National Community Activists Network
“the Europe we want is one of solidarity and social progress”.
That was the message given by Bernadette Ségol, General Secretary of the European Trades Union Congress (ETUC), to the G20 summit meeting earlier this month. As unions in Britain are set to walk out again next week, hopefully this action will be seen across the public and voluntary sector as a stand against the race to the bottom arguments led by governments across Europe. The action taken by 26 unions, representing over 3 million members, on 30th November is part of a fight, which should be common to all who reject the current strategy of “austerity” which is being imposed by governments across the continent. It is driving Europe into recession and hurting the poorest and most vulnerable the most, destroying young people’s future and older people’s pensions. It is time to build alliances, develop alternatives and to try to offer solutions; not to enable governments to destroy the public sector. We will all be much poorer without it.
We are the 99% - strikes are often presented as unpopular by the media and by governments. Politicians adopt this posture in part to lead public opinion against apparent vested interests and in part to capture what they believe to be the zeitgeist. Much of the media can give succour to this position, but to create artificial divides between ‘the public’ and ‘unions’ betrays the ‘them and us’ strategy, particularly since most recent polling shows in fact that public opinion in the UK is divided on the strikes. There is also some cautious optimism that the tide of public opinion is more clearly moving to support public sector workers; after all union members are the public, and vice versa. With youth unemployment going above 1 million (around 21%) in the UK (it is 29% in Italy, 43% in Greece and 45% in Spain) and the overall UK unemployment figure set to go above 3 million, now is the time to stand up and be counted as the 99%. The ILO has recently release its ‘The World of Work Report 2011: Making Markets Work for Jobs’ which includes a new measure of the global crisis, a “social unrest” index - ILO said there was growing unhappiness over the lack of jobs and anger over perceptions that the burden of the crisis is not being shared fairly. It noted that in over 45 of the 118 countries examined, the risk of social unrest is rising, with particular signs of tension in the EU, the Arab region and to a lesser extent Asia. As we have seen from the emergence of the Occupy movement which has sprung up in at least 750 locations across 82 countries there is a future and a future generation to fight for. Occupy’s latest day of action on 18th November saw thousands protest across US major cities and the continuation of protests and occupations across Europe. Despite attempts to quell this voice, they continue to occupy the police, governments and the public’s conscience.
Social Justice - We ARE all in it together – we all recognise the need to have both community and local government provision of services. Each performs separate and complementary functions. Each offers expertise and experience. Community organisations can reach the parts of community that the state cannot; community organisation is free from the stigma that is often associated with statutory provision of services. But only the state guarantees universality and should represent the articulation of our shared values. We should not enable governments to weaken our mechanisms for collective voice and solidaristic action; that means standing together to resist the new agenda.
A Green Future - Green approaches to the economy and growth have, for a long time, stood in contradiction to the pace and direction of capitalist development. Governments and international institutions are now increasingly recommending that the future lies in green growth. That means a commitment to environmental sustainability and decent work. The green strategy echoes the social platform’s commitment to a just transition, as evidenced in the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) ‘Towards a Green Economy: Pathways to Sustainable Development and Poverty Eradication’. UNEP argue that “ecological scarcity and social inequity are clear indicators of an economy that is very far from being “green”. A green transition has a short-term growth cost (but therefore in Europe at the moment would be almost cost free). But in the medium term it delivers more growth and even in the short term delivers more jobs, more environmental and more social benefit”. Similarly ETUC, in its twenty-point “Athens Manifesto” demanded policy change in the “totally unacceptable” approach of the Euro plus pact (of Eurozone countries plus six others). They argued that “wages are not the enemy of the economy but its motor, promoting growth and jobs”. They have committed to a fight against “wage and fiscal dumping,” unemployment and precarious work and “austerity governance”. They will mobilise for a European New Deal that protects the European social model, generates more and better jobs, better working conditions, green jobs in a low carbon economy, a focus on decent work, cutting youth unemployment and discrimination and protecting migrant workers in a better regulated market with enhanced corporate governance.
W(h)ither democracy – there is a lot at stake and there is a fight for our future. Greece has an unelected PM, Italy has an unelected government; in the guise of technocratic decision-making this capitalist bust is clawing away at our hard fought democracy. From weakening trades unions, to removing employment rights, to forced labour of the young unemployed, to unpicking social solidarity through welfare reform, free schools and social housing reform we are in danger of losing those parts of our social fabric which make us developed rather than the underdeveloped societies. The Church of England Bishops noted that in their open letter to The Observer last weekend, describing the welfare state as ‘the social glue that binds us together’. If the public sector is lost for future generations...look at what we lose and ask whether that future state could be described as a modern, developed democracy.
We have to move forward so the question is how we make the transition; the answer to that surely has to be that we make a socially fair transition to our future. In doing so we need to recognise our common ground and realise that the capacity for a just transition lies in the shared purpose of the green, social justice and trades union movements.
In that spirit the strike on 30th November is not a strike for the protection of limited vested interests. It is our chance to show each other how many we are and how strong we can be and to take courage and optimism to our fight for a better future for all. In the search for alternatives, to quote the Indignados, we’re going slowly because we’re going far.
Regards the NatCAN team