Opposition parties stage parliamentary walk-out and stand in solidarity with Suzuki workers

Hungary’s opposition parties presented a unified front Monday in walking out of a session of parliament to protest the widely panned overtime law, more colloquially known as the “slave law.” Rather than participating in the work of parliament, where the ruling Fidesz party has a two-thirds majority and where there is absolutely no chance for the opposition to effect change on any level, the parties gathered in front of the headquarters of Hungarian state propaganda, MTVA’s television and radio production studios, to demonstrate.

Hungarian parliament on Monday, 18 February, after the entire opposition walks out in protest.

The MPs will then travel to the northern Hungarian town of Esztergom later Monday in solidarity with the workers of the Suzuki auto manufacturing plant. The car manufacturer was among the first major companies in Hungary to take advantage of draconian overtime laws introduced by Fidesz. The change to the labour code allows employers to have their employees work 400 0vertime hours per year–increased from 250 hours prior to the amendment. Most egregiously, employer now have the right to delay payment of these overtime hours for up to three years.

Earlier this month forty-two Suzuki workers joined together to unionize. The leader of the proposed union, a Suzuki employee for over 14 years, was fired by the auto manufacturer moments before submitting the formal notice to the company announcing unionization. The dismissed assembly line worker and union organizer had no write-ups on file and no complaints over 14 years about his work, yet Suzuki cited unspecified “quality problems” for his sudden dismissal.

Everything we know about the manner in which Suzuki terminated a long-time employee for his role in unionization smacks of wrongful dismal, even by present-day Hungarian standards. Yet the employee in question and others who joined him and may face similar retribution can count on no protection from the Hungarian state. On Monday, Tímea Szabó of the left-centre Párbeszéd (Dialogue) party referred to 2019 as “the year of the slave.” Antal Csárdi of Lehet Más a Politika (Politics Can Be Different) added that workers cannot rely on the Hungarian government to protect their rights and this is why the opposition’s place is in Esztergom, at the Suzuki plant.

Independent MP Ákos Hadházy explained that the opposition would no longer tolerate its increasingly humiliating treatment in parliament at the hands of the ruling Fidesz party. Monday’s opposition walk-out is the clearest sign yet of more robust tactics from opposition parties. It is also an indication that the unity achieved last December within the ranks of an otherwise fractured opposition is still alive. The slave law may allow for the opposition to begin changing the narrative in Hungary. This is the sort of territory on which one can fight an election and of course there are two this year: the European Parliament in May and then local elections across all of Hungary in October.

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