28th May 2023

Hundreds of thousands of workers march across EU to protest crisis response

  • Workers rally in Madrid against governments' response to the crisis (Photo: ETUC)

Hundreds of thousands of workers took to the streets of European capitals over the weekend as the economic crisis squeezes wages and jobs across the continent in a series of official actions led by European trade union leaders.

Some 350,000 people marched through the streets of Berlin, Brussels, Madrid and Prague, with smaller demonstrations elsewhere, including Birmingham and Bucharest, according to figures from the European Trade Union Confederation.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

The workers were taking part in the ETUC's 'Action Days' from Thursday through Saturday (14-16 May), the European trade union central's response to the growing crisis intended to call for more ambitious action by Brussels and EU member state governments "to help the growing armies of unemployed."

They also marched against "financial capitalism" itself, saying it should "never again" be allowed to wreck the world economy.

The size of these Euro-demonstrations reveals the widespread concerns for the future. "The world of financial capitalism seems to assume that after a few 'green shoots' of recovery, it will be soon business as usual for them despite their recent heart attack," said the ETUC's general secretary, John Monks.

"But they are still on life support provided by Europe's tax payers, and never again can greed and selfishness be allowed to cause damage of amounts of trillions of euros."

"Tighter regulation of financial markets is needed now and more workers influence on boardrooms. Workers want life support systems for industry and jobs too, and ambitious action to help the fight against growing unemployment."

Around 40,000 demonstrated in Brussels on Friday, according to police, targeting the European institutions. The ETUC said 50,000 took part in the rally.

Sizeable protests also took place in Madrid the day before, where an estimated 50,000 marched through the Spanish capital.

In Prague, around 20,000 protesters demanded the Czech Republic's current caretaker government abandon the previous cabinet's scheme to exit the crisis by making it easier for employers to fire employees.

The demonstrators accused companies of taking advantage of the crisis to shed workers and called on the new government to improve employment conditions and boost pensions.

The economy of the central European republic has been hit hard by the crisis, with unemployment climbing to 7.9 percent in April and the economy contracting 3.4 percent in the first quarter

The head of the Bohemian and Moravian Confederation of Trade Unions (CMKOS), Milan Stech, who is also a senator with the opposition Social Democrats attacked the outgoing administration of siding with company executives against ordinary people.

Slamming the National Economic Council of the Government - the body put in place by former prime minister Mirek Topolanek to draft a response to the crisis, Mr Stech said the council was composed of "those who were pushing neoliberal concepts through," Ceske Noviny reports.

Between 5,000 and 10,000 marched in the Romanian capital, Bucharest.

Some 7,000 braved the rain to take part in a similar protest in Birmingham in the British West Midlands, the heart of the UK's remaining manufacturing sector.

The march, organised by the country's Unite union under the umbrella of the ETUC's Action Days saw the group's joint general-secretary, Derek Simpson say: "Billions have been spent to save the banks, but those same banks are still throwing people out of their houses when they can't meet their mortgage payments because of a recession those very banks caused."

"They've taken food from the mouths of our families, threatened our jobs and homes. Are we are supposed to accept this?"

The union's other co-leader, Tony Woodley said: "Workers are not going to pay the price for the crisis created by bankers."

The demonstration was notable for the presence of the former head of the Confederation of British Industry and current member of government, Digby Jones.

But the largest demonstration, Confederation of German Trade Unions (DGB), took place in Berlin, where as many as 100,000 rallied.

The head of the DGB, Michael Sommer, warned that if politicians did not act, they risked widespread civil unrest.

"If we don't act now, there will be consequences for democracy and social peace," he said, according to Deutsche Welle.

Germany's Ver.di union called for a third stimulus package for the country, beyond the Social-Democrat-Christian-Democrat coalition's already committed €81 billion.

The chairman of the Social Democrats, Franz Muentefering, who also put in an appearance at the demonstration, rubbished such suggestions but took the opportunity to try to focus anger on the capitalist system.

"We are here to oppose international financial capitalism," he said, adding: "We must do all we can at the moment to protect jobs."

While Mr Muentefering is known for his populist rhetoric, having infamously referred to private equity firms as "locusts" in 2005, the politician is widely seen as coming from the right of the party. In the autumn of last year, he was part of moves to shift the party back to the centre late after previous chairman Kurt Beck had attempted to counteract the growing popularity of the far-left Die Linke party by softening the edges of some economic reforms.

The ETUC co-ordinated series of protests come amid growing anger amongst European workers, but nonetheless is dwarfed by the general strikes and wave of ‘bossnappings' that has hit France since the advent of the crisis, in which millions have taken to the streets.

MEPs to urge block on Hungary taking EU presidency in 2024

"This will be the first time a member state that is under the Article 7 procedure will take over the rotating presidency of the council," French Green MEP Gwendoline Delbos-Corfield, the key lawmaker on Hungary, warned.

European Parliament scales back luxury MEP pension fund

The European Parliament's Bureau, a political body composed of the president and its vice-presidents, decided to slash payouts from the fund by 50 percent, freeze automatic indexations, and increase the pension age from 65 to 67.

WhoisWho? Calls mount to bring back EU directory

NGOs and lobbyists slammed the EU commission for removing contact details of non-managerial staff from its public register, arguing that the institution is now less transparent.


MEP luxury pension held corporate assets in tax havens

While the European Parliament was demanding a clamp down on tax havens, many of its own MEPs were using their monthly office allowances to finance a luxury pension scheme that held corporate assets in the Cayman Islands, Bermuda and elsewhere.


What a Spanish novelist can teach us about communality

In a world where cultural clashes and sectarianism seems to be on the increase, Spanish novelist Javier Cercas (b.1962) takes the opposite approach. He cherishes both life in the big city and in the countryside.


Poland and Hungary's ugly divorce over Ukraine

What started in 2015 as a 'friends-with-benefits' relationship between Viktor Orbán and Jarosław Kaczyński, for Hungary and Poland, is ending in disgust and enmity — which will not be overcome until both leaders leave.

Latest News

  1. How the EU's money for waste went to waste in Lebanon
  2. EU criminal complicity in Libya needs recognition, says expert
  3. Europe's missing mails
  4. MEPs to urge block on Hungary taking EU presidency in 2024
  5. PFAS 'forever chemicals' cost society €16 trillion a year
  6. EU will 'react as appropriate' to Russian nukes in Belarus
  7. The EU needs to foster tech — not just regulate it
  8. EU: national energy price-spike measures should end this year

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. International Sustainable Finance CentreJoin CEE Sustainable Finance Summit, 15 – 19 May 2023, high-level event for finance & business
  2. ICLEISeven actionable measures to make food procurement in Europe more sustainable
  3. World BankWorld Bank Report Highlights Role of Human Development for a Successful Green Transition in Europe
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic summit to step up the fight against food loss and waste
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersThink-tank: Strengthen co-operation around tech giants’ influence in the Nordics
  6. EFBWWEFBWW calls for the EC to stop exploitation in subcontracting chains

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. InformaConnecting Expert Industry-Leaders, Top Suppliers, and Inquiring Buyers all in one space - visit Battery Show Europe.
  2. EFBWWEFBWW and FIEC do not agree to any exemptions to mandatory prior notifications in construction
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic and Baltic ways to prevent gender-based violence
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersCSW67: Economic gender equality now! Nordic ways to close the pension gap
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersCSW67: Pushing back the push-back - Nordic solutions to online gender-based violence
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersCSW67: The Nordics are ready to push for gender equality

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us