Unions protest against new government's social policy

In November 2002, less than a month after the appointment of a new centre-right government in Slovakia, the Confederation of Trade Unions of the Slovak Republic started organising protest actions against its social policy, which is seen as a neo-liberal attack on the welfare state.

Following elections in September 2002, a new government was appointed in Slovakia in October. It is a coalition of three parties which had been in the previous government - the Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (Slovenská Demokratická a Krestanská Únia, SDKÚ), the Hungarian Coalition Party (Magyar Koalíció Pártja/Strana Madarskej Koalície, MKP/SMK) and the Christian-Democratic Movement (Krestansko Demokratické Hnutie, KDH) - plus the New Civic Alliance (Aliancia Nového Obcana, ANO). The principal difference is that two parties in the former government - the Democratic Left Party (Strana Demokratickej Lavice, SDL) and the Party of Civil Understanding (Strana Obcianskeho Porozumenia, SOP), both located more to the left of the political continuum - are not members of the new coalition, pushing the government towards the right. The new administration characterises itself as centre-right. Less than a month later, trade unions started to prepare protest activities against the new government's policies. On 10 November, Ivan Saktor, the president of the Confederation of Trade Unions of the Slovak Republic (Konfederácia odborových zväzov Slovenskej republiky, KOZ SR), announced that a first protest action - a demonstration in front of the Office of the Government - would be organised on 13 November.

The reason for the protest action was KOZ SR's disagreement with the government's policy declarations and and its draft state budget proposal for 2003. According to a statement from the council of KOZ SR presidents,'the government declarations mean liquidation of the social state'. KOZ SR issued a similar statement on the proposed state budget, stating that'all these neo-liberal economic tools come from the invisible hand of the market and will change the constitutional character of the Slovak Republic as a state with a socially oriented market economy'. The social partners and the government agreed to hold a working meeting of the tripartite Council for Economic and Social Concertation (Rada hospodárskej a sociálnej dohody, RHSD), with the attendance of the Prime Minister, on 11 November 2002. In spite of this fact, the president of KOZ SR announced that the planned protest action on 13 November would take place anyway. Given the KOZ SR president's statement, the Prime Minister, Mikuláš Dzurinda, refused to attend the agreed RHSD meeting with the president of KOZ SR and the president of the Federation of Employers´ Associations of the Slovak Republic (Asociácia zamestnávatelských zväzov a združení Slovenskej republiky, AZZZ SR). The Prime Minister´s decision meant that the president of KOZ SR left the meeting early, followed by the president of AZZZ SR. In these circumstances, the RHSD did not agree on the draft state budget proposal for 2003 and on the necessary legal amendments in order to approve the budget.

On 13 November 2002, the protest demonstration was held as announced, with trade unionists coming from all parts of Slovakia to participate, along with high-level KOZ SR representatives. Approximately 3,000 to 5,000 trade unionists took part in the protest in front of the Office of the Government, at a time when the members of the government were in parliament listening to the debate on the government's policy declarations.

During the protest demonstration, the trade unions presented their three main economic demands: a'13th-month' payment for all employees in the public service; maintaining child allowances for all those entitled; and cutting value-added tax (VAT) on selected basic foodstuffs. They stated that, if their demands were not met, they were ready to organise further and larger protests. The president of KOZ SR said:'for us, and I am speaking as a democrat, democracy, unfortunately, has brought poverty. We need a social state, a state which can take care of all citizens and, therefore, we need politicians who feel the same as we do.' The vice-president of KOZ SR added that'this government does not appreciate anybody, it lies to public regarding the increase in prices.' The KOZ SR vice-president also criticised reforms being prepared by the Minister of Health. All the opposition political parties supported the trade unions verbally, but their leaders did not attend the meeting.

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