of the presidential elections in 1988. The left won 21 regions and the right only one - Alsace. But the analysis of the results is more complex than that of a simple shift of votes from right to left. At the presidential elections Sarkozy received 53 per cent so where did all his votes go? In the constituencies where he had achieved a high vote, abstention was high and/or the National Front made a good score. It is also important to note that in 2007, 84 per cent of the population participated in the ballot, that is there was a 16 per cent abstention rate, whereas in these elections the rate of abstention was 54 per cent at the first round and 49 per cent in the second. This shows big disillusion with Sarkozy and particularly his policies. A recent opinion poll found that 71 per cent wanted him to change his policies. But the damage is more serious than that: some traditional strongholds of the right were won by the left, for example in West Paris.
The leading countries of the European Union, led by France and Germany have insisted that the Greek government must respond to the financial crisis by a series of ferocious attacks on working class living standards. Job losses have mounted rapidly as pay has been cut, welfare and pension entitlements slashed and the retirement age suddenly increased. Yet one area of spending is exempt from this otherwise absolute requirement to reduce government spending, the military budget.
In what the Reuters news agency describes as “a bizarre twist to the Greek debt crisis, France and Germany are pressing Greece to buy their gunboats and warplanes, even as they urge it to cut public spending and curb the deficit.” France is looking to sell frigates, helicopters and fighter aircraft for €3.5bn while Germany is looking for back payments of €520mn plus €300mn for a submarine which failed sea-worthiness tests. It is reported that the deficit negotiations were used to strong-arm the Greek government into making the purchases.
By Marie Dupont
Last Sunday, 14 March, the first round of the regional elections in France saw a big shift in favour of the left - although there was a 52 per cent abstention rate. The Socialist Party won 30 per cent while the ruling UMP of President Sarkozy received 27 per cent. However in the second voting round the UMP will have no allies, while the Greens, who won 12.5 per cent and the Front de Gauche (Left Front), which won 7 per cent will call for a vote for the Socialist Party. The election overall therefore saw a big rejection of Sarkozy. The second major feature of these elections was the growth of the extreme right wing National Front (NF) which won 11.7 per cent. The NF will not call for a vote for the UMP in the second round of the elections - in the 12 regions where the NF received more than 10 per cent of the vote.
By Jack JohnstonThe global financial crisis has not only disturbed the previous course of capitalist economic development but also stalled many of its political projects. An example of this is the process of European Union expansion into the former non-capitalist states in Eastern Europe. While prior to the crisis these economies were enjoying high growth and falling unemployment, many have now been plunged into a severe downturn. This not only threatens their own internal political stability but also shakes the foundations upon which EU enlargement has been built.The eastern enlargement of the EU, in 2004 and 2007, should be understood within the context of the restoration of capitalism that occurred throughout Eastern Europe from 1989. The economic collapse and social impoverishment, caused by the re-introduction of capitalism, were most severe and prolonged in the countries of the ex-Soviet Union. Yet the Central-Eastern European (CEE) states still suffered huge socio-economic declines. Ten years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, only Poland had crossed its pre-transition level of GDP; the Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovakia and Slovenia were just returning to this level, whilst the Baltic States still had a GDP level 20–40% below that achieved at the end of ‘communism’. Consequently poverty, unemployment and social inequalities all sharply increased, leaving millions of people with a standard of living worse than they had before capitalism was reintroduced.
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