Demonstrators take part in a march during a 24-hour nationwide general strike in central Madrid November 14, 2012. Spanish and Portuguese workers staged the first coordinated strike across the Iberian peninsula on Wednesday, shutting down transport, grounding flights and closing schools to protest austerity measures and tax hikes. The banner reads: “No to cuts. Enough blackmails!” (Reuters/Susana Vera)
In a spectacular display of widening popular discontent, strikes and anti-austerity protests broke out across the eurozone on November 14—the first time there has been broad coordinated action in multiple countries simultaneously since the beginning of a crisis rooted in the design failures of the European Monetary Union. General strikes in Spain and Portugal closed car plants and shut down other industries, drastically curtailing mass transit from Barcelona to Lisbon. There were strikes and huge demonstrations in Greece and Italy. Even in France and Belgium, countries less immediately threatened by the creeping debt crisis, big rallies were staged.
In Madrid, hundreds of thousands of protesters flowed past the Prado for five hours. Many seemed newly aware of a common European struggle. Some waved blue-and-white Greek flags in solidarity with the victims of the most ruthless shock therapy pursued so far. Others held placards painted with Iceland’s national colors, suggesting that the Icelandic default might show the way for the debt-laden euro periphery, especially Greece.
In Portugal and Greece, as in Spain, protesters took aim at the IMF as well as German Chancellor Angela Merkel. “IMF means hunger and misery,” was a slogan in Lisbon. “We are fed up to our ovaries with the IMF,” joked a feminist contingent at the Madrid demonstration. Yet the truth is that IMF leaders, themselves frustrated with austerity madness, might have grabbed a banner and joined the protest. A very public dispute has erupted between the fund and the European Union over the pace of fiscal adjustment and the need for a second restructuring of Greek debt.
At its semiannual meeting in Tokyo in October, the IMF announced that the austerity packages applied throughout Southern Europe since 2009 have been counterproductive, undermining economic growth and increasing rather than bringing down public debt ratios. Greece provides ghastly proof of the failed logic of the euro orthodoxy. After three years of shock therapy, the Greek economy is in depression and will have shrunk by more than 22 percent at the end 2013, the IMF warns. Employment in Greece has fallen to 1980 levels, and Greek debt dynamics have only deteriorated. Public sector debt has soared from 144 percent of GDP in 2010 to 170 percent, and unless the official lenders agree to take a haircut in a controlled restructuring of debt—as private lenders did earlier in the year—Greece may be forced to leave the euro. “The IMF has admitted the blunder, but tell that to the Greeks,” said Zoe Lanara, international relations secretary of the Greek General Confederation of Labor at a conference organized in October by left think tank TASC in Dublin.