Transport strike gets underway in Hungary

History

Employees of the Budapest Transport Company (BKV) staged a two-hour warning strike in the early hours of Tuesday morning in advance of a major strike planned by rail workers that is expected to bring travel chaos Wednesday.

Union leaders claimed that around 80 per cent of employees joined in the strike against the cutting of services, head count reductions and poor working conditions. The action caused little disruption due to its early start, but Wednesday’s strike is expected to cause more issues. Railway workers are planning a six-hour strike against the closure of 38 regional railway lines, and trade unions from other sectors are planning to join in to protest changes to the health and pension systems. A rally planned for Budapest is expected to draw thousands of people who wish to show their displeasure at changes to the healthcare insurance system, which form part of government efforts to cut the huge budget deficit.

The government earlier this month submitted a bill to replace the current centralized health insurance fund with many regional funds, in which private companies can invest. Opponents say that this will disadvantage Hungary’s poorest, leaving them without health care. A demonstration against the health insurance changes, organized by civil groups Protect the Future and the Association of Large Families, took place outside parliament on Tuesday morning. The demonstrators held up a large sign with the words of Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsány, who earlier expressed his opposition to abandoning the single health insurance model. “We believe that we have to stay together on the insurance side, because otherwise we separate insurance for the rich and for the poor. We saw this in the US. We saw this in Switzerland. It isn’t good,” the sign read, repeating what Gyurcsány said in a TV debate prior to the April 2006 general elections.

Gyurcsány’s Hungarian Socialist Party swept back into power in the elections, becoming the first government since the changeover from communism in 1989/1990 to win consecutive terms. However, the honeymoon did not last long. The government introduced unpopular austerity measures to cut the deficit, which at 9.2% of GDP in 2006 was the highest in the European Union.

Then the leak of a tape on, which Gyurcsány admitted lying about the economy brought protests and riots. The government has never recovered, and recent polls have shown it is deeply unpopular. The most recent poll, by the Századvég Foundation, found that only 14% of voters would plump for the Socialists if an election were held now. A poll by another company a few weeks ago put this figure at 15%. The strikes in Hungary come hot on the heels of similar actions by transports workers in France and Germany. (m&c.com)

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