Police Violence Drives Public into Austerity Abyss
In this era of austerity, governments are increasingly making the conflict with an outraged public into a physical battle. They argue the problem with our society is that we reward the working class too generously, that access to healthcare and affordable higher education threaten the competitiveness of our industries. These aren’t popular notions but they can be given a thin layer of legitimacy after political and media insistence that there’s no alternative. Discouraged, much of the public may attempt to wait out the crisis, hoping the austerity knife passes them by.
There is a point, however, when the public can see an undeniable level of carnage inflicted by waves of austerity measures. Met with a public resorting to street protests to avert the continuation of disastrous austerity policies, governments call upon heavily armed police forces in an attempt to negate dissent with swings of the police baton. This dynamic has played out most intensely in Greece but is increasingly being replicated in Spain and Portugal.
On the 22nd of March, workers in Portugal carrying out a general strike had their picket-lines assaulted by armored riot officers. These attacks proceeded a police charge in Lisbon where journalists and protesters were attacked and pummeled until they bled. This followed the violence by police in neighboring Spain where students protesting education cuts were charged by riot police in Valencia, sparking days of mass protests and even a student general strike.
Whether it’s picket-lines or spontaneous student demonstrations against cuts, politicians have no tolerance for such localized actions where people try to alter conditions of austerity imposed from parliament. The austerity program relies on a widespread sense of helplessness in society, a sense of helplessness that is reduced if workers are allowed to picket their factory to ensure the success of their strike. Defy the strike terms set out by employers and politicians and you will face a line of police officers shoving you off the sidewalk and into the pavement.
This capacity by police to wage violence is the only measure left to maintain the austerity regimes that stretch from Portugal to Greece. Democracy was discarded the moment when the triumph of mainstream parties couldn’t be assured. Unelected bankers serving as prime minister currently chart the course of Italy and Greece at a time when parliaments in both countries are implementing the most consequential policies in decades. Greeks and Italians are only offered the assurance that elections will take place once the economic and political elite finish conspiring with the European Union and International Monetary to dismantle the standard of living previously maintained by workers.
What is happening in Greece is little different from any other country. It is but a country that has had its ritual layers of democracy decimated by the intensity of the global economic crisis. Under similar conditions, any other government would be reduced to a small elite holding onto power by teargassing the main square outside parliament. In the depths of their own crises, Spain, Portugal and Italy are fast shedding any process that can be confused for the public participating in governance. Instead, the Portuguese, Spanish and Italian public will find police already positioned to prevent any change in destination from the abyss of austerity currently locked it.