The first call has gone out for EPSU’s next Congress on 18-20 June 2024. In about a year’s time we’ll meet in Bucharest to discuss the priorities for the following five years. Over the next few weeks. you will receive more information, including a draft programme of action, the Congress agenda and more. Congress comes at a moment of profound change. Decades of neo-liberal policy in which markets have held sway of almost all aspects of life, benefiting corporate power and the wealthy, are coming to an end. The financial crises, the impact of austerity, the pandemic and the climate crisis have combined to show clearly that people and our planet deserve different policies. More and more people understand that the way forward should focus on collective solutions and collective action that put well-being and the human rights of all people centre-stage. Public services, or, if you want, universal basic services, services of general interest, essential services are crucial for this change, as epitomised in the “Beyond Growth” debate and the “Future is Public” movement.
We know that the wealthy and corporate powers will resist this kind of change and the European Commission is already promoting austerity again, calling for restrictions on public finance. Meanwhile, nationalist and far-right forces are challenging all the values that we hold dear. We will have to confront them, not least in the European Parliament elections that will take place next year (6-9 June), just before our Congress.
In Europe, urgent change is needed in Russia and the inexcusable and brutal its government and armed forces meter out to the Ukraine people. This war of aggression and occupation is destroying the country and is not limited to the battlefield, as the bombs hit people, infrastructure, hospitals and buildings and homes in towns and villages across the Ukraine. Sadly, the war still seems to find broad support in Russia, with state media showing speaker after speaker dehumanising the Ukrainian people, sometimes calling for their mass destruction. In such a context, profound change is needed. This must include the trade unions and the FNPR confederation that supports Putin. They are complicit in the invasion as they annexe local branches of Ukrainian unions or create new ones in the occupied territories. There is no sign that they question the atrocities of the war and what is being doing done to fellow workers in Ukraine. The threat of losing your job and union support, or even ending up in jail if you criticise the war are clear signs that profound change is needed.
Russia voted against the decision of the ILO to activate article 33 of its statutes to take strong action against the failure of the Lukashenko regime in Belarus to act on any of the demands of the ILO’s Commission of Inquiry. Many of our colleagues of the independent unions are in jail for exercising their trade union rights, including leaders of the SPB and its health union Panacea, an EPSU/PSI affiliate. Despite years of calls by the ILO to change the situation, nothing has happened and the ILO can now take more forceful action. These jailed trade union leaders, and the many others across the world that face persecution, were courageous to speak up, unlike leaders in the FNPR. The global labour movement will stand in solidarity with the jailed comrades on 15 June.
Public Service Day – priority funding for public services
The European Commission and Member States are discussing the possibility of establishing a day to remember the victims of COVID-19 and those that cared for them. This would also be a time to recall what happens when our societies are unprepared for a pandemic. Public Service Day on 23 June is already used by public service workers and trade unions to look back on the pandemic and the sacrifices made to deliver care for all and keep society going. We need to stress that preparedness needs qualified workers and that European countries will remain unprepared if they don’t address staff shortages. In discussions with the EU Commissioner for crisis situations we welcomed EU investment in firefighting planes to help tackle forest fires, but we underlined that at the same time we cannot have cuts to fire services or failure to address staffing shortages among professional firefighters. These are questions of priorities, funding and redistribution of wealth through just taxation.
Public Service Day – webinar with Juliet Schor
The well-known economist and sociologist Professor Juliet Schor will join us on 22 June – the eve of Public Service Day – to talk about some of these issues. You will find more info in the newsletter about her work and how you can join the webinar. We hope to meet you there. Public service day is also a day of resistance to the commercialisation of our public services, to cuts in wages and funding. It is a day of action for higher wages, better working conditions and more staff. And a day of action to realise a different vision of our future. We don’t need austerity but redistribution and fairer taxation. We don’t need the kind of distorted growth measured in the super yachts and jets of the ultra-rich, or the processes that pollute our environment….). We need growth in people’s well-being and the ability to join our human rights. Public services will help to deliver this. The Future is Public. Have a good public service day.