On Wednesday May 17 more than 100,000 people gathered in squares in all the major cities across Denmark to demonstrate against the so-called welfare “reforms” of the right-wing government.
The government is proposing a wide range of so-called reforms, with the excuse of saving the welfare system for the future. But the fact is that if these reforms go through there will not be much left to save. This new reform package means attacks against almost all possible groups and layers of society.
The government is proposing that the pension age be raised from 65 to 67. They also plan to raise the early retirement age by a couple of years. They want to reduce unemployment benefits for “older” unemployed workers between the ages of 55 and 60, and want to bring in tight restrictions on young unemployed workers between the ages of 25 and 29 years. These restrictions already apply to those between 20 and 25. One of the things they want to do is to cut the unemployment benefit to the half for this age group.
They also want to put general pressure on wages, by introducing “introduction wages” for immigrant workers – which means wages under the minimum wage. Students also come under attack with a proposal to cut economic support to students by almost 25%. Payments to students would only be made upon the completion of exams.
The demands of the demonstrators were:
No to the governments reductions in early retirement
No to cutbacks in financial support for students
No to introduction wages for immigrants
No to reductions in unemployment benefits
The main organisers of the demonstrations were the trade unions, student organisations and the youth organisations of the workers’ parties organised in the “Restart Denmark” initiative.
There was an enthusiastic mood on the demonstrations. Not since 1985 have so many people gathered to protest. During the day there were a few strikes, and many students and apprentices left their schools at noon. In Copenhagen people met at more than 15 meeting points before the demonstration. Then they all assembled together to go on the joint demonstration together. The big demonstration started in front of the royal theatre, and went from there in a mass rally to the parliament building, Christiansborg.
The participants were a mixture of young and old, students and workers, children and pensioners. It reflected a growing consciousness that the struggle to maintain the welfare system is a common struggle, and that we cannot allow ourselves to be divided.
Even though there was a mood of enthusiasm, there were also some scepticism; will the politicians listen to us? Not many seemed to believe this – but then what?
No answers were given – aside from some vague phrases about the need to continue the struggle. This is also true when we talk about the left parties. None of the speakers offered a concrete way forward for the struggle, and it does not seem that the trade unions have any plans to take further steps either. The demand for debates and meetings in the workplaces and the schools in the days following the demonstrations was raised, but again it was an empty phrase. Socialistisk Standpunkt (the Marxist tendency in Denmark) is the only group that has clearly and boldly raised the demand for a national conference with representatives from as many workplaces and schools as possible, where the way forward for the struggle should be discussed. Socialistisk Standpunkt is also the only group to explain that a 24-hour general strike is the only way forward.
It seems that people are ready to continue the struggle. People enthusiastically shouted slogans, especially those against the government. When the traditional “all those that do not jump, love Fogh” (the Danish Prime Minister) was shouted from the platform, one could see a 100,000 strong sea of people jumping up and down.
It is clear that this is not simply a struggle against one reform or another – but it is a struggle against the entire right-wing government and their employer policies. As one little boy asked his mother: “Mum, the prime minister is not so clever is he?”
The negotiations will now continue in parliament, and it cannot be ruled out that the Social Democrats will not participate directly in the cutbacks. They desperately need higher ratings in the polls, especially since they fell to their lowest levels of support in 103 years nearly a month ago. Since coming out in favour of the demonstrations their ratings in the polls have been steadily rising.
It is absolutely clear that this struggle has not yet been won. The first lesson from the struggle in France against the CPE has been learned in Denmark. The youth and the workers have been united. Now the decisive lesson must be learned – to continue the struggle until we win!