You gotta hand it to the French. They sure know how to hold a national day of protest.
On 9 September, between 1 and 2 million people took to the streets to protest against government plans to raise the retirement age to – get this folks – 62. 62! Only in our wildest dreams eh? Since May day, there have been strikes and demonstrations all across Europe, protesting at government austerity measures including tax hikes, pay freezes and cuts to public services. The Greeks, in fact, were out today protesting in Thessaloniki where the Prime Minister was outlining the government’s economic policy.
And more, much more is planned for 29 September. Greece will be out again of course, as will France. They will be joined by Lithuania, Portugal, Spain and Slovenia. No doubt, other countries will join them. The European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) has organised a mass demonstration in Brussels. In the UK, Unison has called for workers here to protest alongside their fellow Europeans. And I hope they, we, do.
So far here in Scotland, there has been little appetite for direct action. Which puzzles the burd, given that I was weaned on marches, rallies, protests and vigils. Indeed, sometimes in the 80s, it was a struggle to remember which cause or outrage we were protesting against.
Perhaps it is because many households have yet to feel the ill effects of the recession, which have been largely confined to the private sector. We are in the calm before the storm in relation to public sector austerity measures. The big numbers and percentages are being relayed daily but just as with autumnal gales, we won’t really know what damage the cuts will cause until they actually hit our communities and families.
Which is not to say that people aren’t upset. They are. Scots everywhere are seething. Just like Tam’s Kate, we sit like a sullen sulky dame nursing our wrath to keep it warm. People are angry at all that has happened in the last two years. I reckon that on one level, the big vote for Labour in Scotland against the UK grain in May 2010 grain was a protest in itself. But maybe on 29 September it’s time to start showing just how peeved we really are.
Increasingly angry as the details drip out, that the UK coalition government will hit the most vulnerable people and families the hardest with its proposed welfare reforms and tax changes. Sickened that despite everything that has happened, there has been no reform of banking practices and huge risks can still be taken with our money, and enormous bonuses can still be paid to those at the top while ordinary bank workers bear the brunt of redundancies and small businesses fold due to restrictive practices. Fed up at the Holyrood political class treating the forthcoming budget like a game of five card brag, with all the parties bluffing their way to the brink, refusing to call or show until the last minute.
And totally scunnered that no one – neither politician, think tank, civic organisation, political party, nor academic – has an alternative narrative to offer. The perceived economic and political wisdom is that huge cuts in public expenditure are required to help fix our broken economy; the haggling is simply over the size of those cuts and when and how to make them.
This post is no apology for the public sector. Years of working in and around it, and observing how record levels of funding have been used and frankly, frittered away, have convinced me that there is much that can be improved and reformed. If the necessity of austerity helps bring about some positive change then that will be a good thing.
Ultimately, however, whichever sector you work in, everyone in Scotland is about to feel a great deal of pain from the cuts to come. And not just for a year or two, but some forecasts suggest it will be at least 2020 before we are out of the woods. Others say 2014, a few that it could be longer than a decade before we approach anything resembling good times again. Hard times – real hard times – are going to befall us all.
Which is why I for one will be out on the streets on 29 September. Showing solidarity with fellow Europeans and Scots. And I hope many more will join me.
There were two million on the streets of Edinburgh to Make Poverty History. One million walked through Glasgow to tell Tony Blair that war in Iraq was not in our names. Just how many Scots are willing to show the politicians that we are not prepared to pay their price for others’ economic folly?