Faced with the failure of big pharmaceutical companies to deliver on the contracts to supply COVID-19 vaccines, Member States and the European Commission are ideologically blind to the real solution. As early as March last year EPSU argued for bringing production into public ownership or under public control. You cannot rely on the private sector to serve the public interest. But maybe this is no surprise. The governments of rich countries are in bed with big pharma, protecting these companies and blocking the waiver on the intellectual property rights over vaccines in the World Trade Organisation. South Africa condemns the rich countries for hoarding vaccines. EPSU and PSI organised a webinar to discuss this with affiliated and other trade unions and activists. Unions will approach their governments to build support for the proposal from South Africa and India to ensure access to vaccines for all, including the world’s poorest. EPSU has also asked the European Commission to ensure that Western Balkan and Eastern partnership countries can join the joint procurement initiatives.
Human rights, poverty and the EU
The UN rapporteur for human rights and poverty will publish a report on 29 January, looking at how the EU has addressed poverty over the past decade. Our discussions with the rapporteur in December highlighted how the EU’s austerity policies had increased poverty. EU and government policies have resulted in the undermining of our public services, making it much harder to deliver on people’s human rights. The neoliberal ideology behind these austerity policies has dealt serious blows to the social fabric of our societies. Private interests are put before the general interest. The anger against this is manifested in many different forms – such as the yellow vests movement in France, Trump-type voters and demonstrations against Corona measures in different countries. Growing inequalities feed the social anger that unscrupulous politicians exploit, pointing to scapegoats like migrant workers, refugees, Roma and others. That is a real danger. And one of the lessons we recall on the Holocaust Remembrance Day this week. Upholding democracy, the rights of workers and people, and strengthening public services and our welfare states are the way forward as the crises caused by the pandemic and the measures to contain it show.
Public services are the key to the future
Public services, public investments and public companies are also needed to deal with the other global crisis that is pushed to the background- climate change and the incredible loss of biodiversity. Addressing those challenges is central to the recovery and investment plans that need to ensure the just transition that do not leave workers and people behind. It is an opportunity that should not be wasted. If governments do not deal with it, social anger will mount. EPSU, PSI and the global union movement will bring these messages to the COP26 conference, foreseen for the end of this year. This climate summit will take stock of how far off we are from ensuring that global warming remains below 2 degrees. Hans Bruyninckx, the director of the European Environmental Agency brought home the message in the European Parliament. He argued that a sixth mass extinction wave is under way, with a million species under threat, including vital pollinators like bees. Scientists are also arguing that deforestation and intensive agricultural practices will contribute to future pandemics. It is not far-fetched to argue that our economies and societies need different priorities than profit maximization.
Earlier this week our Georgian colleagues reported how their health system is collapsing and how the government has only secured an extremely limited supply of vaccines. They are in a difficult fight for their members as are our Armenian comrades, with their political system is on the brink of collapse. We will keep supporting them. Slovenian unions continue their protests against the government after it completely sidelined social dialogue and rammed through changes to the labour code. Romanian health workers organized pickets in over 30 cities in protest at the government’s block on pay increases that had been set in law. In France, energy unions are taking strike action against the dismantling of energy companies and advocating for public energy while health and care unions continue their protests with strikes to support claims for fair pay. And all unions exercise this incredible voice for workers every day. We look forward to make that voice heard loud and clear across Europe on 23 June. A date to meet up together for Europe’s public service workers.