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Mass anti-austerity protests engulf Europe

Workers of the eurozone, unite!

Countless factories, transport networks and, public services were brought to a virtual standstill on Wednesday as millions of workers turned out in protest as part of a pan-European stand against relentless austerity and soaring unemployment.

Billed as the “European Day of Action and Solidarity”, mass-walkouts swept through the continent, with more than 40 trade unions from over 23 countries taking part in the demonstrations.

In the early hours of Wednesday morning, protests gripped the Iberian Peninsula – where roughly a quarter of the workforce is unionised – as Spanish and Portuguese unions staged their first coordinated strike in history.

Across Portugal – where parliament is expected to increase average income tax by as much as 30 per cent in its upcoming budget –  schools were closed, public services disrupted, and public transport ground to a halt as mass protests flared.

Spanish unions followed suit, holding a 24-hour strike against the government’s failure to tackle the country’s woeful unemployment rate, which at 25 per cent is Europe’s highest.

600 flights have already been cancelled from Spanish airports as transport workers joined their Iberian counterparts in paralysing rail, road, and airport links. In Madrid, flashes of street violence saw over 80 arrested by midday. Shortly after, a phalanx of riot vans lined up in the capital as police reportedly fired rubber bullets into crowds of demonstrators.

Mass strikes raged in Italy, where its biggest union – CGIL – organised a series of rolling four-hour strikes across Rome, Milan, Turin, Florence and dozens of other towns and cities.

In Rome, workers were joined by students who attempted to march on the residence of prime minister Mario Monti in protest against planned cutbacks in the schooling sector, pelting riot police with rocks as they clambered for a way through.

In the most violent of the day’s protests, running street battles in Turin between activists and riot police saw 6 officers hospitalised.

The clashes followed a tense Tuesday in Sardinia, with industry minister Corrado Passera and minister for territorial cohesion Fabrizio Barca requiring helicopter evacuation after demonstrators blocked roads surrounding their offices with burning vehicles.

Unsurprisingly, Greek demonstrators flocked to the street as workers staged their third major walkout of the month in the wake of last week’s violence in Athens.  Protesters rallied in plazas across the capital to protest perennial unemployment and fresh austerity measures pushed through parliament last week.

In an increasingly precarious environment for the Greek government, one protester told The Guardian’s Helena Smith that the situation could plunge the stricken nation into revolution:

“There will be a revolt because we will have absolutely nothing to lose”, he warned.

The contagion of protest even spread to the eurozone’s stronger economies, with trade unions planning 130 marches in France and workers disrupting transport links in Belgium.

Even in Germany – the eurozone’s economic engine – pockets of union-led demonstrations cropped up across the country in a sign of solidarity towards the unified stand against austerity.

According to the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC), the organisation behind the strikes,  the sheer scope of the protests reflects the catastrophic failings of austerity, which has served only to deepen inequality whilst stifling the growth so desperately required to keep the eurozone afloat.

In a statement, the ETUC declared:

The ETUC strongly opposes the austerity measures which are plunging Europe into economic stagnation, recession, and dismantling the European social model.

These measures, far from restoring confidence, are only aggravating imbalances and creating injustices.

Unemployment rates have hit record highs across Europe as of late, with the eurozone’s average rate currently standing at 11.6 per cent. In both Spain and Greece more than half of 18 to 24-year-olds are unable to find work.  

Growth indicators aren’t much better: Portugal’s economy is expected to contract by 3 per cent this year, whilst third quarter Greek GDP figures have plunged to -7.5 per cent.

More profoundly, Wednesday’s protests illustrate how the strict adherence to staunch fiscal parameters outlined by the troika – the International Monetary Fund, the European Central Bank and the European Commission – has driven a wedge between establishment and society.

The unsavoury combination of higher taxes, plummeting welfare spending and crippling unemployment has fuelled charges against states of relinquishing economic sovereignty to outside financial bodies, who protesters accuse of dragging millions into poverty through their fervent pursuit of budgetary discipline.

Alex Ward is a London-based freelance journalist who has previously worked for the Times & the Press Association. Twitter: @alexward3000

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This Ada Lovelace Day, let’s celebrate women in tech while confronting its sexist culture

In an industry where men hold most of the jobs and write most of the code, celebrating women's contributions on one day a year isn't enough. 

Ada Lovelace wrote the world’s first computer program. In the 1840s Charles Babbage, now known as the “father of the computer”, designed (though never built) the “Analytical Engine”, a machine which could accurately and reproducibly calculate the answers to maths problems. While translating an article by an Italian mathematician about the machine, Lovelace included a written algorithm for which would allow the engine to calculate a sequence of Bernoulli numbers.

Around 170 years later, Whitney Wolfe, one of the founders of dating app Tinder, was allegedly forced to resign from the company. According to a lawsuit she later filed against the app and its parent company, she had her co-founder title removed because, the male founders argued, it would look “slutty”, and because “Facebook and Snapchat don’t have girl founders. It just makes it look like Tinder was some accident". (They settled out of court.)

Today, 13 October, is Ada Lovelace day – an international celebration of inspirational women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). It’s lucky we have this day of remembrance, because, as Wolfe’s story demonstrates, we also spend a lot of time forgetting and sidelining women in tech. In the wash of pale male founders of the tech giants that rule the industry,we don't often think about the women that shaped its foundations: Judith Estrin, one of the designers of TCP/IP, for example, or Radia Perlman, inventor of the spanning-tree protocol. Both inventions sound complicated, and they are – they’re some of the vital building blocks that allow the internet to function. 

And yet David Streitfield, a Pulitzer-prize winning journalist, someow felt it accurate to write in 2012: “Men invented the internet. And not just any men. Men with pocket protectors. Men who idolised Mr Spock and cried when Steve Jobs died.”

Perhaps we forget about tech's founding women because the needle has swung so far into the other direction. A huge proportion – perhaps even 90 per cent - of the world’s code is written by men. At Google, women fill 17 per cent of technical roles. At Facebook, 15 per cent. Over 90 per cent of the code respositories on Github, an online service used throughout the industry, are owned by men. Yet it's also hard to believe that this erasure of women's role in tech is completely accidental. As Elissa Shevinsky writes in the introduction to a collection of essays on gender in tech, Lean Out: “This myth of the nerdy male founder has been perpetuated by men who found this story favourable."

Does it matter? It’s hard to believe that it doesn’t. Our society is increasingly defined and delineated by code and the things it builds. Small slip-ups, like the lack of a period tracker on the original Apple Watch, or fitness trackers too big for some women’s wrists, gesture to the fact that these technologies are built by male-dominated teams, for a male audience.

In Lean Out, one essay written by a Twitter-based “start-up dinosaur” (don’t ask) explains how dangerous it is to allow one small segment of society to built the future for the rest of us:

If you let someone else build tomorrow, tomorrow will belong to someone else. They will build a better tomorrow for everyone like them… For tomorrow to be for everyone, everyone needs to be the one [sic] that build it.

So where did all the women go? How did we get from a rash of female inventors to a situation where the major female presence at an Apple iPhone launch is a model’s face projected onto a screen and photoshopped into a smile by a male demonstrator? 

Photo: Apple.

The toxic culture of many tech workplaces could be a cause or an effect of the lack of women in the industry, but it certainly can’t make make it easy to stay. Behaviours range from the ignorant - Martha Lane-Fox, founder of, often asked “what happens if you get pregnant?” at investors' meetings - to the much more sinister. An essay in Lean Out by Katy Levinson details her experiences of sexual harassment while working in tech: 

I have had interviewers attempt to solicit sexual favors from me mid-interview and discuss in significant detail precisely what they would like to do. All of these things have happened either in Silicon Valley working in tech, in an educational institution to get me there, or in a technical internship.

Others featured in the book joined in with the low-level sexism and racism  of their male colleagues in order to "fit in" and deflect negative attention. Erica Joy writes that while working in IT at the University of Alaska as the only woman (and only black person) on her team, she laughed at colleagues' "terribly racist and sexist jokes" and "co-opted their negative attitudes”. 

The casual culture and allegedly meritocratic hierarchies of tech companies may actually be encouraging this discriminatory atmosphere. HR and the strict reporting procedures of large corporates at least give those suffering from discrimination a place to go. A casual office environment can discourage reporting or calling out prejudiced humour or remarks. Brook Shelley, a woman who transitioned while working in tech, notes: "No one wants to be the office mother". So instead, you join in and hope for the best. 

And, of course, there's no reason why people working in tech would have fewer issues with discrimination than those in other industries. A childhood spent as a "nerd" can also spawn its own brand of misogyny - Katherine Cross writes in Lean Out that “to many of these men [working in these fields] is all too easy to subconciously confound women who say ‘this is sexist’ with the young girls who said… ‘You’re gross and a creep and I’ll never date you'". During GamerGate, Anita Sarkeesian was often called a "prom queen" by trolls. 

When I spoke to Alexa Clay, entrepreneur and co-author of the Misfit Economy, she confirmed that there's a strange, low-lurking sexism in the start-up economy: “They have all very open and free, but underneath it there's still something really patriarchal.” Start-ups, after all, are a culture which celebrates risk-taking, something which women are societally discouraged from doing. As Clay says, 

“Men are allowed to fail in tech. You have these young guys who these old guys adopt and mentor. If his app doesn’t work, the mentor just shrugs it off. I would not be able ot get away with that, and I think women and minorities aren't allowed to take the same amount of risks, particularly in these communities. If you fail, no one's saying that's fine.

The conclusion of Lean Out, and of women in tech I have spoken to, isn’t that more women, over time, will enter these industries and seamlessly integrate – it’s that tech culture needs to change, or its lack of diversity will become even more severe. Shevinsky writes:

The reason why we don't have more women in tech is not because of a lack of STEM education. It's because too many high profile and influential individuals and subcultures within the tech industry have ignored or outright mistreated women applicants and employees. To be succinct—the problem isn't women, it's tech culture.

Software engineer Kate Heddleston has a wonderful and chilling metaphor about the way we treat women in STEM. Women are, she writes, the “canary in the coal mine”. If one dies, surely you should take that as a sign that the mine is uninhabitable – that there’s something toxic in the air. “Instead, the industry is looking at the canary, wondering why it can’t breathe, saying ‘Lean in, canary, lean in!’. When one canary dies they get a new one because getting more canaries is how you fix the lack of canaries, right? Except the problem is that there isn't enough oxygen in the coal mine, not that there are too few canaries.” We need more women in STEM, and, I’d argue, in tech in particular, but we need to make sure the air is breatheable first. 

Barbara Speed is a technology and digital culture writer at the New Statesman and a staff writer at CityMetric.