Kairos n°4

On November 14, a European demonstration against « austerity » took place. General strikes (Greece, Italy, Spain, Portugal) or partial strikes, demonstrations, public forums, demonstrations of solidarity, media and political actions, almost all European countries have been theaters of popular mobilizations. At the origin of this movement, the size of which gives an idea of the forces that are being set in motion: the unions.

The slogans were varied according to the actors and the countries, but on all sides the organizations denounced the deadly logic of « austerity » which pushes the whole of Europe towards the precipice, without tackling its productivist cause. Unions do not have a mandate to change the whole world, their mission is primarily to protect their members. But the path of history and the forces they have thrown into it have made these organizations essential social actors in Europe and elsewhere in the world.

What social changes are unions promoting? What are the interests, orientations and proposals (foundations?) that drive them? We believe that unions have almost consistently argued for more growth, at least since the end of World War II. Thus, the European Trade Union Confederation « founded in 1973, [qui] represents today 85 trade union organizations in 36 European countries as well as 10 sectoral federations » fights unceasingly for growth and the revival of the economy. Claiming « a bigger piece of the pie » (the fruits of growth) remains the strategic union orientation. The fights were tough because the employers did not want to give up any of their profits. But the battles were fought hand in hand with the supporters of capital for more growth.

What’s next? For a long time now, common sense environmentalists have been repeating « degrowth or recession ». We have collectively not chosen to decrease (our ecological footprint, not public transport…), and this is the recession. The cake is no longer growing and will even shrink as the natural resources that are the first ingredient in the cake recipe — the labor of the workers being the second — become scarcer. We can see it in Greece: the battle for the cake has turned into a war for the crumbs. So we have to change the recipe.

We are living in a time of major contradictions, and in order to take a decent path, we must invent and choose a new way of making society. The unions are our best enemies. They are an incomparable mobilizing force, they are organized and they promote social justice. But they argue for growth, which is the problem! No more « always more ». How to lead decent and appetizing lives? The solutions are innumerable, they exist everywhere. First emergency: stop feeding the destruction machine. The rest follows from this. And the unions have a major role to play here.

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