As financial storm clouds continue to rain down unemployment and austerity across the EU, three of Europe’s biggest unions – representing more than 5 million public sector workers – are gathering in London to organise a coordinated fightback.
UNISON, the UK’s largest union, Germany’s powerful Ver.di union and Italy’s biggest union confederation CGIL are forging a strong alliance to map out their challenge to the right’s austerity agenda. An agenda that is leaving hardworking families paying the price for Europe’s worst economic crisis in 80 years. An agenda that is rendering millions of people powerless against the march of job cuts and rising unemployment. But trade unions were forged in the hard times and together we are reaching out to all those who share our vision for a fairer society.
The time is ripe to give power back to the people and step up our campaign for a Europe-wide alternative to austerity. For a start we will be breaking national boundaries to stage a massive joint protest. Last year more than 250,000 people joined the march in London for an alternative to cuts. This year we want a bigger protest with UNISON calling on the UK’s TUC to organise a national demo for jobs and growth.
At the second joint meeting in Italy, will focus on what we can learn from each other – making our campaigns more effective by sharing strategies. And we will be bringing our policies closer into line, developing proposals for economic growth at both national and European level. Reaching out to community, faith groups, charities and campaigners who share our vision, to build broad support for our alternative.
And people across Europe desperately need that alternative. Inevitably, cuts have provided no cure, and both the UK and Spain are back in recession. It is no coincidence that the toll of unemployment is stubbornly high in those countries that have cut public spending most drastically. And as families worry about keeping a roof over their heads, paying their bills and holding onto their jobs, it has all been for nothing – the sovereign debt crisis has only got worse. The politics of austerity have failed.
There are signs that the tide is turning. Across Europe, those politicians who have espoused austerity are increasingly being punished at the ballot box. The UK coalition have woken up to heavy losses today, and Nicholas Sarkozy is facing a backlash on Sunday. The Dutch pro-austerity government has already fallen. François Hollande’s pledge to derail austerity if he takes office, opens up a new battleground in Europe.
We believe that the only way to reduce budget deficits is through government intervention to boost economic growth and cut unemployment – ending the negative downward spiral that is austerity’s trap. A strategy that combines the economic, environmental and social dimensions to achieve growth, will not only work but will be fairer. Hardworking people deserve a focus on quality employment: fair wages; equal treatment; effective social dialogue and trade union rights; social protection – including sustainable and decent pensions; and a commitment to quality public services that communities can rely on.
Ensuring a better future means giving young people a chance, yet they have been the hardest hit victims of the financial crisis. We want a European-wide guarantee that within four months of leaving school or being unemployed, the under 25s will either get a job or access to more training. We support a new green deal that makes the most of Europe’s position as a global leader in green technologies. We must not squander the chance for growth and jobs that make both environmental and economic sense.
It is time for real leadership from national governments – ending the excuses and implementing effective financial regulation, including a financial transactions tax. Cutting tax avoidance, clamping down on the tax havens and tax frauds would plough much needed revenue back into spending – easing the burden on public spending cuts, and battling Europe’s rising inequality.
The stakes have never been higher, but the prize is a broader political agenda that focuses on social and economic justice across society as a whole – restoring the social model to the centre of the European Union’s objectives. Galvanising an effective alternative is the challenge the Left across Europe now faces. It is a challenge we are ready to take on.
Dave Prentis is the General Secretary of Unison