A wake up call for Europe from North Africa
Veteran ETUC expert on the Middle East/North Africa region Peter Siedeneck caught the mood of the ITUC solidarity meeting in Jordan this week when he said:
“for years, Europe has been telling the Arabs to wake up: but this is a wake-up call for Europe.”
As well as debating concrete solidarity work (see my Stronger Unions blog for news on that), we discussed the political situation in the region too.
“The first phase of pan-Arabism was nationalist. This second pahase is democratic.”
It heralds the collapse of the old EU strategy for the EuroMed region, characterised at the meeting as a mixture of privatisation and migration, or supporting neoliberal economic reforms in ‘stable’, autocratic regimes. Instead, unions and the people are now championing democratic renewal, anti-corruption and a new paradigm of sustainable economic development for the region. Jobs and growth are as central as human rights.
The EU is searching for a new way to approach the region, and EU Vice President Cathy Ashton got credit for meeting with the UGTT when she flew to Tunis. But as well as the EU there is also a key role for the ILO – no doubt this will be an issue at the Governing Body meeting in Geneva this month.
Youth are a key element of the equation, with their demand for jobs and their use of new technology to communicate: the Arab ‘street’ is now virtual as well as real.
And gender will need to be a key element of anything the ITUC does in the region: with perfect timing, the ITUC Equalities Department is launching a new MENA women’s network on International Women’s Day next week, extending the Dutch government-funded ‘Decisions for Life’ programme for young women workers into the region.
The changes sweeping through the Arab world are not yet permanent, and elites are fighting back – bloodily in Libya – or trying to contain the changes that are all-pervasive. But as Peter Siedeneck put it:
“this is authentic. And it’s not over yet.”