It was inspiring to join 1st of May demonstrations and actions. Workers and working-class communities across the world were celebrating our victories and resisting oppression and attacks on our rights. They were also demanding action for something better, for a world in which people and our environment are not exploited. The continuing protests against pension reforms in France saw French unions united in their fight and joined by a global delegation including EPSU. Meanwhile, in Tbilisi in Georgia, EPSU was again part of an international delegation that joined the 1st of May march, celebrating a unity that will be crucial in confronting major challenges in the coming months.
Economic governance – and Beyond Growth
European Commission proposals on economic governance and the exchanges between finance ministers are already pointing to a new period of austerity. This will again hit working people, social protection, and public services as governments of all stripes shy away from boosting public finances and addressing large wealth differences through more progressive taxation. The EPSU delegation to the ETUC Congress in Berlin on 23-26 May, will expect a clear message of resistance to austerity.
We need an economic system that does not put profits above people and our planet and it will be interesting to see if we have an ally in the shape of the European Commission’s department on climate action – DG Clima – whose Director-General we met recently. There is understanding that the current levels of consumption and mode of living of Western societies and the wealthy across the world is not sustainable. And that we can not ask those with few resources to bear the brunt of change, like the half of the German population that owns only 3% of assets while the richest 10% own 56% of wealth and go unscathed. This will be one of the key questions at the major Beyond Growth conference on 15-17 May organised by MEPs from several political groups. You can register and follow online.
The EU Commission with BASF versus change?
The investments needed to address climate change may be hit by the new austerity while protests to reduce emissions or to prevent chemicals polluting our environment will become more visible and disruptive. However, the discussions on the Pharma-strategy, on the review of the EU’s REACH chemicals regulation and how we deal with the toxic, “forever chemicals” (PFAs – per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) face major obstacles from groups like the German-based chemicals multinational, BASF. You wonder if Commission President von der Leyen or Vice-President Dombrovskis will argue against the interests of such players and speak out for workers and people in Europe at that Conference of the European Parliament.
Actually, you do not really wonder as you know it will not happen. The chances are that they will side with BASF to delay and postpone stricter rules for the chemicals sector. The Commission speakers will not say that in order to face up to powerful interests, trade union rights need to be extended and protected. They will not condemn the employers and governments that attack the right to strike. We will not hear them say that workers on low salaries need a decent pay increase above inflation and that profits need to flow back to workers to deliver improved working conditions and better work-life balance, including a better distribution of working time as part of the move towards a society Beyond Growth. We will not hear from them that high wealth taxes are needed to ensure that our public services are staffed with skilled workers to deliver quality services as the collective solution to make Beyond Growth attractive and accessible for all. These are the sort of structural changes that are needed to make a Beyond Growth future realistic for all, rather than the dystopian future portrayed in movies where the rich have it all, and the rest of us toil away on barren ground. First of May is an inspiration for a better world for all of us and how we can fight for the structural change needed to get there.
A profile of the lobbying by BASF in the EU