Sunday, May 24, 2009

European Workers Mobilìse for Jobs and Against Unemployment

Lisbeth Latham

Hundreds of thousands of workers answered the call of the European Trade Union Confederation’s calls for protests in Madrid, Brussels, Prague and Berlin on May to 16. The protests were in support of the ETUC’s “Fight the Crisis: Put People First” campaign and its efforts to win the adoption to win a “New Social Deal in Europe”.

The mobilisations, which were put at 20, 000 in Prague; 50, 000 in Brussels; 100, 000 in Berlin and 150, 000 in Madrid come as new projections indicate that the number of unemployed in Europe will rise by 8.5 million over the next two years. In response to the impact of the crisis the ETUC and its national affiliates are calling for greater action to protect workers and the unemployment through the adoption of a New Social Plan for Europe which would include:

  • An expanded recovery programme to provide more and better jobs, to protect employment in key industries, to invest in new, sustainable technologies, and to maintain vital public services;
  • Better pay and pensions, stronger welfare states, higher benefits to protect the purchasing power and effective participation rights needed to boost economies;
  • An end to the recent decisions of the European Court of Justice favouring market freedoms over our fundamental rights and collective agreements by confirming the social objectives of the internal market, and guaranteeing equal treatment and equal pay for ‘posted’ migrant workers;
  • Effective regulation of financial markets, a fair distribution of wealth, and no return to casino capitalism or to the ‘business as usual’ of the past 20 years in financial markets;
  • A European Central Bank committed to growth and full employment, not just price stability.

The adoption of these policies would be a positive step forward for millions of workers in Europe. It would provide protection for purchasing power and job security. Significantly the plan is aimed at social inclusion and the protecting the rights of workers regardless of their country of origin as a mechanism to protect wages and conditions.

If adopted the policies would make it more difficult for capital and the European governments to use the present crisis to drive down wages and conditions in order to return profitability – if capitalism survives the current crisis then it will do so by restoring profitability and allowing capital accumulation to continue.

The proposals by the ETUC reflect the attempts by sections of the global labour movement to present an alternative response to the current capitalist crisis that attempts to put workers rights ahead of profits. However there are currently no governing parties or potential parties of government in the advanced capitalist countries that have indicated that they would implement such policies these policies. Indeed the policies which are being proposed by the ETUC, which are mild and do not challenge directly the dominance of capital, are too extreme for European social democratic parties to consider.

An example of this was the developments in the Czech Republic and Hungary earlier this year. Unpopular right-wing governments have been brought down through mobilisations generated by the anger at the failure of these governments’ policies. In both of these countries the social democratic, who had been in opposition, have not sought to hold elections, elections that would most likely see them take government. Instead the social democratic parties have been willing to allow the instalment of technocratic governments dominated by former bankers.

This action reflects a number of factors. First is the reticence in accepting the poisoned chalice of government at the present time – where they will be blamed for the crisis. Secondly the social democrats do not desire to be under the pressure to enact changes to help workers, the unemployed and pensioners, at the same time they cannot afford to be seen to be pushing through the same anti-worker policies that have brought down the right-wing governments as this would result in greater space for either the far-left or far-right parties in their countries.

While the proposals of the ETUC could be a postive step forward, it provides no clear strategy to achieve its adoptions. It does imply two tactics for winning these objectives, the first was participation in its May Days of Protest (at this point no other mobilisations are planned) and the second is voting for a Social Europe in the June 4 European Parliamentary elections. The ETUC has developed a broader manifesto for the legislative changes it wants to achieve in the European parliament, however its material goes not give any indication how to win these objectives, or even which parties (or parliamentary groups) have indicated they support its policy.

Faced with this opposition to the policies that they are pushing, the unions and the broader progressive movement need examine how they can bring sufficient pressure to bare to force the implementation of their program. In France, the radical Solidaires union confederation and the New Anti-Capitalist Party (NPA) have argued that victory in the struggle will require a campaign of escalating actions building up to an ongoing general strike similar to those conducted in the French colonies of Guadalupe, Martinique and Reunion earlier this year.


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Revitalising Labour attempts to reflect on efforts to rebuild the labour movement internationally, emphasising the role that left-wing political currents can play in this process. It welcomes contributions on union struggles, internal renewal processes within the labour movement and the struggle against capitalism and imperialism.

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