September 19, 2010
In older-type, agricultural societies, autumn is the season when people reap the rewards of their hard work in tilling the land. In our postmodern, neoliberal societies, autumn is becoming synonymous with huge union protests, as economic growth stalls and austerity measures are starting to bite.
A case in point is Romania, where two of the country’s largest unions have decided to stage large protests in Bucharest next week, as negotiations with the government have led nowhere (source:EVZ). The austerity measures adopted this summer by the Romanian government are the harshest in the EU. Affected by salary cuts of 25 percent and with ever-rising energy bills in winter, millions of Romanians working in public administration, police, the education or health systems find it hard, if not impossible, to stomach such whopping reductions in their incomes. The salaries in question, averaging 350 euros per month, were some of the lowest in the European Union to start with. The planned cuts, therefore, will make it extremely difficult for a majority of Romanian civil servants to make ends meet.
Other countries of the EU, like Ireland, Greece and Spain in particular, have much larger budget deficits and bigger public debt loads in relation to their GDP. Still, the salary reductions for public sector employees in Greece, for example, were of 10 percent, not 25 percent – a measure that was combined with an increase in petrol taxes and the VAT. So why is Romania following the lead of countries like Britain, where a 20 percent reduction in budget expenditure is being envisaged ? After all, Romania’s budget deficit is under 10 percent, its public debt level is low (under 40 percent of GDP) and the steep salary cuts were decried as excessive by Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the director of the IMF, only a few months ago.
The harsh austerity measures adopted by the Romanian government are probably aimed at establishing the Basescu administration’s credentials as the most “true blue” neoliberal one in Central and Eastern Europe, if not beyond. Still, punishing the country’s state employees for the malfunctions of the global neoliberal economy is downright political folly, as this autumn’s announced mass protests in Romania will show.
If next week’s planned protests will not succeed in bringing more rationality to the government’s policies, Romania’s largest public administration union FNSA plans to organise a general strike that would last for one month starting mid-October. This is bad news for an embattled Romanian government, which also faces diminished receipts to the budget because of a collapse of internal demand – Romania’s main engine of growth – following the income cuts.Florian Pantazi