When the new Danish government coalition of Liberals and Conservatives (with the backing of the right wing Danish People's Party) came to power last November, their slogan was "time for change". But since then increasing numbers of workers and youth have come to realise that this was only change for something worse. The last year in Denmark has seen growing protests against the cuts and broken promises of the government. At the same time this has highlighted the crisis in the leadership of the workers' movement because neither the unions nor the workers' parties have been willing to really give a lead to the protests.

Increasing number of strikes

In the first six months of 2002 there were already many more strike days than in the whole of 2001, the big day being March 20 where people from all over the country gathered in Copenhagen to protest against the cuts in the state budget for 2002. There were more people in front of the parliament at Christiansborg Slotsplads than during the big strikes in 1998. Even though the union leaders had made it clear that no strikes should occur, the Danish Employers' Association has stated that 28 companies were hit by strikes on that day. Later, on May 16, widespread strikes took place against the government's proposed "part time"-law which makes it possible for employers to force workers onto part time work.

Attacks on the workers' movement

Several conferences have been called by activists from different unions and a network of unions against the government's policies has been created. Right from the start it has been clear that the government has done what it could to try and curtail workers' rights and the workers' movement in general. They have introduced the "part time"-law; they are trying to take away the unions' right to make exclusive deals with an employer with the guarantee that all workers are members of the union; they have proposed special "introductory" wages for immigrant workers and the unemployed; etc.

Students' protests

Also students of all kinds have been protesting. On February 7 we saw the biggest students' protests for a long time, with big demonstrations in different cities. Different kinds of students have been on strike and demonstrating, and there has been an attempt to form a common forum for all the students' organisations to unite the protests. On October 3 a big demonstration took place in Copenhagen against the proposed state budget for 2003. Last year's budget included big cuts in education, but this year the government announced it as the "state budget for the youth". This turned out to be just another lie. There are no improvements for the students at all, and the general cuts of 2,6% are to continue this year.

There are a number of other cuts, the most notable being the introduction of fees for the so-called adult education centres which make it possible for people to educate themselves later in life. This is a cut that hits workers with little education very hard, and it makes it impossible for many people to go on these kinds of courses. As a consequence the students on these courses went on strike and blocked the schools - which actually made the government back down a little, so that the 3 "central" courses (Danish, Mathematics, English) now cost less than originally planned.

Big strikes among child care workers

Not all of the cuts on welfare come directly from the government. In an attempt to make somebody else take the blame, they have made a deal over the finances in the city councils and regional councils that is so tight that it forces most councils to make big cuts on all kinds of things: schools, high schools, child care, hospitals etc. This has provoked big protests in different cities. In the region around Århus, the second biggest city in Denmark, people are protesting against the proposed closure of local hospitals. The students have been protesting at the increasing number of students in each class. Most significantly, the childcare workers in many cities have been striking against the cuts that the local councils have had to introduce in their field of work.

The child care workers' union BUPL has estimated that 4 out of 10 city councils are going to cut spending on children - child care centres will be either closed or fused together, the number of children for each worker will be increased etc. There has been massive support from the parents of the children affected by these strikes. In different cities they have also participated in the protests. In some places other public sector workers have come out together with the child care workers. Their union BUPL, however, has not given any real support. Though they say that they "understand that the members are frustrated", they have done nothing to unite the protests and call a nation-wide strike, even though many ordinary workers have said that this is the only way forward. On the contrary they told the workers to go back to work.

"A better Denmark"

Unfortunately the situation with the leadership of BUPL is not unique. Some left union leaders have come out with quite radical talk, even demanding the cancellation of the "main agreement" between the unions and the employers' associations. This states that it is only "legal" to strike during wage negotiations etc. But the radical speeches have not been backed up by real action.

The high point, so far, of the anti-government protests was on October 5, where the unions were to organise a huge demonstration together with students' organisations, environmental groups, immigrant organisations etc. But the union leaders involved refused to call this protest on a weekday because they didn't want any strikes, and they used the participation of students etc., as an excuse to water down the programme. This meant that the demonstration was transformed into a "party" whose only slogan was for "a better Denmark" and where the main focus was on famous pop bands playing, that the unions had paid several 100 thousands of kroner. This "party" was not a success. Far fewer people showed up than on the previous demonstration on March 20, and there was no organised participation of students, etc.

This was a good answer to all those who think that watering down the programme and the demands and turning demonstrations into "parties" will attract more people. This didn't attract more people at all, and the students had already been protesting two days before. The two October 3 and 5 protests should have been combined and held on a weekday with a national call for strike action and a clear programme of demands against the attacks of the government. Pop music, beer and sausages - unfortunately - will not solve the problems of the Danish workers and youth.

"Reform" of the labour market - new attacks on workers

Of course this weak show of "protest" didn't scare anybody. As always, weakness leads to more aggression. A few days later the government has now come up with yet another attack on the workers' movement - a so-called reform of the labour market. It is basically a series of attacks on unemployed workers, with drastic cuts in benefits, tighter rules and more demands on the unemployed and the introduction of punishment if a worker won't accept a "job" he's offered.

It has been estimated that around 11,500 families will be hit by the cuts in benefits, and on average they will lose 910 kroner a month, which is around 6% of the benefits. The maximum loss a family can have is 2,500 kroner a month! The Social Democracy has approved this "reform" and the LO (TUC) and other unions have criticized parts of it, but they say that as a whole it is "acceptable". Only some unions, most notably the SiD, have clearly come out against it, as has also the Unemployed Peoples' Association. It is still too early to say what will happen around this "reform".

"Renewal" or a socialist programme

The increasing mood of dissatisfaction among workers and youth has once again highlighted the complete crisis in the leadership of the unions and workers' parties. So far no alternative has been given and no way forward has been offered by the tops of the labour movement. The Socialdemocracy has spent most of its time recently on a "renewal" of the party. This has included proposals to change the party structure to make it easier for the leadership to get around rank and file opposition, further destruction of old traditions and symbols, and most importantly, a policy more shifted towards the so-called "centre". Their acceptance of the new “reform” is just the latest example of this. But this kind of policy was exactly what led to the big defeat of the party in the elections last year and what led to the coming to power of the Liberals and Conservatives. What is needed is not mindless, right wing "renewal", but a clear socialist policy in the interests of the working class which is the only alternative to the cuts and attacks of the bourgeois government.

"Tax freeze"

The government has introduced something they call a "tax freeze", which means that taxes are not allowed to increase. This is used as an excuse for making cuts. But as has been demonstrated in various research, this kind of "tax freeze" mainly benefits the richer part of society - the gains for ordinary workers are almost non-existent, as they are mainly affected by the cuts in welfare. There's a lot of talk about lowering taxes for workers, but that's not what is actually happening. On the contrary only the taxes for the companies and employers have been lowered in the last period. At the same time is has been revealed that there are more than 1,000 big companies that have operations in Denmark, but don't pay taxes at all, for example Coca Cola, McDonalds, Nestlé, Statoil etc. These kinds of people don't need a "tax freeze" - quite the contrary!

How to build "a better Denmark"

It's not a natural law that cuts must be made all the time. It's only necessary, as long as we have to keep an ailing capitalism running. If we really want to build "a better Denmark" (the slogan of October 5), then we need to ask: who is going to achieve this? The Danish working class produces more than enough wealth to guarantee a healthy welfare state with no cuts and better conditions for working people and youth. When the capitalists who own the big companies refuse to contribute, then we don't need them. What we need is a workers' movement that can put forward a clear programme against all the attacks of the government, and what's more, an alternative in the form of a workers' policy for a socialist future. If the unions and the workers' parties dared mobilise the working class and the youth seriously around such a programme, with mass united protests and a general strike, then nothing could stop the working class from getting rid of the bourgeois government and really starting to build "a better Denmark".

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