Trade unions prepare for massive protests

03-06-2003

The government-proposed budget reform is causing the ruling coalition serious problems. One minister has already resigned because of it, and there are indications of widespread social unrest in the coming weeks.

Growing discontent over the planned budget reforms appears to be coming to a head. All trade unions in the country are now openly opposed to it and planning various forms of protest. Teachers, doctors, farmers, rail-workers and civil servants are ready to go on strike if their financial demands are not met.

The Confederation of Czech and Moravian Trade Unions is planning a protest march through Prague, which over a hundred thousand people are expected to join. It will most likely take place after the referendum on EU accession, since trade unions say they do not want to jeopardize the country's entry to the EU.

The march is being billed as the biggest anti-government protest since the fall of communism in 1989. Many schools will be closed, hospitals will operate on a skeleton staff and the protesters will allegedly try to block some of the main roads into the city. With emotions running high, the Confederation of Trade Unions is concerned about keeping things under control. Lone and radical protest actions would almost certainly backfire and the government has already made it clear it will not negotiate under pressure.

While individual workers unions are primarily concerned about wage growth in their own sphere - with little care for where the money comes from - the Confederation of Trade Unions is aiming for a broader strategy. They would like to see the government revise the proposed budget reforms so that it would affect the income side more and the expenditure side less. This would mean collecting more in taxes - something that the coalition government would find hard to do. Taxes are a sore point with the fragile governing coalition, and it took months for them to thrash out this budget reform plan.

So any radical changes are pretty much out of the question, and, according to deputy premier Petr Mares, who has been commissioned to lead the talks with the trade unions, the most that the government could offer would be selective concessions. This piece of information may lead some trade unions who feel they are in a position of strength to apply a lone strategy.

03-06-2003