Speakers at a Saturday demonstration held in Budapest against the labour code amendments emphasised the importance of unity and they also spoke up for the rights of citizens.
Nikoletta Kiss of the Young People for Democracy civil organisation and the youth section of the Hungarian Trade Union Confederation told the crowd gathered in front of the Varkert Bazaar that young workers “don’t want to live in a country where people are at the mercy of their employer and where wages fail to provide a livelihood”. Protesters want proper wages and working conditions as well as a flexible pension system, she said, adding that the labour code was not formulated for the benefit of workers.
Civil activist Timea Molnar said citizens should take advantage of their rights and fight those who abuse their power. She urged them to take responsibility for shaping their future and to take part in this year’s European parliamentary and local elections.
Blanka Nagy, a high-school student, accused the government of activating a smear campaign against her because it was intolerant of criticism. She insisted that the ruling Fidesz party had failed in three areas: respect, humanity and honesty.
Civil activist Aron Molnar called for educational freedom and freedom of expression.
Protesters held aloft the flags of Hungary, the European Union and the red and white Arpad Stripes, as well as the banners of opposition parties Jobbik, the Socialists, LMP and Momentum.
Protesters had converged on Clark Adam Square from several directions. The “Let the country come to a halt – Budapest – blockade” event is being held as part of a series of nationwide demonstrations. One group of 50-60 protesters marched from Heroes’ Square, with their numbers reaching a few hundred half way along Andrassy Boulevard.
People blowing whistles and honking horns carried national and EU flags and a placard with the slogan “We are fed up”. Another group marched across Liberty Bridge and then along the embankment on the Buda side towards Clark Adam Square.
Demonstrations were also held in several other cities on Saturday. In Salgotarjan, in northern Hungary, a slow-car protest across the city and a demonstration in the main square were held on Saturday morning. About 200 protesters demanded a more flexible retirement system and changes to the strike law. Several trade union leaders and party representatives spoke at the event, demanding fair wages, the restoration of non-remunerative allowances, and wage rises in the public sector.
A protest against the labour code amendment was also held in the southern city of Pecs on Saturday evening. At the demonstration organised by local trade unions, protesters shouted “Enough!” and “We will not be slaves!” Flags of the various opposition parties could also be seen in the crowd.
Norbert Benke of the Vasas Trade Union Confederation told the crowd in the city’s central Szechenyi Square that the new overtime rules would break families apart. Employees want to work five days a week and eight hours a day, he said, and if they undertake overtime, they want to receive their overtime pay promptly and not within three years, he added.
Erzsebet Nagy of the Democratic Trade Union of Teachers in Pecs said the government was unwilling to enter into talks with the trade unions unless forced to do so because the unions had convened a strike committee. She called for the restoration of the organisational and economic autonomy of schools and the freedom of education.
Meanwhile, in Tatabanya, north-west of Budapest, the head of the Hungarian Civil Service, Public Service and Civil Service Workers’ Union, Mrs Peter Boros, announced a strike, though she added that the union was prepared to negotiate with the government first. An anti-government demonstration was held in the square in front of the town hall, where women politicians from opposition parties spoke to the crowd. Mrs Boros added that they were proposing the formation of a national labour roundtable and “meaningful talks” based on equal partnership with the government. One key demand is that all public service employees should earn at least the minimum wage, she said, noting that the salaries of local government officials had not been raised for 11 years.
After the demonstration in the capital, a group of protesters marched to the Pest end of the Chain Bridge, blocking traffic on the bridge. Police then pushed most of the crowd onto the pavement, but 15-20 people sat down on the road and refused to move when instructed to do so by police. Police then lifted them from the ground one by one and moved them from the bridge, restoring normal traffic.
Saturday’s demonstrations show that the European parliamentary election campaign has begun, with George Soros also mobilising his supporters, the government spokesman told a press conference. Istvan Hollik said it was “perfectly clear” that the amendments to the labour code were “no more than a pretext” for the protests. The Hungarian government does not want to deal with “Soros’s campaign”, but its regrets that some trade unions are participating in the campaign of “pro-migration” forces, he said.
Source and photo: MTI