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European workers protest austerity cuts

Protesters walk with banners and flags as they demonstrate at the end of a nationwide general strike day in Madrid, Spain. The general strike is staged by Spanish workers to protest against the austerity measures imposed by the Spanish government.

TEXT OF STORY

Kai Ryssdal: Congress is going to leave town at the end of the week to go campaigning. Among the many things lawmakers will leave undone is the federal budget for next year. They're going to pass an emergency spending measure instead. Over in Europe government budgets are close to being done -- and the people aren't happy about it at all. Tens of thousands of government workers went on strike across the continent today, carrying banners, many of them, that read "No to Austerity." Workers say they're the ones who'll pay the price for a crisis caused by bankers.

From the Marketplace European Desk in London, Stephen Beard reports.


Stephen Beard: More than 100,000 workers from across the European Union joined this protest march in Brussels. Their message resoundingly clear: They don't want the job losses or the pay and benefit cuts which deficit reduction will bring.

British union organizer Owen Tudor:

Owen Tudor: Unions today will be speaking firstly to European governments and saying, "Don't do the things that you are currently planning to do, because they will do lasting damage."

Protesters did some damage in the Spanish city of Barcelona, today. Spain was staging its first general strike in eight years. There were further protests in Greece, Italy, Poland and elsewhere.

But few believe this noisy show of strength will make any difference. Professor Dominic Swords of the Henley Business School says heavily indebted European governments will have to carry through with the cuts.

Dominic Swords: Because any small sign of weakening would be a small crack that would be opened wide by the markets, taking money out of those countries and making a difficult situation catastrophic.

The European Commission emphasized the point today, unveiling a plan to punish member governments that don't crack down on their deficits. The EU's plump public sector is headed for a crash diet.

Simon Tilford of the Centre for European Reform says it'll be a painful process.

Simon Tilford: I think there is a very real risk over the next five years that we will see a return to levels of social confrontation and industrial unrest in Europe that we haven't seen since the 1970s.

At the European Desk in London, this is Stephen Beard for Marketplace.

About the author

Stephen Beard is the European bureau chief and provides daily coverage of Europe’s business and economic developments for the entire Marketplace portfolio.
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The thing is, anyone with the sense God gave geese can see that the banks are only the immediate cause of the crisis; something like this is the *inevitable* and *obvious* result of the social entitlements. It would be a fairly accurate summary to say that the public sector unions are a bigger cause of the present crisis than the banks.

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