"Winter of discontent" driving Europeans onto the streets

Hundreds of thousands of people are taking part in the biggest wave of strikes in Britain in more than a decade and over a million people in France have demonstrated against the planned pension reform. Anxiety over rising living costs, affordable housing and adequate healthcare is increasing across Europe. Rightly so?

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Duma (BG) /

Prices are rising but wages are not

The people have every reason to protest, writes Duma:

“Workers of all professions across the continent are rising up and will continue to do so to show their governments that something is wrong. It's unacceptable that the prices of all goods and services are rising but wages are not. Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez deserves praise for paying workers a 14th-month salary [special payment] and raising the minimum wage, albeit slightly [by 8 percent]. When wages rise in one sector, all the others must follow suit. ... Doctors are just as important as teachers, shop assistants, lorry drivers and mail carriers. They're all service providers and consumers at the same time. On the other side are those who think only of their bank accounts and dividends.”

The Sun (GB) /

Selfishness and greed

The Sun has no sympathy with the strikers in the education and healthcare sectors:

“By and large, when people in the private sector face a cost-of-living crisis, they tighten their belts and sit it out. When people in the public sector face the same thing, they demand more money, and usually get it. And when they don't, they strike. Never mind the other enormous benefits they get from being public servants. Very generous pensions and often a shorter working week among them. ... Public sector workers are bringing this country to its knees. And the main reasons are greed and selfishness. Let us pray the Government stays firm. Give in now and there will be more misery just around the corner.”

Adevărul (RO) /

General strikes could soon follow

For Adevărul columnist Cristian Unteanu governments are on the defensive:

“The numerous crises that have overlapped recently have shown that the governments' capacity to respond is increasingly limited and continues to diminish, leaving them with only the use of force or legislative tricks as a last resort - which they do use - to reduce trade unionists rights. In some countries with a democratic tradition, people and unions are responding by taking to the streets again, with nationwide protests to show that they are about to enter the final and now very likely phase: an indefinite nationwide general strike.”

The Guardian (GB) /

The elite lacks competence and empathy

The British government does not represent the people or their interests, says The Guardian:

“Parents do not want their children to be taught in underfunded schools or to be treated by demoralised nurses in overcrowded wards. Everyone is feeling the same long-term squeeze on their incomes. Well, almost everyone. A small minority enjoys sufficient wealth to be insulated from pressures that weigh on ordinary people. That lucky social segment happens to be disproportionately represented in Mr Sunak's cabinet. This might explain some of the political miscalculation around industrial unrest, although a lack of strategic competence also plays its part.”

Irish Examiner (IE) /

Ireland may follow in Britain's footsteps

The wave of strikes could also hit the Emerald Isle, says the Irish Examiner:

“The current dissatisfaction in Ireland has a variety of causes, many of which would be recognisable to those in Britain. Troubles with accommodation and housing, the catastrophic state of healthcare, the cost-of-living crisis, the threat of the far right, the pressure on State services. ... Which begs a question. Would large-scale industrial action here be a means to resolving some of those problems? Is the Irish trade union sector capable of that level of co-ordination? Perhaps those questions will become relevant if the strike in Britain is successful and can be seen as a template to follow here.”

Público (PT) /

Political extremes setting the tone

Público wonders if perceptions of the situation are accurate:

“Portugal has gone from being an oasis of stability to an example of social and political tensions. ... The danger of this political context is real if the protest that is taking over the streets overrides the moderation and spirit of compromise that make democracies successful. ... We need to calm down. The country wasn't doing all that well when there was no social unrest, so it's not so bad now that the news is all about the abyss. What is happening now is that the political extremes are getting all the attention and the advocates of democratic negotiation have no platform.”

Tygodnik Powszechny (PL) /

Investments slow recession

All in all Poland is getting through the crisis quite well, Tygodnik Powszechny concludes:

“The past year was marked by a cost-of-living crisis and economic issues dominated the headlines like never before. ... The crisis will gradually have an impact on the labour market, even though we are already experiencing record low unemployment. ... The rise in unemployment is being slowed down by foreign companies' sustained strong interest in investing in Poland. ... Most likely there will be some kind of recession in Poland, although it is very likely that it will not last long and won't be very deep.”

Le Quotidien (LU) /

The worst is over

The people will need a bit more staying power, Le Quotidien believes:

“Inflation will continue to rise. The storm is not over yet and the calm is expected to return only in early 2024. Yes, that is still a long way off. ... In the next eleven months, it is not only rising prices that will concern us. Rampant inflation is also gradually affecting the economy. ... Disruptions on the employment front are to be expected and can already be seen in the latest labour market figures for Luxembourg. But we have got through the worst of it. ... Unless more bad news from Eastern Europe disturbs this precarious balance.”

Mediapart (FR) /

Government's arrogance a danger to democracy

Mediapart condemns the government's attitude to the anti-pension reform protests:

“Emmanuel Macron's plan is unfair and brutal. ... The government knows it has already lost the battle for public approval and yet Macron wants to make the reform the hallmark of his second term. ... A government that doesn't react to the huge protests all over France, that scorns the eight workers' unions, overlooks the resistance from all social classes and ignores the opposition parties could drive too many citizens into the arms of the far right. ... It is urgent to counteract this threat to democracy.”

Ouest-France (FR) /

Explain the situation without tricks

The French government needs to clearly communicate its objectives to the public, writes Jean Arthuis, former finance minister under Jacques Chirac, in Ouest-France:

“It is time to enlighten the public sphere and explain the general situation to the French without complacency. The major reforms concerning unemployment insurance and pensions are justified in view of our financial situation. The government must explain this to the public without sugarcoating it or resorting to communication tricks. France has all it needs to overcome the prevailing conservatism and look to the future with confidence. It is a question of lucidity, solidarity and courage.”

Naftemporiki (GR) /

Europe is a boiling pot

Naftemporiki comments:

“While in France the pension reform is at the centre of labour and social unrest, in Britain high prices and inflation continue to fuel the 'winter of discontent', with strikes reminiscent of the riots of the early 1970s. Back then it was the ruling Labour party which was faced with social discontent. It was the time when Margaret Thatcher's star rose to dominate the Conservative Party and British political life for many years to come. Now it is the Conservatives. Britain's biggest trade union, Unite, has called a series of strikes for February and March. ... Europe is a boiling pot.”