BRUSSELS – In the three years since the European debt crisis began, millions of people have taken to the streets and gone on strike to protest government budget cuts and tax increases. But as the latest wave of protests erupted in several countries Wednesday, austerity continues strong. People are not shy with their opinions.
WHY DO THEY KEEP STRIKING IN THE HARDEST-HIT COUNTRIES?
"There's no alternative but to keep pressing on." — Retiree Francisco Blanco, 67, in Madrid. He pointed out that protests against crisis-related evictions eventually pushed the Spanish government to act.
"What do we hope? ... For them to understand ... that something is happening. That there is resistance from the people ... From what we've seen, no, they're not listening. But we can't abandon this." — Hospital administrator Maria Petala in Athens.
"We have no choice but to keep on protesting. They (the politicians) have dismantled overnight all that our parents fought and suffered hunger for." — Paloma Cueva, a 40-year-old civil servant in Madrid.
WHY ARE THEY NOT STRIKING IN OTHER PARTS OF EUROPE?
— "So far, there are only symbolic demonstrations here in Germany, because we were able to avoid the crisis ... But if policies in Europe don't change fundamentally, we German unionists also will be unable to avoid a tougher approach." — Michael Sommer, the head of Germany's main labor union federation.
"We have good agreements and contacts with the employers. They (the employers) speak the same language as we do and we understand each other's needs and demands. We respect each other." — Joergen Frederiksen, a 69-year-old Danish retired union worker at the Tuborg-Carlsberg breweries.
"If you are a worker and you depend on your job, you fear for your job. Sometimes that fear is leading to a lot of caution." — Bernadette Segol, head of the ETUC European trade union group.
ARE GOVERNMENTS AND BUSINESS LEADERS LISTENING?
"We will of course consider the arguments, but we must nevertheless do what is necessary: break open encrusted labor markets, give more people a chance to work, become more flexible in many areas, give young people in particular more opportunities." — German Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose insistence on strict austerity has made her a despised figure among workers in southern Europe.
"I don't know how many demonstrations they have had already ... They put pressure on governments, but they take companies hostage. That is not the way we see a smooth social partnership." — Philippe de Buck, chief of the European employers' federation Businesseurope.
Contributing to this report were Associated Press writers Ciaran Giles and Jorge Sainz in Madrid, Geir Moulson in Berlin, Jan Olsen in Copenhagen and Elena Becatoros in Athens.