An estimated 4,000 Bulgarian workers protested on Wednesday against low wages and a lack of jobs, a sign that opposition to the Socialist-led cabinet may be spreading beyond its student base. Wednesday is the 160th consecutive day of protests, which were triggered by a controversial cabinet nomination in June.
Wednesday’s protesters, led by Bulgaria’s largest trade union CITUB, marched through the capital Sofia to demand a 10 percent increase in public sector salaries and reforms in the inefficient and corruption-prone healthcare and energy sectors.
Video of the protest on November 20 in Sofia
“We want to see the economy turned to the problems of the workers. We want decent pay and jobs. If the government do not take note now, our next move will be to go to strike,” said CITUB leader Plamen Dimitrov.
The centre-left government has faced almost daily protests since taking office in May. Corruption was the main cause of disgruntlement at the outset of the demonstrations, which had until now been led by students and relatively well-to-do urban professionals who account for a small proportion of Bulgaria’s population. Their daily protests in front of parliament have focused less on bread-and-butter issues and more on what they say is the poor governance that still blights Bulgaria more than two decades after the fall of communism and six years after it joined the European Union.
Prime Minister Plamen Oresharski’s government has increased spending on the needy and raised the minimum wage while trying to cast the daily protesters as unrepresentative of the wider population and working on behalf of the centre-right opposition. The main opposition GERB party, whose own government fell in February amid protests over high utility bills and low wages, denies being behind the daily protests.
With average wages of about 800 levs (around 410 euros) and unemployment at 12 percent, many Bulgarians live on the edge of poverty and have problems paying utility bills in the cold winter months. A recent poll showed almost half of Bulgarians want the government to step down and few political analysts expect it to serve out its full four-year mandate.