Close to 100 trade unions, civic and non-governmental organizations decided to unify their forces in organizing a series of events for the weekend “in defense of democracy, social security, and of human and employee’s rights.” The weekend of events goes by the name of “D-Day.”
Though the organizer’s plans were well-coordinated, their initiative met an unexpected challenge when, two weeks ago, the Hungarian authorities refused to permit their demonstrations. The organizers turned to the courts, and in the case of a few specific events in the series, they were able to establish that the police had no legal grounds to deny the permits. The court upheld however the decision of the authorities for other events, most importantly for the sit-in at Clark Ádám Square.
I think there is reason to suppose that these last-minute battles over the permitting of the events were designed to create confusion about the legal status of the protest. In the end, however, the organizer were able to secure protest permits for all of the actions in the final schedule of events. So, whether you are going to be in Budapest or only planning to read about it in the newspapers, here is some preliminary info on what is being planned in Budapest for the weekend.
The series of events is to start on Thursday, Sept. 29, at Clark Ádám Square in Buda. Since the court upheld the objection of the police that a sit-in of indefinite duration would prevent traffic flowing through an important junction of the city, the organizers are now planning a “demonstration” here with the participation of 300 persons on Thursday and 500 persons on Friday. The police specified that this “demonstration” must be limited to the sidewalks of the area, so as not to obstruct traffic – under these conditions, they had no legal grounds to deny the permit.
Of course, should people show up in the thousands, they might not all fit on the sidewalks, in which case the police, who are charged with securing traffic, would probably have to close off the area from vehicular traffic. In a call put out by the organizers, participants of the event are still asked to bring “survival gear” and “supplies” such as food, rain-coats and sleeping bags. Paraphrasing one of the lead organizers, though officially no sitting strike is going to take place, the participants of the demonstration are likely to get tired at one point or another and may sit down.
Not counting a gap in Saturday, the demonstration at Clark Square is to last throughout the weekend. It is to start on Thursday and go on throughout the entire day on Friday, September 30. Also on Friday, a round-table discussion is going to be held at the Imre Nagy statue on Kossuth square. This is the kick-off event of what its organizers – the “One Million for Democracy League,” a group closely connected with “One Million for the Freedom of Press in Hungary” - envision to become a nationwide initiative for civic dialogue “in defense of democracy, social security, and of human and employee’s rights.”
Saturday, October 1 is the day of the rally in front of the Parliament’s building. The “demonstrators” from Clark Square are going to suspend their event at that location to join members of the various trade unions and civic organization on Kossuth Square between noon and 2 p.m. After the rally, from 2 to 4 p.m., the organizers secured a permit to march back to Clark Square via the Chainbridge. Once there, a permit has been issued for another “demonstration” – a candle-light vigil – between the hours of 5 p.m. to 10 a.m. the next morning.
Starting at 10 a.m. on Sunday, October 2, those gathered at Clark Square are going to march up to Buda Castle, to Széll Kálmán Square and back to Clark Square. This march was de facto permitted by the courts’ overturning of the police’s previous denial of the protest permit (the other event under permitted by the orders of the court is the rally outside the Parliament building on Saturday).
The event organizers also called for partial traffic slowdowns starting Monday, October 3 at locations throughout the country.
The so-called Akcióegység (Unity of Action – the collective name of the organizations joined behind the series of events) was forged in support of 9 collective demands:
- justice and fairness in the sharing of tax burdens
- an end to retroactive legislation
- the restoration of a previous system of trade union negotiations, in which unions and employers negotiated with the mediation of the state (called “háromoldalú társadalmi párbeszéd” – three-sided social dialogue)
- modification of Hungary’s employment law upon a negotiated agreement is reached with the government’s “social partners”
- the restoration of the constitutional protection of early retirement and service retirement options
- limiting any changes to the retirement system to new labor contracts, so that employees would be guaranteed an equitable transition
- the introduction of a new system of guaranteed career progressions only after a negotiated agreement with the unions
- the restoration of the right to strike
- no curtailment to union rights
Most of these demands are related to the government’s plans to impose retroactive changes to labor contracts – especially as far as retirement options or work-hours are concerned.
Akcióegység comprises some major trade unions representing Hungarian employees, among them those working in the chemical and the electronic industries, firefighters, policemen, teachers, journalists, and every member organization of MSZOSZ, the left-leaning confederation of labor unions. This level of unity among these organizations is unprecedented, since Hungarian labor unions are organized not by trade, but by political affiliation. Liga, the trade union confederation associated with Fidesz, Hungary’s ruling party refused to participate in the events, and decided to negotiate behind closed doors about their demands for the government. In the meantime, some union members even received a warning about participating: mayors in more than one municipalities told members of the public employees’ union that they could attend the protest on Saturday, but if they do so, they need not show up for work on Monday.