On the 6th of November this year there was a national teachers strike here in the Czech Republic, writes Diana Young. Around 6000 schools closed while approximately 100 000 teachers struck work. The issue was the implementation of the proposed 10% pay increase of which 2% would be tied to performance and in the gift of head teachers.
Czech teachers, the majority of whom are women, are amongst the worst paid in Europe and have seen the value of their salaries decline over the years. It currently stands at about 32,500kcs a month (about (1200 GBP) comparable to the bus and tram drivers for the Prague city transport. The teacher salary in the capital city is pricing out young graduates. A teacher coming in to the profession can expect a salary of around 28,000kcs (roughly 1000 GBP) The Czech Republic currently has a student – teacher ratio of 20, seven above the EU average. In terms of nursery places, the country has the second lowest in Europe.
The parliamentary left in the Czech Republic is made up of the Communist Party (KSCM) and the Social Democrats (CSSD). There was a time around the millennium when the CSSD could command more than 30% of the vote and formed either minority or coalition governments. Currently, with less than 10% support, the Social Democrats are aiming for survival. At the Euro elections in May they took just 3.95% of the vote and were 8th in the poll. The KSCM for much of the period after the Velvet revolution fluctuated between 10-18% of the vote. However, that level of support has fallen significantly in the past five or six years to leave them with support from just 6.9% of the votes of the Euro election back in May.
The extra-parliamentary left is very fragmented. There are tiny groups clinging to the various Internationals and an autonomous Marxist group in K115. Perhaps the most significant of these groups are Socialisticka Solidarita (SocSol) and Socialisticka Demokraticka Strana (SDS). The SDS was formed in 1997 and is currently a member of the Party of the European Left and has stood candidates for election on KSCM lists under the slogan – Czech Left Together. SocSol, on the other hand, is a member of the International Socialist tendency, familiar to British readers as the home of the Socialist Workers’ Party. SocSol is perhaps the most active and most effective of Czech groups in terms of street politics. It has around 50 or 60 members in Prague, with a handful of others in cities such as Brno and Ostrava.
Sklev (Skutecna Levice – the Real Left) was established about 18 months ago. Evidently inspired by the Left Populist successes of Syriza and Podemos, the initiative came from within SocSol and the aim has been to build a coalition on the left of KSCM and CSSD members disaffected by the policies of their parties, the Democracy in Europe Movement (DiEM), some Greens and from the myriad other smaller groups and proto-parties. Sklev is currently in negotiations with the SDS for amalgamation.
Unlike the situation in Greece and Spain the conjuncture in the Czech republic is a strong economy and low unemployment. At the same time, while the social democrats imploded in Greece and Spain after 2010 to create a vacuum on the left. The same has not happened in this country. The populist Right is not nearly as strong here and instead we have a proliferation of neo-liberal personality parties similar to those of Berlusconi or perhaps Orban. Finally, unlike Spain or Greece, the labour movement does not have deep roots. Thus in the Czech Republic the materials as well as the conditions for a left populism differ from the southern European models.
The opening paragraphs here are about a national strike which, one would think, would be a clear opportunity for a nascent left party like Sklev. However, the disconnect between socialists and the labour movement remain even thirty years since the end of the old regime.
Instead, Sklev’s main focus has been the Green New Deal and environmental politics, some visible actions in support of the people of Rojava and ‘photo campaigns’ highlighting banks, retailers and electricity supply companies. In the recent demonstrations on the 16th and 17th of November, Sklev formed the core of the ‘anti-capitalist bloc’ against Babis and mustered between 50 and 80 supporters against the ‘revolution betrayed’.
The left populist strategy of Sklev presumes that the working class, however defined, is not the principal vehicle for transfomative change. Thus, rather than working from within the labour movement, Sklev aims to unite anti-capitalist or anti-systemic forces on the outside. This, of course, has worked elsewhere and could conceivably work in the Czech Republic. In any case, should conditions change then Sklev will be in a position to attract those looking for the ‘real left’.
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