Luxembourg is the second richest nation on the earth. Luxembourg is one of the smallest countries in Europe, and ranked 175th in size out of 194 independent countries of the world. The GDP (PPP) per capita income of this small country is 78,795. It is the richest country or state of Europe or EU.
– 1000s march in Luxembourg against austerity plans (AP, June 21, 2011)
LUXEMBOURG — About seven thousand people from across Europe marched through Luxembourg on Tuesday to protest budget cuts and reduced social protections they say are making workers pay for the sins of the rich.
The protest comes a day after European finance ministers met in the region’s richest state to hold marathon talks on debt-stricken Greece.
The EU’s economic policies have caused much anger among workers in Europe. Apart from the widely criticized bailout programs for Greece, Portugal and Ireland — which focus on public sector and spending cuts while sparing banks and other private investors — the bloc’s overall strategy has been perceived as hurtful to union rights, by promoting laws that make hiring and firing easier as well as cuts to pension systems.
Despite the anger over austerity, the mood was festive Tuesday. Union members, dressed largely in bright red or green, made for a colorful display through the streets of the capital, Luxembourg. A few had small pictures of the revolutionary Che Guevara painted on their cheeks, or wore wild-colored wigs. Vuvuzelas sounded, music blasted, slogans were chanted and beer was much in evidence.
Police said there was no violence, and only one person was injured — by a firecracker. They estimated there were between 7,000-7,500 participants.
The march was organized by the European Trade Union Confederation, specifically to demonstrate opposition to an economic plan that will be considered by a summit of European Union heads of government in Brussels on Thursday and Friday.
The unions say the plan would push down the pay of government workers, depress the minimum wage in some cases, make early retirement less possible and pensions less generous, sharply limit government spending, and be generally hostile to collective bargaining.
It would be applicable to the 17 countries that use the euro currency, as well as six other would-be members of the eurozone — Bulgaria, Denmark, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and Romania. European finance ministers met in Luxembourg on Monday in preparation for this week’s summit.
But the complaints of those marching were more general, rather than being focused on the new proposal. They boiled down to a feeling that those at the bottom pay for the mistakes of those at the top.
“They have money to save the banks, but no money for social programs,” said Leon Jenal, 59, a union official from Luxembourg. “It’s every time the workers who have to pay for the mismanagement.”
Elizabeth Barrero, a 50-year-old bank employee from Portugal, sounded a similar note.
“I think people are angry because they don’t see these same measures at the higher level of government,” she said. “If you cut people’s salaries, you should also cut salaries at the higher level.”
The economic problems of Greece, Ireland and Portugal have drawn the most attention recently, as those countries have been in danger of defaulting on their debts. But the global economic crisis that hit in 2008 has meant that government budgets across Europe are being cut, as are Europe’s cherished social protections.
In Britain, for example, the government expects to cut its payroll by half a million fewer workers by 2015. In France last year the retirement age was raised from 60 to 62.
The marchers carried signs opposing any increase in the retirement age and supporting automatic cost-of-living wage increases. One banner summed up the sentiment this way: “Less Cuts More Jobs.”
A stage was set up at the end of the march, from which union officials made fiery speeches in several languages. But those speeches held the attention of relatively few people. Some of the marchers simply turned into tourists and walked the streets of the old city.
Throughout, the visible police presence was very light, though one helicopter circled overhead.
“Everything was very calm,” said police spokesman Victor Reuter.