Trade unions finally organise a long-planned rally

Unions finally organised a mass protest in Lithuania, on 19 March, after a two-year wait. The rally had been repeatedly postponed, partly due to the 2010 National Agreement, which resulted in no demonstrations at all for a year. This was followed by repeated setbacks and delays. At the rally, in Vilnius, unions called for a rise in the minimum wage, the introduction of progressive taxes, greater employment, increased pensions, and a cut in value added tax on basic foodstuffs.

Long wait for a rally

The National Agreement, signed in October 2009, and valid until the end of 2010 (LT0911019I) ensured a certain social peace in Lithuania. During this period not a single protest campaign was staged.

However, as the National Agreement came to an end, amid the country’s continuing economic and social problems, trade unions in Lithuania started preparing for large-scale protests. After the first failure to stage a rally at the end of 2010 (LT1010019I), a decision was taken to hold it on 16 January 2011. However, this was the the second anniversary of a 2009 protest near the building of the Parliament of the Republic of Lithuania (LRS) which had ended in serious unrest (LT0901019I). Even though the unions had distanced themselves from the violence, city authorities refused to authorise any union protest near the parliament building, suggesting that a rally could be staged somewhere else in the city. Unions appealed against this decision in court and won, but the ruling came too late for a national protest to be organised in time.

The rally, and a procession along Vilnius’s main street, was then postponed until 19 February, but the unions’ authorisation was revoked the day before, on the grounds that it was to be a national day of mourning.

The rally finally went ahead on 19 March, although it was not as well-attended as expected.

The 19 March rally

The 19 March rally was organised by the Coordination Centre of Lithuanian Trade Unions (comprising the Lithuanian Trade Union Confederation (LPSK), Lithuanian Labour Federation (LDF) and Lithuanian Trade Union ‘Solidarumas’ (LPS ‘Solidarumas’), and Lithuanian Journalists' Union (LZS).

An estimated 1,500–3,000 demonstrators marched from the parliament building to that of the Government of the Republic of Lithuania (LRV) and then held a mass meeting, lasting a few hours. The main slogan of the rally was ‘Stop unemployment and poverty, stop low wages and price growth, stop emigration!’ The main demands of the protesters included:

  • increasing the minimum monthly wage to €290 (LTL 1,000);
  • introducing a system of progressive taxes to reduce social exclusion;
  • increasing employment;
  • reducing value added tax on basic food products;
  • reducing charges for utility services;
  • increasing pensions to the level of 2008;
  • reducing taxes for small businesses;
  • reducing value added tax on newspapers.

Artūras Černiauskas, chairman of the LPSK, said that, for the past two years, the Lithuanian government has helped businesses with extra privileges and reduced taxes on profit, while raising taxes and reducing the income of the poorest members of society. During the rally, trade union leaders urged the authorities to turn to ordinary people and make them finally feel that the crisis is over.

The unions took their requests to the empty building of the LRV. Mr. Černiauskas said he hoped that the government will start meeting their requirements by this autumn.

Inga Blaziene, Institute of Labour and Social Research

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