Last Wednesday workers across Europe staged a series of strikes and protests against the crippling austerity being imposed on nearly every EU state. The action was a show of solidarity between citizens facing a hopeless situation of startlingly high unemployment along with public sector cuts and tax hikes, imposed by EU governments that refuse to acknowledge that there is another way.
With right-wing thinking dominating in the European Commission and Parliament, and right-wing governments in power throughout the EU, we are being told that austerity is the only solution. But we’ve tried austerity and all that’s given us is an EU unemployment rate of 10.6% and more than double that at 22.8% for youth unemployment.
In some places the picture is even worse, with unemployment over 25% in Spain and Greece, and youth unemployment over 54%.
These figures are highly alarming. Not only is it evident that austerity isn’t working, but with more than 1 in 2 young people in Spain and Greece facing a future with no prospects, we are looking at nothing short of a social catastrophe. Riots on the streets and the rise of far right groups, such as Golden Dawn in Greece, only serve to highlight this.
So there are two very important messages to take from Wednesday’s Europe-wide action.
Firstly, it is clear that there is still a very important role for Trade Unions. Many of our European leaders seem to believe that the only way to ensure growth in the economy is by targeting workers’ rights – the European Commission has even suggested that limiting the influence of Trade Unions would be ’employment friendly’.
So it’s as important as ever that we work with Trade Unions to ensure we keep the rights and interests of ordinary European workers at the heart of our policies. This is what I said to Trade Union officers when I spoke at a European Trade Union Confederation training seminar this week.
The other message is one of solidarity – solidarity with our fellow workers and citizens across Europe. It might seem easy to look away from the chaos engulfing Portugal or Greece but whether we like it or not, our fate is connected with the rest of Europe.
This is not just about the economy and the fact that the majority of our trade is within the EU. It is also about humanity. We cannot simply accept a situation where our young people see no future and people are queuing at soup kitchens. The EU is based on the principle that we achieve more by working together to solve our shared problems. It is clear from Wednesday’s action that the demand for a new direction grows stronger.