Strike arrives as unions and government fail to find consensus
After months of negotiations between the government and trade unions, and countless demonstrations against government reform measures, the long-feared nationwide transport strike has arrived. On Wednesday representatives on both sides continued to seek a last-minute agreement that might save the country from what is a very infrequent occurrence here – the closure of the rail, bus and municipal transit services. Despite the looming threat, both the government and the unions appeared almost unwilling to budge even hours before the strike began. Christian Falvey has more.
Those reforms, however, are the paramount issues that the centre-right government came to office to resolve. The final word on the strike from Prime Minister Petr Nečas on Wednesday, when final talks proved fruitless, was an adamant repetition that the unions had absolutely nothing to gain from their protest, and much to lose:
A very sweaty Petr Nečas made his way into Parliament on Thursday, having walked three kilometres on foot. Though not usually a patron of public transportation, the Prime Minister has been set on suffering through the strike along with what he estimates are hundreds of thousands of other Czechs; he was also meant to attend a meeting of the Visegrad Four in Bratislava on Thursday, which he cancelled due to the strike. The main strategy the government has taken in wading through the strike issue has been to show that it will not allow crucial reforms to be ‘held hostage’, in a sense, by unions, which they say are unwilling to negotiate or offer useful counterproposals.
That strategy is directly eschewed by union leaders, and so far public opinion has backed them. Fickle it may seem on the one hand, as it was strong public interest in reform that swept the current government into power with a strong lower house majority. But according to union leaders like Josef Středula, the brunt of reforms should rather be borne by cleaning house in other areas than affecting sweeping changes on workers.
“It is not our aim to damage the public in any way. But we think that under the circumstances, one day of discomfort could mean many years of better comfort. The tension in society is very serious, and certainly it has not been caused by the unions. Where hundreds of millions in losses are concerned, I think billions have been caused by improper practices in certain ministries, corruptions cases that have caused the taxpayers much more money.”