European workers march for jobs

May 30, 2009

Hundreds of thousands of workers answered the call of the European Trade Union Confederation with protests on May 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" for Europe.

The marches involved 150,000 on Madrid, 100,000 in Berlin, 50,000 in Brussels and 20,000 in Prague.

New predictions indicate unemployment across Europe could rise by 8.5 million people over the next two years. In response, the ETUC and its national affiliates are calling for greater action to protect workers and the unemploymed through its proposed new social plan.

The proposals include: an expanded recovery program to provide more and better jobs, investment in sustainable technologies and to maintain public services; better pay and pensions, and higher welfare payments to protect worker's purchasing power and boost economies; an end to the European Court of Justice decisions favouring the free market over collective agreements and to guarantee equal conditions and pay for migrant workers; regulation of financial markets to ensure a fair distribution of wealth and no return to "casino capitalism"; the creation of a European Central Bank committed to ensuring full employment.

The plan is aimed at social inclusion and protecting the rights of workers regardless of their country of origin.

If adopted, such policies would make it more difficult for capital and the European governments to use the global economic crisis to drive down wages and conditions.

The proposals are an attempt to present an alternative response to the crisis that puts workers' rights ahead of profits.

However, none of Europe's governing parties have indicated that they would implement such policies. The proposals, which are relatively mild and do not challenge directly capital's dominance, are still too extreme for European social democratic parties, whether in government or not.

Faced with this opposition to their policies, the union movement needs to look at how they can bring sufficient pressure to bear to force the implementation of such a 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.

They point to how such a campaign, which won important demands, was conducted in the French colonies of Guadalupe, Martinique and Reunion earlier this year.

[Abridged from]

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