Nearly 50,000 people protested in the trade union demonstration against government reforms
On Saturday, May 21th, Prague hosted a big trade union demonstration against the forthcoming reforms of the current neo-liberal right-wing coalition. The various government proposals would come to the Parliament in June, so that in most cases they could be implemented in 2012. That is why the end of May was an ideal time to show the government that its proposals will encounter a strong resistance.
The demonstration began at 11:00 before the main house of trade unions in Prague, where delegations of trade unions gathered. However some unions did not participate in the demonstration and even disagreed with the organization of such an action. But most of the unions represented in the headquarters called CMKOS participated with enthusiasm. Thousands of people came even from distant regions such as North Moravia.
RIO supported the action at the maximum possible level. At the demonstration we introduced for the first time our new table which is larger than the last one and has professional printing. People were coming and received our leaflets with the slogan “For the general strike!” and other materials – stickers and especially our Workers’ bulletin. We also collected signatures on a petition against the pension reform.
At the symbolic hour of five minutes before 12:00, the march (about one kilometer long) moved toward Vaclav Square, where the second part of the trade union demonstration began at 13:00. In addition to many trade unionists, also a number of students, seniors and physically disabled people attended the event. This is especially remarkable because in the past, trade union demonstrations in the Czech Republic did not count with participation by other sectors of the (under-privileged) masses.
CMKOS leader Jaroslav Zavadil held the opening speech, and after him the President of the Association of Independent Unions, Bohumil Dufek, spoke (these are the two biggest trade unions confederations in Czech Republic, but there are also some other and very small ones). For the trade unionists spoke also the president of the medical workers, Dagmar Žitníková, and the president of the industry workers, Josef Středula. But also non-unionists had the opportunity to speak, which has often been denied in such events and was definitely a good step to the right direction. The President of hte Council of disabled people, Vaclav Krása, spoke as well as the spokesman of the ProAlt movement, Tereza Stöckelová.
The speeches of the union leaders were spirited and combative, but the content just scratched the surface of the problem. Although 99 % of the people we talked to responded to our slogan “For general strike!” in a very positive way, from the podium during the speeches only non-unionist Tereza Stöckelová mentioned the possibility of a general strike. The ProAlt movement has had a great influence on the workers’ movement in general, being widely known and respected among trade unionists, and being able to spread the idea of a general strike in mass events like this. In this sense we see it as a confirmation of the usefulness of the ProAlt initiative (which RIO is an active member of) as a united front of anti-government forces. On the other hand, the influence of various groups attempt to build a “new Republic”, a new leftist political party or new anticapitalist left is weaker than a year ago, like can be seen with the NAL or SPAS. This newly created structure (called “Alliance of Labor and Justice” in English) had a speech on the demonstration, but it’s a very dubious project which also includes, besides the Communist Party and its satellites, a right-wing populist nationalist party called Sovereignty.
Among the less successful things on the demonstration we have to name a lacking in the chanting of slogans during the march. Our attempts to get unionists chanting different slogans did not meet with a very positive response. So we at least during the march handed out our leaflets and discussed with the trade unionists. Even most of them were for a general strike and other radical steps, and they were very well aware that for such an action (and its success – bringing down the government) there must be a broad wave of anti-government unrest, a climax of discontent among a majority of the workers and they must be supported from other sectors of the masses, like the unemployed, students and more precarized sectors of the working class.
In our discussions with trade unionists, we from RIO, the Revolutionary International Organization, always say clearly: yes, a general strike can win, but there are a few but’s! A successful general strike can only be organized by a strong and politically conscious workers’ movement. For this reason, RIO has an aim to build a revolutionary workers’ organization, which will also cover those areas where current unions fail. It must be a political organization, educating its members with political debates, and this structure also must allow non-working sectors, such as students, unemployed and pensioners, to participate. Such a vision met with positive responses among a number of people and a lot of unionists themselves gave us their contacts and showed an interest in further cooperation with us. We therefore believe that the following weeks will help RIO to expand the network of supporters and active co-workers. To this goal, the next issue of our Workers bulletin will help of course.
The total number of 48,000 protesters is a big success, even if we admit that our estimate of the number of participants is lower. This is not so important. Now, the development in the following weeks and months depends mainly on whether the government will reconsider its important reforms, because the big Union leaders gave them an ultimatum until June 10th. This policy of giving the government an ultimatum and discouraging other protests during this time can only serve to slow down and canalize the growing unrest in the Czech society and goes to show that the union bureaucracy will try everything to contain the protests within narrow bounds which they can handle and use as a wager against the government to guarantee their privileges. But because we as RIO as well as the majority of trade unionists don’t expect that government changes their plans, June will be a pretty hot month in Czech Republic!
Andrea and Roman, RIO CZ