Just why is Europe always brought to a halt by weekly strikes?
If you have spent time in mainland Europe in recent years, and particularly if you have been a Year Abroad student, you will have noticed that there is one event that causes the greatest inconvenience, often on a weekly basis. Strikes. In Britain, this issue of impromptu strikes was ended by Thatcher who reined in the power of the unions after millions of days of work were being lost a year due to their strikes. However, Europe seems to be falling behind this type of organisation.
Belgium is very much one of these countries that are affected on a weekly basis, particularly by workers in the local transportation industry. Originally, one might not consider the gravity of the situation, particularly if you own your own car, which is the case for many people in the UK. However, in Belgium, there are millions of people travelling daily on public transportation and travelling across the small country just to go to work. This therefore means that the strikes cause inconvenience across the nation, with many schools not even bothering to open due to the lack of attendance of students as they were not able to reach the main city to go to classes. With this often occurring weekly, and sometimes more than once a week, it is fair to assume that the effects on education are not insignificant. Bethany Carter-Bown, an English language assistant, has often had her lessons cancelled, mentioning that since September she has not yet worked a full scheduled week due to these strikes and describing them as ‘exasperating! The near constant striking makes it almost impossible for classes to go ahead as usual, since many teachers and students can’t make their way to school without using public transport. I am concerned that I may not be able to make the most of my experience here has a Language Assistant, due to the reduced hours in school and with students because of them.’ To make matters significantly worse in Europe, the levels of bureaucracy are astounding. With the lack of control of trade unions it means that strikes can occur whenever and can have significant effects on the various levels of governance, which can lead to disorganisation and conflict.
Nonetheless, despite personal experience, this issue is not restricted to just Belgium. After discussion with various Year Abroad students, it is evident that these disruptions are occurring all over mainland Europe. In Spain, there were notable cases in 2013, where secondary school students across Spain refused to go to school. These strikes were done to fight against cuts to the education sector and a government reform which was seen to throwback to the country’s right-wing dictatorship. In the UK it is unheard of of secondary students refusing to go to school to strike against changes to the education system, and this shows just how uncontrolled these strikes are. There are many people who may put this down to stereotypical ‘European laziness’, but it must not be forgotten that just 50 years ago Britain was going through worse levels of strikes which even resulted in the build-up of corpses on streets due to gravediggers striking. So why is this happening occurring across Europe so seriously now?
There are many people who may put this down to stereotypical ‘European laziness’, but it must not be forgotten that just 50 years ago Britain was going through worse levels of strikes which even resulted in the build-up of corpses on streets due to gravediggers striking.
Despite the instability these strikes cause on a daily basis, which is viewed as alien to the younger generations of the British population, there are many Europeans who deem them as necessary. These strikes are seen as the only opportunity people have to speak their minds, express their sentiments and fight for their beliefs. When asking strikers across Europe why strikes were so prevalent in European countries, one synonymous answer was heard, ‘it’s our right’. When asking why they felt there were more strikes in mainland European countries than in the UK, most said it was due to British personality – according to many Europeans British people are just too accepting, get on with things even when they do not agree with it, and do not fight enough for what they want.
Be it British stereotype shaping Europe’s opinion of the island, or be it based on fact, one thing is undeniable – the level of striking across the continent at present is abysmal. If this pattern continues many countries will see an uncontrollable halt to production and development on a weekly basis, ultimately resulting in stagnation and eventually decline on a social, political and economic level.