Trade unionists, civil opposition leaders hold joint May 1st protest rally in Budapest

May 2, 2015

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“The country is not in trouble because of subsistence immigrants but because of subsistence politicians.” – Tamás Székely, vice-president of the Hungarian Trade Union Alliance (MaSzSz)

“There are big problems in public health. Every day three doctors and two technical health workers leave Hungary. Meanwhile the workers receive less pay despite being given more tasks.” – Andrea Varga, president, Trade Union for Autonomous Areas (ASzSz)

“According to government propaganda the country is performing better but this is a vulgar lie.” – Balázs Mészáros, presidium member of the Public Cultural and Archival Workers Trade Union (KKDSZ).

“We must not allow the government to pass laws which violate its own Fundamental Law and completely disregard international laws.  We must get back our rights, even if we have to sue the state.” – László Kordás, president of the Hungarian Trade Union Alliance (MaSzSz)

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Trade unionists and civil opposition supporters jointly held a demonstration in Budapest on Friday to mark the 125th annual May 1st celebration of labor.  In addition to trade union leaders, civil activists Balázs Gulyás and Zoltán Vajda took the stage erected in a tree-lined avenue near City Park.  Afterwards, the crowd migrated to the City Park for the traditional May 1st festivities.

A number of trade unions including teachers, miners, traders, pharmicists and rail workers represented themselves at the event.  From the stage the crowd of several thousand resembled a colorful river, so numerous were the balloons, flags and banners, including that of the Hungarian Solidarity Movement.

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Balázs Gulyás was the first to take the stage, reminding listeners that May 1st is a celebration of the successful fight of the workers who, over seven decades of often bloody struggle, achieved an eight-hour workday, and who deserved respect for the “will, solidarity and persistence” required to achieve this.

“There are those who believe things cannot continue like this, and today the majority of Hungarians feel this way,” said Gulyás.  “Today we lift the voices of those who are not able to get by despite working 10-14 hours a day, and those who serve the public forced to work for less than minimum wage.” He said they were dressed in black in solidarity with the health-care workers, who have taken to wearing black in protest at rapidly deteriorating working conditions in the public health sector.

“We also lift our voices for those who live in uncertainty despite having worked for decades, and for those who were deprived of their early retirement benefits,” Gulyás told the crowd.  “Today in Hungary it is not just those without work who are poor.  Working people are also worse off, while Fidesz friends and business associates get rich.”  The activist mentioned by name Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s friend Lörinc Mészáros and Orbán’s son-in-law István Tiborcz, whose companies have won tens of billions of forints worth of state contracts over the pst few years, for which their companies (or consortia led by their companies) are often the only bidders.

“The government wants to break the desires of the majority but we will not allow it, we will not permit it,” he proclaimed. ” We do not want to debate the matter but rather we want for the people to say that ‘they cannot continue doing this’, and for this reason we initiated that ‘system destroying referendum’.  But the people are not only going to give their opinion on the questions approved by the National Election Committee but on the question of feeding children, the working poor, stadiums, the government ground mafia and Orbán’s moving (the Office of the Prime Minister) to the Castle District as well.  Should the Orbán system stay or should it go?” he asked the crowd, which shouted “go!”

Gulyás concluded his speech by saying that “together everything is possible” and “the fruit of our labors could be a livable Hungary”.

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He was followed by Hungarian Trade Union Alliance (MaSzSz) vice-president Tamás Székely, who said the fact that May 1st is “the most sacred of celebrations” for trade unionists does not relieve them of “the responsibility of being honest.”   He called a “success” the fact “that we still exist after 2010” (the year the second Orbán government came to power-ed.).  “Many would like for us to give up but we’ll strike if we have to.”   Székely believes the trade union alliance is an enormous success because it is able to mobilize a quarter of a million trade union members “in a single direction”.  He told the crowd not to forget that there is a greater concentration of trade union members than in any Hungarian party.  “If we want, we can perform miracles,” he said.

Székely said the government had allocated HUF 63 billion to the reform of technical education, “of which HUF 3 billion actually found its way there”.  The rest, he said, had been applied to public work.  “Is it possible to deliver a more insulting blow to the face of the workers?” he asked the crowd.  “Industry, experts, one of the pillars of Hungarian GDP cannot simply be replaced with the ditch-cleaning team of the new Hungarian aristocracy.”

Szekély reminded the crowd that, in the case of previous national consultations, the masses had decided “not to reply to the deaf ears of the head of the government”.  He said the trade union had put to good use money raised from the sale of discarded paper (the questionnaires-ed.), and that it would do the same this year.  He said that from the garbage of the “latest national insult” they would support the Together for Children with Leukemia Foundation.

“The country is not in trouble because of subsistence immigrants but because of subsistence politicians,” said Székely, who thanked civil society for its support.

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He was followed by Trade Union for Autonomous Areas (ASzSz) president Andrea Varga, who told the crowd that, like the Parisians ater the terror attack on the Charlie Hebdo satirical weekly, she also had a sign which reads “I am a nurse” which she then hung around her neck.  She said everyone dressed in black in sympathy for the nurses was struggling with the same problem.

“These days the system does not tolerate such cries,” said Varga.  “There are big problems in public health.  Every day three doctors and two technical health workers leave Hungary. Meanwhile the workers receive less pay despite being given more tasks.”

Varga said the workers have no choice, while they hardly have time to meet with the people they do it for, their own children.  She said the patients, on the other hand, are understandably impatient, as “the remaining workers are not capable of fulfilling their greatly expanded responsibilities.”

“Health care does not function by simply putting out a sign over the entrance of a building that says ‘hospital’.  For that, equipment, technology and professional is needed,” said Varga.  “Now  every health-care worker together shouts ‘I am also a nurse!’ The black t-shirt nurse action is about us, the kindergarden workers, the rail workers and the public utility company workers,” said Varga, who concluded her speech by saying that “We won’t allow them to treat us like the way (former Stalinist leader) Mátyás Rákosi treats salami, first by cutting it into slices, then doling it out and finally selling it for pocket change”.

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At that point the other spokesmen joined her on the stage and, holding their hands in the air, shouted “We are also a nurse.”

The next speaker was Balázs Mészáros, presidium member of Solidarity and the Public Cultural and Archival Workers Trade Union (KKDSZ).  He said May 1st was celebrated in Budapest’s City Park before the system change, but at that time was mostly an opportunity to socialize with colleages over beer and sausages.”  He said that today we live in different times.   “The government of the country is waging war against us without a declaration of war,” referring to the new labor law and limitations on the right to strike.

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“We are living in a society that is slipping down.  Meanwhile, according to government propaganda the country is performing better but this is a vulgar lie.”  He said the situation in the public sphere is even worse.  “It’s shameful how much public cultural workers make.  Today there isn’t just working poor but working hungry.”

“They promise a life path model, but we shouldn’t get our hopes up.  It’s enough if we look at the situation of the teachers,” added Mészáros.  He said that working separately there is no chance of achieving their goals.  “Only through solidarity can we achieve results.”

Mészáros concluded by paraphrasing the martyred prime minister Imre Nagy: “Our troops are fighting because this government is out of line”.

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The final speaker was László Kordás, president of the Hungarian Trade Union Alliance (MaSzSz).  Pointing out that the tree-lined avenue was filled with trade unionists as far as Dózsa György street, he said “this is solidarity of the workers.” He recalled nostalgically that in 1955 Pope Pius XII proclaimed May 1st the celebration of Saint Joseph the worker.  “Jesus’ father was a ‘hardworking small man’,” said Kordás, referring to the government’s latest catchphrase.  He asked the churches to finally take the side of the workers.

“Everyone should understand that the much envied Western good life could not have come about without workers. ” Kordás announced that the trade union alliance was cooperating with civil leaders in the interest of “restoring the concept and meaning of the hard-working small man”, adding that they “won’t allow others to manipulate this with their lies”.

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He said that thanks to the measures of the past five years, Hungarians had become the most vulnerable of all the EU workers.  “When Viktor Orbán governs, then the labor laws always fall victim,” he said, adding that the situation was worse now than in 2001 when tens of thousands took to the streets in protest at the so-called “servant laws”.

“We must not allow the government to pass laws which violate its own Fundamental Law and completely disregard international laws.  We must get back our rights, even if we have to sue the state,” said the trade unionist.

Kordás said the reason public sector wages will not be increased until 2017 (the year before the next general election) is so those working in the private sector “will be satisfied with less wages”, adding that “such policies make Hungarian labor cheaper and eats up the nation’s future.”

“We have to eliminate the poverty of workers!” said Kordás, to which the crowd responded by chanting “we won’t allow it!”.   “The alliance of trade unions insists that no one, not even public workers, should receive lower wages than the subsistence minimum, declared the MaSzSz president, who also spoke about the elimination of the early retirement benefits.

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In closing, the trade union leader told the crowd that “the only way to break out of our situation is through unity and solidarity, and then we can bring about a happier and more prosperous homeland for our children”. He delivered the following message to the governing parties:

“When you take away our rights, when you degrade hard-working little people with your words, then you should once again be reminded not to do things for which your children should be ashamed.”

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With that the crowd moved to the City Park where May 1st festivities were held.