May Day 2010: Work in Europe at the crossroads
Today is May Day, also known as International Workers’ Day, a commemoration of the struggle for decent working hours in the 19th Century, when American trades unionists gained rights to an eight hour day in many industries – a key victory for secure and decent work worldwide.
121 years on from the first May Day celebrations, we find we’re standing at a crossroads for the world of work in Europe, one where there is a real risk of taking the path back toward 1889.
The financial crisis has hit employment levels and job security right across Europe. Vulnerable work, unsecure, under regulated, under rewarded and exploitative (and these days often the only type of work available to young people) is spreading to sectors of the economy that until now were not afflicted by this phenomenon.
Inequalities in European societies are increasing as huge fortunes continue to be amassed by many, leaving the victims of the crisis further and further behind.
The ETUC is determined that vulnerable work must not come to represent the future of the European Union. Vulnerable work undermines people, society and democracy. Over the longer term, we are headed towards a widespread impoverishment that downgrades Europe both economically and politically.
Only by investing for the long term, can Europe safeguard many of the very valuable aspects of its economic and social model. To remedy the worsening employment situation, the EU must increase investment, through an EU recovery plan equivalent to 1% of Europe’s GDP, and designed to deliver new, innovative and job-creating industrial policies. The quality of employment must be the objective. Quality jobs, backed by a focus on access to skills for all, can help ensure a decent life and sustainable economic and social development.
We don’t just need the old methods of piecemeal intergovernmental cooperation, but instead an EU-wide vision for industrial coordination that transcends our intra-European divisions and the perverse effects of the demand for short-term profitability in industrial investments.
Active solidarity policies are also necessary to provide support for individuals and countries in difficulty, but also to stimulate activity and social cohesion. Focusing on slashing public spending and social protection schemes at a time when the economy still needs to be shored up is a mistake that is sure to have serious consequences. Without investments, without solidarity measures, society as a whole will be shaken.
The challenge is tremendous, particularly in a context of aggressive globalisation and large government deficits in Europe. But the challenge has to be met, which is why Europe has to be given sufficient resources, particularly budget resources.
Throughout Europe today, trade unions will be on the march to express their rejection of the path that leads to a lowest-bidder approach to employment and social protection. I’d like to wish you the best for May Day, and invite you to join our call for solidarity and cohesion for the future of all European workers.