Can Democracy in Europe Still be Salvaged

Posted by on September 3, 2014 in Forum

Can Democracy in Europe Still be Salvaged;

Gaps in Trade Union Strategy

Looking at Germany we are struck by the low level of importance that the trade union milieu has given to the crisis-dominated European developments. The European crisis and the far-reaching economic, social, and political dislocations that neoliberal austerity policy has unleashed appears from those employed in Germany as problems occurring far away. It is seen as the crisis of the indebted southern countries and appears to be occurring far away from the working and living conditions in Germany.

Yet, the objective pressures arising from the current crisis are increasingly undermining collective-bargaining systems and social standards and should not be underestimated by unions. They need to face the challenge of making greater efforts at carrying out A major dialogue is needed with workers about  the real causes of the crisis and the far-reaching consequences of neoliberal policies.

Trade unions in the EU Member States do not appear to be well prepared for the current challenges. For a long time trade unions regarded the EU as the hope for a socially progressive perspective. Now they have lived to see that EU policy is part of the problem. The dismantling of public social services and social rights promoted by EU crisis policy, the encroachments on wage-negotiating autonomy, as well as wage cuts, are measures that contribute to the aggravation of Europe’s social conditions, put unions under serious pressure in their core spheres, and, not least, threaten the social basis of democracy.

Until now trade union politics have above all aimed at fighting infringements of employees’ interests and have been confined to the arenas of nation-state economic and social policy. Attempts at influencing the EU policies of governments and thus crisis policy at the European level are just as underdeveloped as are attempts to coordinate, or even just to network with, cross-border battles over redistribution.

If the trade unions want to make an effective contribution to an overdue change of direction in Europe, new standards have to be set for their political mandate. Unions need to to play a double role: as protagonists of collective agreements and as political pressure groups. They must take the offensive with employers and exploit the room for manoeuvre to redistribute income from capital to labour.  They must also organise a democratic offensive to mobilise against the disastrous austerity mania of the Troika for a redistributive economic policy to improve social benefits and social provision.

Wolfgang Lemb and Hans-Jürgen Urban; this is an edited extract from their contribution to Can Europe still be saved? Analyses and demands for an offensive EU-policy by German trade unionists, Supplement of the Journal Sozialismus 4 / 2014

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