Why Europe may see more strikes, political tensions 2023

In March, planes, trains, and buses came to a halt as Germany saw its greatest day of industrial action in decades.

Rising food and energy prices have led to widespread inflation and continue to diminish living standards in Europe and throughout the world.

According to Brussels-based economic think tank Bruegel’s Gregory Claeys, this is especially true for the lowest paid.

“In general, if you are poor, you will experience a greater degree of inflation. Because you spend more money on products that have significantly grown in price, such as electricity, food, etc.”

Recent demonstrations indicate that many European workers have opted to struggle to protect their economic share in a dwindling economy.

Their governments already face a variety of obstacles, like as aging populations, combating climate change, the Ukrainian crisis, and decreasing their excessive reliance on Russian energy.

All of this reduces their willingness to offer substantial public sector wage increases.

But, unions maintain that Europe still creates sufficient wealth to prevent salaries from falling behind inflation.

Owen Tudor is the Brussels-based deputy leader of the International Trade Union Confederation.

“As a result of wages not keeping up with production or the cost of living, a number of employees are taking action. They are recovering from the epidemic. They are confronting a climate emergency, etc. Hence, working individuals are currently confronted with a number of issues in the job market.”

In Europe, it has been more difficult for workers to secure a substantial wage increase than in the United States, where post-lockdown labor shortages offered them greater power.

Gregory Claeys again references Bruegel.

“Consequently, it may be more difficult for an Italian, Spanish, or Greek worker to request a salary increase while there are still unemployed individuals. This is not the situation in the United States. The negotiating power of employees has risen in the United States. Notwithstanding the fact that this is not yet the reality in Europe, it reveals itself in this societal turmoil.”

The increase in European business earnings and shareholder returns has also exacerbated the perception of inequality.

Owen Tudor and other proponents of the union assert that Europe’s beleaguered governments could easily equalize the situation by taking politically unpleasant measures, such as hiking taxes on the rich.

“Governments continue to adhere to the belief that they cannot drastically increase taxes, and as a result, they have artificially limited their capacity to pay greater salaries. In some political circles, there is still worry over the amount of public expenditure, the level of taxation, and the level of public services. So, we continue to observe efforts to reduce the social wage. This pertains specifically to pension entitlements, for instance in France. France is a wealthy nation that, as a consequence of productivity advances over the past decade, is easily able to sustain its pension system at its current level without having to implement Macron’s proposal. And this exacerbates the fury of the working class.”

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