Schools strike but do protests spell real danger for Czech government?
Most schools in Czechia were closed on Monday, with a reported 7,000-plus taking part in a one-day protest strike demanding better funding for education. Medical and industrial workers also demonstrated against the government’s austerity measures. But how much can this action impact the coalition?
At noon on Monday hundreds of people were gathered on Prague’s Palackého náměstí, some carrying banners and others letting off sirens. They were demanding increased funding for the education sector – or just expressing general frustration with Petr Fiala’s austerity government.
Man: “I’m here to express my absolute disagreement with the government of Prime Minister Fiala. They are incompetent and arrogant and are leading the country to destruction.”
Man: “We were protesting a month ago, demanding that the government should fulfill its promises to support financially, and more substantially, the university sector within the state budget. Of course our demands were not fully fulfilled.”
Woman: “I want to see a reduction in food prices. The government are completely useless.”
Secondary school student: “We think the schools are going to get far worse, because half classes are going to get put together, and I don’t think you can study languages with 33 people in one class.”
The scale of the schools strike is dramatic by Czech standards at least, while the protests come at a time when the government is taking a battering in the ratings.
But political scientist Jiří Pehe says Monday’s events don’t spell an immediate danger to the coalition.
“The problem for the government is maybe for the future. Because of course these protests will change public opinion, probably not in favour of the current government, unless the economic situation improves rapidly – and that means that the government will face more political troubles.”
What should we make of the response of Prime Minister Fiala to these strikes? He has called them irresponsible and says politics are at play.
“First, the prime minister should be careful with his statements. It is always counterproductive to react in such a harsh way to protests by trade unions. Such statements actually have a tendency to damage politicians, rather than those who protest.
“On the other hand, if we look at Fiala’s arguments, we need to acknowledge that there is a political agenda, that the way these protests are structured. They are not really typically trade union protests which would ask for immediate improvements in this or that – the character of these protests is political. In this particular protest, the unions basically substitute for politics.”