Rising inflation spurs nationwide civil protest action

In response to rocketing prices for consumer goods and services in Lithuania, from September to November 2007 trade unions and other non-governmental organisations held a series of protest actions, such as mass meetings and pickets, to demonstrate their opposition to the government’s social and economic policy. Following these protests, the trade unions issued a list of demands to the government and parliament.

Wages rise in line with inflation

In recent years, the inflation rate in Lithuania has been rising sharply, increasing from 1.2% in 2004, 2.7% in 2005, 3.7% in 2006, to over 7% since September 2007. At the same time, compared with the third quarter of 2006, average gross wages increased by 17% in Lithuania in the third quarter of 2007: by 12% in the public sector and by 21% in the private sector. Average disposable income per head of population was 17% higher in 2006 compared with 2005, including 15% growth in cities and towns, and 25% growth in rural areas. Although price growth is therefore being accompanied by relatively rapidly rising wages, trade unions are not satisfied with the rate of inflation.

Trade unions unhappy with rising inflation

On 20 September 2007, the Coordination Centre of the Lithuanian Trade Unions (LT0705029I) – comprising representatives of the three main trade union organisations – addressed the president, parliament (Lietuvos Respublikos Seimas, LRS) and government of the Republic of Lithuania (Lietuvos Respublikos Vyriausybė, LRV), expressing their dissatisfaction with price increases for goods and services that are higher than wage growth. The trade unions involved included the Lithuanian Trade Union Confederation (Lietuvos profesinių sąjungų konfederacija, LPSK), the Lithuanian Labour Federation (Lietuvos darbo federacija, LDF) and the Lithuanian Trade Union ‘Solidarity’ (Lietuvos profesinė sąjunga ‘Solidarumas’, LPS ‘Solidarumas’). According to the trade unions, average figures relating to inflation and income levels do not always reflect reality – for example, among groups of individuals with the lowest income levels, income growth is slower compared with the escalating prices for goods and services, particularly for essential goods.

Government reaction leads to trade union protests

As the trade unions were not satisfied with the replies received from the Ministry of Social Security and Labour (Socialinės apsaugos ir darbo ministerija, SADM) and the Ministry of Economy (Ūkio ministerija, ŪM) in October 2007, they decided to commence protest actions.

The first civil protest action was held in the capital city, Vilnius, on 17 October 2007 to coincide with International Anti-Poverty Day. The LPSK and LPS ‘Solidarumas’ youth centres organised a demonstration under the slogan ‘Say no to poverty!’.

The second campaign was launched on 25 October 2007, on the day of commemoration of the Constitution of the Republic of Lithuania. Pickets were held in the major cities nationwide. According to the campaign’s organisers, these civil protests ‘were aimed at reminding government officials of the central law of the country safeguarding dignified living in Lithuania’.

Civil protest demonstrations were also held on 10 November 2007 at the respective offices of the Ministry of Economy, the Competition Council of the Republic of Lithuania (Konkurencijos taryba, KT), the public limited electricity company Western Distribution Networks (Vakarų skirstomieji tinklai, VST), the public limited electricity company Eastern Distribution Networks (Rytų skirstomieji tinklai, RST) and the National Control Commission for Prices and Energy (Valstybinė kainų ir energetikos kontrolės komisija, VKEKK).

Finally, on 24 November 2007, Lithuanian trade unions and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) gathered 4,000 people together from throughout Lithuania to take part in a protest meeting under the title ‘Stop price rocketing. We are all worth better lives’.

Demands issued to government and parliament

Participants at the final protest meeting presented the following list of demands to the LRS and the LRV, namely to:

  • halt uncontrolled price growth of goods and services;
  • introduce progressive rates of personal income tax and increase the minimum monthly tax-exempt amount of income to LTL 400 (about €115 as at 16 January 2007);
  • set the minimum monthly wage to at least 60% of the average monthly wage;
  • adopt a law on the indexation of wages and social benefits in the case of inflation;
  • identify the realistic poverty margin;
  • take particular actions and decisions aimed at minimising poverty;
  • avoid applying a ‘ceiling’ on social contributions;
  • prohibit the inclusion of unjustified costs in production expenses by employers who seek to artificially reduce profits and social security contributions;
  • reduce public administration costs;
  • abolish the receipt of privileges by government officials.

The document forwarded to the LRS and the LRV read: ‘We call on you to consider these demands and realise that the duty of Lithuanian public authorities is to serve the nation. On failing to fulfil these demands by 1 January 2008, we will insist on an early election of the LRS and the resignation of the LRV’.

The list of demands was signed by the leaders of LPSK, LDF, LPS ‘Solidarumas’ and the Lithuanian Retirees Union (Lietuvos pensininkų sąjūdis).

To date, no official statement regarding these demands has been issued by the government or parliament.

Inga Blažienė, Institute of Labour and Social Research

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