Reaping whirlwinds

Yesterday’s buildup of demonstrations by strikers that completely blocked traffic and distressed thousands of motorists traveling to the city center was not the worst, but definitely one of the worst such days in recent months. The protest rallies by men and women in uniform (police officers, firefighters and port officials), taxi drivers, statistical service employees, nurses and other workers caused massive traffic jams, paralyzing the center of the capital. This chaotic picture was simply the expected culmination of a wave of demands and demonstrations over the previous month. The extreme inconvenience («collateral damage») caused by the combined effects of parallel strikes was not the only component. Extreme incidents also contributed to the sense of crisis, such as the clash between striking police officers and their colleagues in riot gear and the judges’ work stoppage. Most of the blame for yesterday’s breakdown, no doubt, lies with the government, which is now paying the price for its ill-thought-out shift toward vote-grabbing tactics. The social spending package and its rushed concessions to various social groups were taken as a sign of an indiscriminate «handout» policy, sparking a host of demands by other groups. It is no coincidence that the public sector is the most hit by the strikes: It was here that there were expectations that pre-election needs would bring concessions at the expense of state coffers. The administration is now reaping the whirlwind of its frivolous decision to sway voters by making commitments it cannot meet. It is doubtful whether the government can curb mass strike action and the strikers’ deep conviction they should not miss out on this opportunity – even if the government finally decides to abandon its conciliatory profile and send out the riot police. However, we should not confine ourselves to the responsibilities of the government. Yesterday’s events demonstrate that social/professional groups have lost all sense of moderation. Long reflected in the lightness with which a few dozen people take to the streets and block traffic on major avenues, the lack of moderation was yesterday highlighted by the decision of striking police officers to block the entrance to the Finance Ministry, until they were dispersed by riot squads. It was further underscored by the work stoppage declared by judges who – like university teachers – prove to have lost control over their trade union reflexes. One hopes that this is not true, but the picture yesterday left a bitter taste. It conveyed the impression that the feeling of social responsibility, the sense of a job as a vocation and the idea of moderation have faded in this country – so much so as to be pushed aside for a few more euros.