by our European Affairs Correspondent

SOME 100,000 people downed tools and took to the streets of Brussels on Wednesday to protest against harsh economic measures that are having a disastrous effect on working people across Europe.

The Euro-demonstration was the focus of a Day of Action called by the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) to make it clear to the EU leaders that working people are not willing to be sacrificed on the altar of austerity.

Led by ETUC General Secretary John Monks, the former head of the British TUC, and ETUC President Wanja Lundby-Wedin, together with delegations from 50 trade unions representing 30 countries, they marched through the Belgian capital, which is also the home of the European Parliament and the other EU institutions, to deliver their message to the Belgian premier and the EU heads.

John Monks said: “Workers are on the streets today with a clear message to Europe’s leaders: there is still time not to choose austerity, still time to change direction. Austerity measures are still in the decision-making stage but their implementation will have a disastrous impact on individuals and on the economy once the effects start being felt, which could be as early as this winter.

“We realise that governments have deficits that have to be absorbed but we ask them to take their time to pay their debts. There’s no urgency, no need for panic! After the Second World War, countries were ruined and took years to pay off their debts. Austerity measures are already in force in Ireland and Greece and it is clear that they are not having any impact on growth and employment.

“The European trade unions, through which workers speak, urge Europe’s policy-makers to direct public spending into investment instead of rushing to absorb deficits by adopting drastic austerity measures.

There are alternatives to austerity: invest in jobs for young people, who are particularly affected by unemployment and insecure work. They will be in the front line of the Euro-demonstration in Brussels. Invest in industrial policies, in the green economy, invest in everything that can contribute to sustainable growth. We also need a European tax on financial transactions to raise funds for stimulation measures and to stem purely speculative activities.”

In Greece and the Republic of Ireland unemployment figures are at their highest level in 10 years, while Spain’s unemployment has doubled in just three years.

And while Belgian workers marched through Brussels tens of thousands of others took part in walk-outs and demonstrations throughout the European Union.

In Madrid bus, train and aviation workers joined a one-day general strike called to protest against the cuts, bringing transport to a virtual standstill.

Irish workers marched through Dublin to demonstrate against the cuts while a man drove a cement-mixer covered in anti-bank slogans into the gates of the Irish parliament in protest at the bank bail-outs which will be paid for by Irish workers.

Hundreds of people attended trade union rallies against public spending cuts in Belfast and Derry in the north of Ireland and the unions supported a number of rallies and events in England, Scotland and Wales on the Day of Action.

The ETUC said their campaign reflected workers’ anger over budget-slashing plans and cuts which “could lead Europe into a recession”.

ETUC warned that the financial crisis — which it described as the worst in Europe since the 1930s — has already made 23 million people across the EU jobless and that the austerity measures being implemented by various EU government could “result in even more unemployment”.