Public mostly in support of transport union protest against government reforms

Trade unions' demonstration in Prague, photo: CTK

While Czechs in the big cities struggled to get to work on Thursday, union leaders gathered some 1000 demonstrators in the center of Prague. Sympathizers with the trade union cause joined them in a protest march through the town.

Trade unions' demonstration in Prague,  photo: CTK
“It was not us citizens who made these debts”– these words by the leader of the independent unions’ association ASO Bohumír Dufek were met with applause at Thursday’s demonstration in the center of Prague that drew some 1000 people. Union members and citizens gathered for a march through Prague on Thursday morning in protest of the government’s far-reaching austerity measures and planned reforms in the health, social and pension sectors.

The demonstrators started their protest outside the Health Ministry, then marched to the Finance Ministry and from there to the seat of the government. The head of the trade union umbrella organization ČMKOS, Jaroslav Zavadil, said further protests would follow if the government remained deaf to their demands.

Jaroslav Zavadil,  photo: CTK
“We will see what Monday’s negotiations with government representatives and employers will bring and that will determine our next steps. Yesterday’s negotiations did not bring about anything positive for us, much as we anticipated. We’ll see what happens today. The transport strike has been a success, and the rest is now in the hands of the politicians, whether they want further conflict or not.”

Among the supporters of the trade union demonstration were also a number of students. Why are they backing the unions?

“Because I think that the so-called reforms are not very good for this country and because I think that the government that is trying to push them through has no legitimacy to do so.”

“I believe that decision and policy makers in this government can hardly imagine what the people working in the mining industry go through when they are getting old, and they can hardly imagine how a small provision in the pension law can impact the life of tens of thousands of these workers, who have struggled on low wages throughout their whole lives, and should now end up with almost no pensions.”

Photo: CTK
Also present at the demonstration were representatives from the Proalt civic initiative, which has proposed its own alternatives to the planned government reforms. Their spokesman Pavel Čižinský had this to say:

“We think the so-called reforms of the Nečas government are really destructive and that we should prevent their realization at any cost.”

Elsewhere in the city center, working people were not so pleased with the transport strike. For the first time in history, the Prague metro remained closed and only about a third of Prague’s trams and busses were running.

“I don’t think it is appropriate, not in the manner that it was organized and announced. I don’t think the reasons are clear or even relevant enough to merit such a big scope.”

Photo: CTK
“I think that the workers in the transportation system are paid quite well, and I don’t think it is justified.”

According to a flash poll conducted by the SANEP agency, 61 percent of Czechs believe that in the face of the planned reforms, demonstrations and strikes are justified. Some three-fifths even responded that if a general strike were to take place, they would support it.