Unions keen to avoid industrial action but strikes possible, says workers’ leader Středula

Josef Středula

Trade union members from around the Czech Republic gathered in Prague on Tuesday to demonstrate against planned public sector pay cuts. But what can such a protest achieve, given that the government says the cuts simply have to be implemented? And what will the unions do if their demands go unheeded? Radio Prague discussed those questions on Tuesday morning with union leader Josef Středula at the headquarters of the Czech confederation of trades unions.

Josef Středula
“This is typical collective bargaining between the employees and the state as employer. The state functions relatively well, but the government is without vision. That’s a big problem. My experience from companies is that if the managers want to reduce some numbers – minus 10 or minus 20 percent – that means the managers are without vision.”

What will the trade unions do if the government does not make any concessions as a result of this protest?

“First I must say that we want to hold discussions with the government. We want to change things. We don’t want strikes. But if the government will not discuss things with us, will not respect what people say, we are prepared for more demonstrations, bigger demonstrations, and of course for strikes too.”

This is the first protest since the government came into office in July. Don’t you think that this was perhaps the first opportunity to show your strength, to get more than 20,000 people to come? The government is likely to ignore this.

Photo: CTK
“I think this is some border for the unions too. Because if you look to the past we had demonstrations of around 30,000 or 35,000 people. And they were joint demonstrations of people working in classic companies as well as the public sector. But now in this demonstration there will be around 20,000 people. This is the first time since 1989…this means that this is the basic – 20,000 is the basic.

“I will be happy if we have only one demonstration and the government will work for everyone in Czech society, not only for part of Czech society. If that second idea is acceptable that will be fine. Because organising some demonstration or strike is extremely dangerous and difficult. I t’s a very bad signal outside the country.”