What we get a lot is that we’re paid by Soros and Soros agents. Do you have any hard evidence of this? The hard evidence on the street is the faces, the persons, the slogans, the messages. The money hasn’t come through yet. The homeland before all else, to borrow a phrase from the Americans: ‘Hungary First’. Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban wants to put Hungarians first, but his latest attack on labour rights has upset ordinary workers, leading to protests and clashes, and critics say it is only for the benefit of foreign multinationals. “We’ve come to do overtime”. That has been one of the main slogans of a surprising new protest movement in Hungary. Surprising because the ruling coalition has the support of the majority of the people, based on the results of the last three elections, and Orban hasn’t had to contend with many protests during the last nine years of his self described ‘illiberal democracy’. To find out if these protesters are more than pro EU, metropolitan liberals, as the government claims. We’ve come to meet students, workers and ordinary people protesting Orban’s ‘slave law’. It has nothing to do with EU. It has nothing to do with being liberal or not. What we get a lot is that we are Soros, paid by Soros and Soros agents and stuff like that. Which is is very funny, we are not, we are very poor students. We are pushing the trade unions to organise themselves and get the strike. The other one is to push people to organise themselves. If the slavery law would be taken back that would be amazing as well. What’s been dubbed ‘slave law’ is officially known as the Overtime Act. It passed through parliament last month, alongside new powers for Orban to make changes to public universities and the judiciary. It gives employers the right to demand up to 400 hours overtime a year from workers, that’s an extra day per week. Payment for overtime can be delayed for three years under the law. In recent years, Hungarians have been leaving the country in large numbers, with around 650,000 now living abroad. This means that multinationals, like German car manufacturers, who Orban has rolled out the red carpet for in recent years, are now missing out on the cheap labour they were promised by him. Is this the real reason for the law? This law is about helping the employees and the employers as well. Very obviously there’s nothing like this new ‘slave law’ that is being introduced here. That’s nonsense and that’s stupidity. So the opposition politicians from an alliance of the liberal parties and the far right Jobbik Party have sort of tried to wrest control of the protests, so the students have tried to draw in a more leftist crowd to this meeting point here before joining the main procession and heading back here together. Even though it was a leftist meeting, we were surprised to see red flags in the crowd, in a country where public discourse has long been hostile to communism. We’ve seen such flags in the former Yugoslavia and other places. But in Hungary, which has been for a long time a very conservative country, strongly anti-communist. It hasn’t been rejected by the trade unions, by the workers, by the demonstrators. The protests that are outside of Budapest, what is the significance of that? This is a new thing, and also this is organized by the workers, all these closures of motorways and suchlike. And for the first time since Mr. Orban is in power, the government seems to be hesitating. The students marched to a cross roads called the Oktogon, to meet the main demonstration. The anger seen in the spontaneous protests of December seemed to have disappeared, replaced by what looked like a sadness at the state of affairs. But despite this, the snow and subzero temperatures, the turnout seemed pretty big… So the main body of the protest, the different political parties and the unions have just joined the student block and together they’re marching to Parliament Square. Nora, how do you feel about the turnout so far? As I look back I think it’s pretty good. I’m really happy that so many people came, I also know that people from the countryside joined us as well. They came up with buses, and prepared for this whole thing early in the morning already, to be here. I don’t think the government can allow themselves not to listen to this at all. Invalidate the election results! So we’re here at Parliament Square, highest estimates predict there are about 15,000 people here. Either way, it is the biggest protest on this issue since it’s begun. On Thursday, unions announced their four key demands, which included the repealing of the Overtime Law. They also said that should the government not respond to their demands they will be preparing for a general strike. Let me start with a quote… “We’re building a country, where the people are not working for the profit of foreigners, where no one can force the interests of others onto the Hungarian people.” This is what Viktor Orban said, nearly six years ago. Since then the government and capital have squeezed the workers into a corner. But we didn’t ask for it! We’re not going to be slaves! Who are the real winners and losers of the new overtime law? The losers? Most likely workers from smaller towns and cities with fewer job prospects, and with little choice but to accept more work hours should their bosses demand it. The winners? Multi-national corporations from richer EU countries like Germany, like Continental right here behind me, who will be able to maximise their profits by shifting more of their production into Hungary. In recent years, large amounts of Hungarian public money has gone to securing foreign investment from the country’s largest trading partner, Germany. As can be seen from this glossy government-produced brochure which boasts of incentives like: – “cash subsidies and land available for reduced price or free”, – cheap workers “60% lower than EU average”, – and a “competitive and enterprise friendly tax system”. Despite Hungary having the lowest corporation tax in the EU at just nine per cent, some multi-nationals, like German car manufacturers, have used their leverage to pay as little as three point six per cent. And now, Orban is introducing legislation that allows them to demand yet more overtime from badly paid and overworked Hungarians. So much for ‘Hungary First’. We wanted to find out how the Overtime Law would affect workers of German car factories, where demand for overtime is high, so we travelled to two smaller cities, both around an hour and a half drive from Budapest. The first stop was Veszprem, where we met Continental factory worker Gabor at his home. Thank you. We’ll make a tea then. How do you think working conditions for Hungarian workers in, let’s say specificly German automobile companies, compares to workers in Germany? In Germany? I don’t even know the right word…incomparable. This is what’s totally different to the West: there, you can live and order your life, with better salaries. In Hungary, our ability to do this has been damaged. It’s common that you can’t pay some bills, you have to chose between water or electricity. And because some bill isn’t paid, in the next month you might take some overtime to get the additional income. In the central city of Kecskemet, Mercedes workers Zoltan and Ishtvan were also keen to highlight how conditions in German car factories were worse in Hungary than Germany. Everything has a cause and effect. There were consequences of too much overtime before. A worker had an accident and died, because he fell asleep while driving home. You have to go to a car factory in Germany, spend a few months there and you can see that it’s also possible to work like they do. It’s organised and workers are not exhausted. What sort of issues do people on minimum wage face in Kecskemet? We can say that salaries are below the EU average here. The property prices have skyrocketed. And besides this, the price of goods has gone up, so it’s not easy here. Despite this, these car factory workers aren’t just silent victims in this process, they’re speaking out and have all taken part in protests and roadblocks outside of Budapest in recent weeks. You had said that last month’s protesters were in the pay of the foreign trained activists of the Soros network. Do you have any hard evidence of this? Yes the hard evidence was what you’ve seen on the streets. We’ve seen the activists who’ve been active and engaged in all those protests for the past couple of years. OK but let’s say actual hard evidence, I mean if what you’re saying is true then… Again, the hard evidence on the street is the faces, the persons, the slogans, the messages. So that’s the evidence? Sure, I mean… there is no need, there’s no need for anything like that. So we spoke to Zoltan Kovacs, who says that the protesters are paid by the Soros network. Are you paid by them? The money hasn’t come through yet. It’s funny though, this statement from the government, that Soros funds us, because we didn’t receive anything. But maybe it’s just on the way, I don’t know. I think that for us workers, this law is increasing our dependency. Companies are able to tailor the amount you work according to production and demand: how soon, how fast, how much should be produced. And this is the danger of this policy, that we’ll be left vulnerable by this fluctuation. What would you say to the Continental factory worker we spoke to yesterday who said that his wage will go up and down according to the production demand. Should he… That’s called capitalism… this is a market economy. And that’s what happens in a market economy. Go to the United States and talk to workers in factories. Before we left, we met up with Nora again to ask about the future of the broad movement against Orban, with all its divergent political views and interests. Do you think that it’s enough if, let’s say, Orban was removed? We are all basically working for that in a way. We’re really hoping for that. But then the next question would be: who comes next? I can’t see anyone, any party, any coalition really, which I would trust or be happy for. I don’t really see a real political discussion in terms of values and in terms of policies. At all. Genuinely not at all. And I think that’s very concerning. And it keeps us, as a society, stuck as well. So, we’ve been in Hungary for about five days now, and although Saturday’s protest was important, the story behind the Overtime Act was most clearly explained to us by student activists like Nora and workers like Zoltan, Istvan and Gabor. For the workers, it’s clear that the government is not on their side, contrary to the claims of the government spokesperson. This law was designed to benefit multinational companies and erode labour rights. But it also exposes one of the big lies of right wing nationalists like Orban, who denounce globalisation in the same breath as introducing policies that encourage it. And for the students, it’s clear that unless the opposition parties come up with a serious, economic and societal alternative, Orban’s ‘illiberal democracy’ will not be defeated any time soon.