Czech teachers accuse unions of hijacking strike with pro-Russian speaker

As union strikes gripped the country yesterday, calls for both the resignation of the trade union head and the government continue to divide Czech society.

Expats.cz Staff ČTK

Written by Expats.cz StaffČTK Published on 28.11.2023 10:54:00 (updated on 28.11.2023) Reading time: 3 minutes

Monday's nationwide strikes by various factions of the labor force have led to a controversy surrounding a protest speaker as well as calls for the stepping down or dismissal of the head of the trade union by the teacher's association – and demands for the resignation of the government by the opposition.

Experts say that budget cuts will continue to cause divisions in Czech society, exerting pressure on Prime Minister Petr Fiala to calm tensions and guide economy.

Distancing from Russian speaker

Daniel Sterzik, a well-known pro-Russian figure who writes under the pseudonym Vidlák, took the stage Monday at a Prague trade union protest, triggering calls from the Teacher’s Platform association, which backed Monday's nationwide teachers’ strike, for the resignation of Czech-Moravian Confederation of Trade Unions (ČMKOS) leader Josef Středula.

The teacher's association voiced strong objection to Sterzik's involvement in yesterday's protests, saying it discredits its cause. Chair of the Teachers’ Platform Petra Mazancová called for Středula to resign for allowing a figure who promotes disinformation to join the demonstration. Středula, however, denies responsibility.

Taking to social media, Mazancová called it scandalous that the unions did not inform the public who would speak at the demonstration, saying union leaders abused the original aim of the teachers' strike by associating with individuals who threatened democracy and should never have participated in the demonstration.

Mazancová said the Teachers' Platform distances itself from the demonstration and its organizers. She said the association had not been informed about the program in advance and did not participate in any way.

Speaking out against the democratic establishment is different than protesting the austerity package and government, she added.

School union leader František Dobšík also distanced himself from some speakers, including Sterzik, at the demonstration. Dobšík said he spoke at the event as a guest.

In the past, Sterzik spoke at a demonstration organized by the right-wing extra-parliamentary party Law Respect Expertise (PRO) of Jindřich Rajchl.

The unions protested against the form of the government's budget consolidation package and pension reform, the failure to increase public sector salaries, expensive energy, high inflation, and the lack of funding for education. They complain that the government is not seeking a compromise with them.

Calls for govt. resignation as strikes grip Czechia

Former Prime Minister Andrej Babiš seized on mass strikes against the Czech government, calling for the resignation of Prime Minister Petr Fiala and his coalition. Babiš blamed Fiala for failing to control inflation which has increased electricity prices and hurt investors.

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Babiš accused Fiala of arrogantly mocking protesters rather than resolving issues. While avoiding the picket lines, Babiš's remarks aimed to tap into growing public frustration with high costs under Fiala.

Longer-term, the budget council warns of rising debt, increasing pressure on Fiala to calm tensions and prove he can guide the economy as unions and opposition step up demands.

Union leaders call off negotiations

Trade union leaders canceled a planned meeting with Labor Minister Marian Jurečka after demonstrations in Prague against the Czech government's policies. Středula said union representatives would only meet Jurečka if the leaders of the five ruling parties also negotiated. He called on the coalition leaders to meet on Sunday.

Jurečka had postponed a Brussels trip to potentially meet the unions, but felt a meeting before next week's tripartite council was unrealistic. The unions are protesting changes to pensions and taxes, high inflation, and a lack of wage growth. While allowing strikes is democratic, the president believes solutions require negotiation.

Budget cuts divide society, say experts

Budget cuts play into the opposition's hands and divide society, experts say. Political scientist Vlastimil Havlík of the SYRI Research Institute noted that austerity measures tend to push voters towards populist radical parties or abstention. They increase political polarization.

Sociologist Josef Mlejnek of the Faculty of Social Sciences at Charles University, said the strikes demonstrate dissatisfaction with the cost of living, especially energy prices. While the government wants to control deficits, concession may be needed if protests grow.

Havlík added that research shows fiscal austerity does not benefit governments and instead empowers opponents. A recent election model showed a cruising lead for the opposition ANO party of Babiš.

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