ETUC Day of Action: Turning Point?

On 14 November – in the middle of the week – something new happened. Radiating from Spain and Portugal unionists in Italy, Greece, France, and Belgium laid down work. A coordinated “Day of Actions and Solidarity” as has never before taken place in Europe. A day of resistance against the restructuring plans of Europe for which Mario Draghi, president of the European Central Bank, had coined the short phrase: “The European social model is dead”.

Here are the backdrops of three transformational processes behind these developments:

1. For three years, the global financial market- and economic crisis characterizes the economic, social and political life of Europe. Instead of counteracting the contraction of social wealth after the pit of the crisis in the summer of 2009, since the 2nd quarter of 2012 the European Currency Union finds itself in a renewed crisis.  The majority of the population pays for it in hard cash with its social existence. Unemployment is reaching up to 25 % in Greece and Spain and over 15 % in Ireland and Portugal – historically the highest levels. But even an unemployment quota of between 35 % and 55 % amongst the younger generation are only the tip of a socio-economic iceberg against which all perspectives of the future are doomed to burst asunder; in Europe’s crisis states, the prospects of a safe biographies of earning beyond precarious, temporary, and non-existence guaranteeing jobs are limited to a minority of the traditional elites.
2. Simultaneously, the thermometer of current crisis re-definitions, the development of public debts is sharply pointing upward.  In Spain and Portugal the debt level since 2008 has risen for about 50 points to 90.7 % respectively 119 %, in Ireland and Greece for about 60 points to 118 respectively 171 %. And this under the hardest austerity regime which even Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan under democratic conditions – outside of the historical laboratory of the Chicago Boys in Chile – would have held to be imaginable.
3. Europe’s crisis-management happens largely outside of democratic means of influence. With Six-Pact, European Semester, and the Fiscal Pact procedures have been created which in the years to come will be institutionally codified – with a Euro financial minister and a Euro-economic government which are to be legitimized through a “convent”. The brief intermezzo of “technical cabinets” in Greece and Italy would turn out to be nothing than an experimental phase of a Europe-wide austerity regime steering towards an authoritarian capitalism. This regime is based on social and political divisions which in the media are often drawn between a Mediterranean “periphery” and a “core Europe” around Germany. However, decisive are the countries of France – whose Social-Democratic president finds himself in an opinion poll ditch due to his agenda of indifference – as well as Italy where new elections will take place in the spring of 2013.
Within this scenario, the “Day of Actions and Solidarity” of the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) could mark a turning point. Because to this date, it was at best in News releases that solidarity had stamped the European trade union life. Even in countries where the amputation of the European social model – catchword pension at age 67 – was regulated from the get-go under the aegis of the EU. No clear European trade union politics to speak of have existed during the last five years of European crisis and rising austerity politics. Nevertheless, with a wise politics of trade unions this situation could change.

The foundations were created on this 14 November:

In Spain and Portugal a 24-hour general strike but paralyzed public life; not only in traffic, postal system, the educational sector and in hospitals, but also in the industrial sector, like VW-Seat, Opel and Nissan factories in Spain; in Portugal it was the third, in Spain the second such general strike of this year. In Madrid and Barcelona alone about 2 million people are said to have taken to the streets. Greece would after a two-day general strike during the first week of November lay down work once again for three hours/day. In Belgium, railroad traffic services were crippled and in Italy the CGIL called for a four-hour work stoppage; in France protest took place under the slogan “For Employment and Solidarity – against Austerity Measures”. And in Germany, actions of solidarity occurred amongst others in Stuttgart, Berlin, Frankfurt, Kassel and Munich. On 10 October over 100.000 people had demonstrated in Great Britain against the politics of the ToryLibs; the TUC has announced a “general strike”.
This was by far not the abolition of the split in the European trade union movement – a line which does not run between winners of a competitive corporatist regime and debitor states, but also within national trade union associations. But it could be that the start of a new narrative within the European trade union movement. The coordinates have changed: who ever is against the authoritarian socialisation model á la Fiscal Pact, should also warm up to the re-foundation of a new, economically and democratically based Europe.
Last but not least, towards this end, conceptual work for the new foundation of a democratic Europe is a challenge. Only a few days before 14 November, 4000 representatives of civil society organisations had met in Florence for an exchange and had, amongst other things, agreed upon an Alter Summit in June of 2013 to take place in Athens – a summit in which an alternative agenda against the fiscal dictatorship of the EU-crisis management shall be integrated.
Admittedly, the time horizon of this alternative agenda for a democratic Europe is short. Within two years, Merkel/Schäuble would like to see their “New Europe” implanted.
14 November should be the beginning of an agenda of a Europe in solidarity between trade unions and other civil society organisations. The task is not easy to shoulder: aside of the Anti-Agenda it will be paramount to deal with an agreement about ways in which employment from North to South, from West to East could be structured in new ways – in short, what a new economic order based on solidarity must look which is capable of marking a historical departure and progress against Lisbon competitive strategies which since long have failed. An economic order which opens future perspectives to unemployed youth in that it makes decisions about “what”, “how” and “for whom” production is organised.

This text first was originally published in German at:

Picture taken from New APPS Blog