Hungary is in revolt over a draconian overtime bill workers are calling a “slave law”
According to Jacobin, protests have erupted in Hungary against the recent passage of a law allowing employers to demand up to 400 hours of overtime work, with payment delayed for up to three years. Hungary’s far-right Prime Minister Viktor Orban pushed for the law aggressively, and has sparked massive protests that have not been seen in Hungary since he took office in 2010. The Hungarian population is also facing massive inflation, and coupled with the bill, which was pushed through Parliament by an increasingly authoritarian Orban, demonstrators are framing the country as the latest battleground for Democracy and freedom.
On Sunday, 15,000 Hungarians braved the freezing cold to voice their resistance, spawning talk from unions in the country of a general work stoppage in January. Students and unions have spearheaded the protests, but are also being joined by various parties that are in opposition to Orban’s government.
Hungarian writer and philosopher G.M. Tomas spoke to Jacobin‘s David Broder and provided some context for the protests, what protesters are calling the “slave law,” the movement to oust Orban, and what it could mean for the country. Tomas cited Hungary’s mass exodus of workers to other countries, Orban’s flouting of traditional rules of governance and the overall diversity of the groups condemning Orban, which range from moderate right-wing groups to far-leftist ones.
Tomas, however, remained critical that the protests may not go far enough, telling Jacobin, “The ‘liberal left’ does not appear as an independent force: the opposition is united behind the trade unions and the students (for the moment), the whole picture is ideologically fuzzy. But it seems to be led by a leftish dynamic that does not dare to speak its name. Still, red flags have appeared on protests for the first time. This has driven the official media crazy, but they weren’t opposed by those in revolt.”
In addition, the propagation of this law as a “slave law” is one that might prompt pushback from Black and enslaved people globally, given the way that white people generally conflate their unfair treatment to slavery. The law is an unjust one, and workers deserve to be compensated for their labor in a timely manner, but calling it a slave law is an affront to those with ancestors who were enslaved, and those around the world who are actually living in slavery presently.
According to the BBC, until fairly recently, Orban’s policies have been met with support in Hungary and elsewhere, despite the European Union’s protests against his policies. Officially, Fidesz, Orban’s political party, has framed the law as an attempt to address a labor shortage in the country, which is attributed to people leaving the country to work elsewhere in Europe. Much like the American GOP when Donald Trump took office, Fidesz currently enjoys a comfortable majority in its government, which will make it easier for Orban to get his bills and policies into law.
Students from other countries are also getting swept up in the demonstrations. Euronews reports that a Belgian-Canadian student Adrien Beaudin was arrested and charged last week with assaulting police officers during last week’s protests. Beaudin told Euronews via a telephone interview: “I was just next to the police, not doing anything… I was caught up in the [police] charge, and I was pushed away from the police and I started falling. I was pushed toward that [sleigh] fire, pushed backwards, left and right and I was behind the police line. I was just grabbed and arrested…[The police] put me in jail and I didn’t know what was going to happen to me… I’m afraid it would be the word of police officers against mine.” Initially, the police wanted to fast-track his case to be decided 72 hours from the time of his arrest, but Beaudin’s lawyer from the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union, Dr. Kata Nehez-Posony, was successful in pushing a trial back until January.
Nehez-Posony told Euronews of their client’s situation, claiming that he was targeted because he is a foreigner and studies gender studies at CEU: “He was at the protest, so all together, it makes him a good target for the propaganda media. I don’t think there’s [any other] special reasons for him to be the target.”
The Hungarian State-run media has also wasted little time in pumping out conspiracy theories that George Soros is funding the protests, similar to how far-right figures in America have used the anti-Semitic dog-whistle to smear #BlackLivesMatter protests and other leftist organizing.
Protests like these generally do not happen in Hungary, the New York Times points out, and the protests against Orban follow protests in France and Sudan. Orban has been credited as an architect of a European and later global movement towards the far right, with Italy, France, the Netherlands, and Brazil having all elected leaders who have pushed towards more authoritarianism and xenophobia. The New York Times also spoke to a 28-year-old protestor, Marton Bartha, after a protest outside of the state run media headquarters in Budapest, who said, “We feel it is the last chance to stop the dictatorship… Maybe dictatorship is a strong word. But our freedom is being shrunk.”
— Balazs Csekö (@balazscseko) December 16, 2018