December 2011        

The outing of “social Europe”


For many years now, the wisdom within the mainstream European trade union movement and almost all social-democratic parties has been that we are on our way to a “social Europe,” which distributes available work fairly and offers security to workers, to the unemployed, and to those who, for whatever reason, cannot work, to young people just starting out on working life, to mothers with little experience of work outside the home, and to pensioners.
     As long as the capitalist west of Europe had to compete with the social and economic model of the Soviet Union and its allies to win the approval of working people, the right wing had nothing to say against this.
     Founded in 1973, the European Trade Union Confederation was the result of an awareness that the trade union movement needed to combine its forces in order to play a role on the supranational level.
     The political stance of the ETUC is revealed by its slogan “More Europe, a Social Europe.” Its main activity consists of talking to the institutions of the EU and to the European employers’ organisations, both in the EU’s Economic and Social Committee and elsewhere.
     This is a corporatist model, based on a view of the common interest of labour and capital, in place of a struggle between the classes—a model that has its roots in conservative-Catholic state ideologies and Italian fascism.
     It is not only the trade union movement that clings to this misguided view of a progressive EU. In many organisations there is a firm belief that handing over more national competence to the EU will of itself lead to better policies. Everyone put their faith in the fine promises of the EEC-EU project, even if in practice they had little practical significance.
     The European Union sticks its nose into everything, but that is no guarantee that it improves things. In the case of social policy, this is doubly so.
     Under existing relations of power, it would be illusory to expect that uniform rules governing unemployment benefits, pensions, a minimum wage, working hours or the situation of people unable through sickness or disability to work would lead to a harmonisation around the standards set by the best member-state.
     The trend in reality is not towards a “social Europe” but is entirely in the opposite direction, especially now that the social and economic model of the Soviet Union and its allies is no longer around to offer any competition.
     The EU produces whole series of documents repeating what are in reality self-evident rights, such as
• equal pay for men and women
• no racial discrimination in relation to employment
• everyone should have some kind of pension
• trade unions must be legal, and their role as a negotiating partner must be respected.
     Such texts, however, go no further than what is generally acceptable.
     The present euro crisis has accelerated a blatant abandoning of the pretensions of a “social Europe.” EU social priorities now include a reduction in the cost of labour, a reduction in the number of people who have a right to unemployment benefits, and a reduction in the number of pensioners.
     Employers don’t want to have to cover people’s social welfare payments, nor do they want these costs to be taken on by the state, because that will mean that taxes cannot be lowered. In addition, they want to see a more flexible labour market, one where it is easier to sack people and where workers have fewer rights and where jobs are precarious.
     Whatever the outcome of the present euro-zone crisis, the EU is now set firmly on a neo-liberal course. This means that free competition prevails, while national laws protecting work and environment can be overruled by EU regulations.
     The role of such organisations as the “European Round Table of Industrialists” in the development of EU policy has never been thoroughly exposed. This organisation campaigned for the introduction of the euro. The Europe of capital has existed for a long time, but a social Europe never has.
     And it’s not just a conspiracy of right-wing political forces. As far back as March 2000 a summit meting of government leaders came together in Lisbon to discuss what steps could be taken towards meeting the trade unions’ demand for a “social Europe.”
     However, the final conclusions of the then majority social-democratic prime ministers was a far cry from a 35-hour working week, reducing income inequalities, with social security, minimum wages, improved social allowances, more jobs in public services, or a lower age for pensions. Instead they called for massive privatisation and the withdrawal of the state from social provision, as well as the stimulating of economic growth by means of lowering taxes and cutting collective spending.
     This struggle for so-called competitiveness that they signed up to was to be financed by cuts in public services and by continuing the selling off of the remaining publicly owned enterprises.
     Widespread privatisation became the order of the day. An important aim of this privatisation is to break the power of the trade unions and to force down wages by making every job insecure.
     If pressed, the advocates of “social Europe” would now insist that it can come about only through salvaging the euro. This requires lower wages, lower taxes, and weakened protection of workers’ rights and the environment. This sort of growth contributes less to a solution than would a more equal division of what we already have.
     Should we be surprised? Look at some of the leaders of the new “social Europe.”
     The new president of the European Central Bank is Mario Draghi. Draghi was vice-chairman and managing director of Goldman Sachs International and a member of the Goldman Sachs management committee. He was also Italian executive director of the World Bank, governor of the Bank of Italy, a member of the governing council of the European Central Bank, a member of the board of directors of the Bank for International Settlements, a member of the board of governors of the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development and of the Asian Development Bank, and chairman of the Financial Stability Board.
     Italy’s new prime minister, Mario Monti—who was appointed, not elected—was a member of the Goldman Sachs board of international advisers. He was appointed to the European Commission, one of the governing organisations of the EU. Monti is European chairman of the Trilateral Commission, an American organisation that advances US hegemony over the world. He is a member of the Bilderberg Group and a founding member of the Spinelli Group, an organisation created in September 2010 to facilitate integration within the EU.
     Just as an unelected banker was installed as prime minister of Italy, an unelected banker was installed as prime minister of Greece. Greece’s new appointed prime minister, Loukás Papadímos, was governor of the Bank of Greece. From 2002 to 2010 he was vice-president of the European Central Bank. He too is a member of America’s Trilateral Commission.
     The myth of “social Europe” provided a useful slogan for Eurofanatics throughout Europe. Now that the EU stands exposed as imposing economic serfdom on large swathes of the population, it has been outed as the lie that it always was.
[CMK]

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