The impact of austerity on working families was again exposed last week, this time in a report of the Living Wage Foundation in the UK. It describes how Conservative government cuts in funding for public services have kept wages below what is needed for a decent life. Carers, cleaners, and other groups employed by public authorities or private contractors can hardly make ends meet. And this is similar across most of Europe. Workers are angry and want change.
The results of the Estonian elections show that many think that change will come from the right and extreme-right and by keeping migrants and refugees out. But Estonia has comparatively low levels of migration and actually needs qualified workers for its economy. A better explanation is that the country has seen inequalities grow since the financial and economic crisis of 2008. A quarter of the population is at risk of poverty and reduced public services in rural areas are contributing to increased inequality. Estonia also scores badly on meeting health care needs. Sounds familiar? The same concerns are expressed by the yellow vest protestors in France. It is unacceptable that the number of billionaires continues to rise at the same time as billions remain trapped in poverty. An article in Scientific American magazine speaks of a revolt against the rich.
So you would think that the European Commission would change its tune in what needs to be central to its European semester of economic policy coordination. But that is not borne out by the country reports that were published last week in the current phase of the process. These continue to underline that governments must trim their public budgets. There is some acknowledgement that public investment and decent wage growth are needed to support economic growth but there is nothing about the kind of coordinated public investment policy, demanded by EPSU and the ETUC, and crucial to avoid a possible recession.
Any growth policy will need to be compatible with climate justice and environmental protection. New research findings have established beyond doubt that climate change is “manmade” as findings now reached the “gold standard” of probability. The ETUC, EPSU, PSI and many others have called for support for the Climate Actions taking place across the world on 15 March. I hope you join in. People and Planet before Profits : we need a new economic model.
And there is more mobilisation: the ETUC is backing a European demonstration on 26 April. This will underline our demands for the European Parliament elections. It is hoped that many unions and confederations will send delegations. First, however, we will celebrate Women’s Day on 8 March this week, remembering the great women (and men) that have fought for equality, and be inspired by them to continue this unfinished work. With demonstrations and strikes, trade unions, women’s organisations and many others are saying: it is taking too long. We need change.
And with that I want to commemorate Alan Leather, former Deputy General Secretary of PSI, who died on Sunday morning, 3 March. Alan did so much to build the trade union movement in the rapidly changing countries of Central and Eastern Europe after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union. Many will remember his enduring assistance to trade unions in the region and his generosity and ability to bring people together.