Decent Work: the alternative to austerity
One of the arguments that the left has had to win again over the last generation has been about whether governments can create employment. During the Thatcher years, the right argued that the post-war consensus – that employment levels were a matter of public policy – was wrong. Nowadays there are debates about how far the state should intervene, and what the best method to create jobs is – but few argue the more fundamental point.
So the upside of this year’s World Day for Decent Work is that from the G20 to the UN, decent work has been acknowledged as a major policy objective: most recently, the UN summit to review the Millennium Development Goals heeded union demands to back the ILO Global Jobs Pact as a key element of the fight against global poverty. The IMF and the OECD have joined the ILO in judging Government economic policies at least to some extent by how much unemployment they will leave unresolved – or cause.
But the downside is pretty obvious. Across Europe, Governments are ignoring economists, trade unionists and civil society in implementing austerity measures. They are also ignoring the lessons from the USA, several Latin American countries and China, that stimulus measures work and need to be maintained. In deference to “the markets”, Governments are either running scared of sovereign debt problems, or embracing them as a way to justify reducing the scope of the state.
So the call for Decent Work has never been more relevant. Last week, trade unionists across Europe demonstrated, struck and protested against austerity in greater numbers than at any time since the 1980s. Later this month, the British trade union movement will rally against the cuts in public expenditure ahead of the Comprehensive Spending Review which will set out the grim reality of what working people face in the years to come. But trade unions need a positive alternative, as well as a critique of the cuts.
Decent work is precisely that: a rallying call for those concerned about poverty and growth. It means more and better jobs, social protection, rights at work and social dialogue rather than top-down direction or leaving everything to the market. In keeping with the globalised world we live in, it applies in every country whatever their level of development.
As austerity measures replace the global financial crisis as the main cause of rising unemployment, the temptation will be to create jobs at any cost – insecure, poorly paid, without prospects. Decent work offers an alternative that can meet the needs of the aspirational as well as the desperate. It is something that trade unions will be calling for today, and in the months and years to come.