“The biggest assault on the rights of the working people in the last twenty years.” That is what the Czecho-Moravian Confederation of Labor Unions (ČMKOS) has called the policies the incoming Czech government plans to implement in its continuation of the neo-liberal reforms of the early 90s.
The money saved on the outlined social spending cuts is “blood money, taken from the poorest people,” says ČMKOS economist Martin Fassmann.
In addition to labor unions, the newly elected right-wing government’s priorities have been criticized by a host of journalists, social critics, academics as well as activists. Many of them are now signatories of the newly formed citizen initiative, ProAlt Initiative for the Critique of Reforms and Support for Alternatives, which opposes the steps the government plans to implement in the areas of education, environmental protections, health care, retirement and social policy. One of the initial 100 signatories is the prominent Roma rights activist Karel Holomek, President of the Decade of Roma Inclusion 2005-2015.
According to the press release, ProAlt strives to “bring citizens together across professional and social groups and inspire the general public to defend their own interests more thoroughly. It will also organize protests against the prepared reforms with the aim of preventing them from taking effect.”
The main argument is that it is unacceptable for the state to “abandon responsibility for vital areas of public life, in particular education, health care and retirement insurance.”
“We do not consider the privatization of public services and public space to be the solution – on the contrary, we consider privatization to be the source of most of our current environmental and socioeconomic problems,” says ProAlt spokesperson Tereza Stöckelová.
It was in September 1990, only ten months after the fall of communism, that the Czechoslovak Federal Assembly approved the “Scenario of the Economic Reform,” the blueprint for trade liberalization and a massive-privatization scheme of state-owned enterprises.
At the time of the vote, 97 percent of businesses were state-owned, the highest percentage of any Warsaw Pact country. Today, twenty years later, 87 percent of all the state-owned enterprises have been privatized. Free trade enthusiasts laud the Czech Republic for making fine progress, though the more radical Friedmanite types would have preferred a more rapid process.
The government, encouraged by its mandate from right-leaning voters who determined the right to be the winners in the May Parliamentary election by a narrow margin, is trying to shake off as many expenditures as it can, as quickly as possible, while playing into the hands of (largely foreign-owned) big business, in the form of outsourcing, tax breaks, etc. The Czech government is now focusing on the last and most guarded and controversial aspects of privatization: health care, education, worker benefits and protections, and social services.
The ProAlt press release continues:
“Under the slogan of ‘fiscal responsibility’, the government is preparing to be environmentally and socially irresponsible. The initiative intends to offer principled alternatives to this government policy,” says movement initiator and one of ProAlt’s spokespeople Jana Glivická.
The overemphasis on economic growth and parameters creates the impression that other factors influencing quality of life are inconsequential. This leads to an under-appreciation of those areas of social life that are not easily quantifiable, such as culture, education and the environment. ProAlt considers evaluating any state purely through financial parameters to be unacceptable.
ProAlt stresses that the current position of the Czech Republic with respect to its deficit is one of the best in Europe, propagandistic slogans about the “Greek threat” notwithstanding. Today the percentage of the Czech budget allocated for social expenditure is below the EU average. ProAlt believes the desirable goal of a balanced state budget must be achieved through re-evaluating the tax system in favor of significantly progressive taxation, transparent public administration, and the total elimination of corruption. “The aim of the planned reforms is not to pay off the debt, but to shift it from the public budget to individual households. People will be forced to go into debt for health care and tuition. For many, debt will become a necessary part of paying for their basic needs,” the declaration reads.
My hope is that this movement will become well-organized and powerful. It is about time that the Czechs across the spectrum come together to demand the state shift its priorities, putting people’s social welfare and the environment first, well before megaprofits from which only a few can benefit.
Posted By Tereza Bottman
Posted Aug 11th, 2010