Wednesday, May 19, 2010

[olympiaworkers] Romania: Protests against austerity measures grow, general strike planned May 19 2010

Areas of the Romanian capital Bucharest were paralysed today by 50,000
demonstrators protesting against the savage austerity measures currently
being pursued by the Romanian government. Meanwhile, unions have
threatened a general strike on the 31st of May.

The protest was one of the biggest since the fall of the Ceauşescu
government in 1989, and follows a number of demonstrations in the Romanian
capital since the announcement of the cuts. Traffic was blocked, and a
senior government official was doused with water and attacked with stones
- Economy Ministry official Marcel Hoara had to be escorted away from the
area by police after being ambushed by demonstrators on his way out of a
televised debate.

Economic crisis and brutal cuts

The Romanian government has announced its intention to axe 70,000 state
employees out of a public sector workforce of 1.36 million before the end
of the year. On top of this public sector salaries will be slashed by 25%
and pensions will be reduced by 15%. One third of workers in Romania are
employed by the public sector, and the IMF forecasts that unemployment
could jump by a third to 1 million by the end of the year. The cuts are
due to come into effect on the 1st of June.

The cuts follow the severe effects of the economic crisis on the Romanian
economy, which shrunk by 7.1% in the last year. The cuts are part of the
International Monetary Fund's stipulations for the release of the next
tranche of finance as part of its 20 billion Euro loan package. Further
bailout payments have been suspended until the Romanian government is able
to demonstrate its ability to quell dissent and force through the attacks
on living conditions.

The economic collapse has spelled the end of Romania's position as the
so-called "tiger of Eastern Europe". The collapse of Ceauşism
following mass anti-government strikes and street fighting at the end of
the 1980s was followed by yet more austerity of a free-market capitalist
nature, with most Romanian experiencing stagnant living conditions
throughout the 1990s. The courting of heavy foreign investment during the
2000s led to economic growth, which has utterly collapsed as a result of
the international economic crisis.

Rising unrest

Anger at ordinary Romanians being forced to pay for the economic crisis
(exacerbated by the government's refusal to reform its flat tax system,
opting instead to cut jobs, wages and pensions) has led to a wave of
protests centred on the capital city, Bucharest.

Last Tuesday saw thousands of farmers blockade the area around the main
government building in Bucharest, arriving in tractors which they parked
outside cabinet headquarters. Their protest concerned the late payment of
government agricultural subsidies. On Wednesday around 500 angry
pensioners attempt to force their way into the presidential palace, with
other demonstrations taking place around the country. The mass
demonstration today follows 4 days of protests by unions.

Wages in Romania aren't large. The Washington Examiner quoted a Romanian
nurse, who earns earns 900 lei ($265) a month:

Our salaries are very small. They weren't good before, but with the
cuts we don't see anything good coming. I am sorry I haven't

64 year old teacher Constantin Dragomir noted that this is only the first
phase of the assault on living conditions:

We are aware that the government will not stop at these measures. In a
few months, they will increase VAT and the income tax

Whether or not ordinary Romanians will be required to pay for the economic
collapse will depend on their ability to resist the austerity measures in
coming weeks and months.

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