Fuel price protests spread in Europe
Farmers, truckers, fishermen mobilize from Spain to Ireland
BY GREG McCARTAN
Tens of thousands of farmers, truck drivers, and fishermen have been organizing massive protests across Europe in recent weeks against skyrocketing fuel prices that, on top of the dire situation they already face, are driving many of them to ruin. Blockades of fuel depots, ports, airports, and refineries have marked the actions, along with marches and demonstrations.
In country after country, the actions have won widespread support from other working people, despite the fuel shortages at gas stations and elsewhere--and despite the capitalist rulers' propaganda campaign against the protesters. Demands for relief include cutting or eliminating taxes on diesel and other fuels, which in Europe account for as much as 80 percent of the total price at the pump.
Following mass actions that began in France, and then spread to Germany and the United Kingdom, large mobilizations have taken place in Spain, where farmers and truckers banded together to blockade several fuel distribution points in Castille and Leon.
Fishermen closed the port of Barcelona, Spain's largest commercial harbor, and prevented more than a dozen commercial vessels from entering. In Catalonia and Andalucía farmers blocked highways and fuel depots, demanding the government cap diesel prices at half their current levels. The authorities there have promised tax rebates, saying reducing taxes outright would "distort market prices and give the wrong signal to consumers."
In Finland, Sweden, and Norway similar events unfolded. Farmers and truck drivers in Sweden, incensed about a planned increase in the tax on diesel fuel, sought to shut down several key ports and threatened to severely disrupt fuel supplies. Truckers in Belgium have tied up the center of Brussels, the capital, and fishermen in Ireland vowed to tie up their boats around the country. Protests have also been reported in Italy, Denmark, the Netherlands, as well the workers states in Poland, Hungary, and Slovenia. Truckers in Israel have also threatened strike action.
The effectiveness of the protests and the widespread discontent among working people with the cost of fuel has shaken up many of the social democratic administrations, from the Labour Party government of Anthony Blair in the United Kingdom, to the governments of Lionel Jospin in France and Gerhard Schröder in Germany.
An emergency meeting of the European Union transport ministers was scheduled for September 20 in Luxembourg to discuss the crisis. Schröder and his governmental allies in the Green Party have refused to reduce taxes, defending them as necessary to protect the environment against excessive use of polluting fuels. Officials of the French Communist Party, part of the Jospin government, said they would call a protest march to demand swift cuts in gas prices. This infuriated the Greens there, who denounced any such move as a handout to polluters.
With the continued expansion in the capitalist economy, monopoly control of this key energy resource by the oil companies has sent the price of oil futures to $37.10 a barrel, the highest levels since the 1990-1991 Gulf War.
As winter approaches, reports of short supplies of heating oil raise a daunting specter for working people of not being able to heat homes in the months ahead. An article in the International Herald Tribune of London noted that "energy producers are concentrating on getting the best prices for their commodities rather than fighting each other for market share."
Oil prices shot up $1.18 a barrel September 18 after Iraqi president Saddam Hussein said oil exporting countries should not bow to pressure from "superpowers" to increase output. Under such pressure, the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), whose members produce 40 percent of the world's oil, agreed to raise its target output for the third time this year.
Hussein also accused the government of Kuwait of stealing oil from fields in southern Iraq, something oil companies operating out of Kuwait did by angle drilling prior to Iraq's invasion of the country in 1990.
His statements led to a new round of saber-rattling by Washington, which said it was prepared to use military force against Iraq, supposedly to prevent it from taking any action against Kuwait.
Iraq produces about 3 million barrels of crude oil a day under terms of a United Nations-supervised "food for oil" scheme that is part of the continued imperialist intervention against the sovereignty of that country.