Patrick's blog

Austerity Still Isn't Working: The Second EPSU Briefing on Austerity Exposes “The Confidence Myth”

Thursday, May 15, 2014

In yesterday’s review of the first in a series of EPSU briefings on austerity, we talked about how (with the aide of several extended metaphors) austerity causes unemployment and  depresses economic activity. Today, we take up the same thread with the second in the series: “Austerity and Alternatives – Briefing #2: The Confidence Myth.”

You may be asking yourself, ‘why then would anyone want to pursue this disastrous policies?’ Ah! It’s to restore the confidence of the markets you see! This worn-out refrain is trotted out time and time again by the ‘austerians’ to justify massive cuts in public spending and services. But is it true?

This short report shows, using very convincing economic data, how markets react more to the short-term conditions of the real economy, particularly demand, than they do to the long-term expectation of lower government debt. At the same time, consumption and investment, both by households and private-sector actors, are depressed by money being taken out the economy. The theory of the Ricardian equivalency, the idea that when a government tries to stimulate demand by increasing debt-financed government spending, demand remains unchanged, and that there is essentially no difference between improving government balance sheets by tax hikes or spending cuts, is shown to be untrue. The multipliers speak for themselves: the spending cuts are far more damaging to the wider economy.

Yet possibly the most interesting part of the document is the results of a Europea-wide survey conducted by Gallup that shows just how little confidence Europeans have in austerity policies. 51% of the 6000 people surveyed said that they did not think austerity policies were working, 36% said that ‘austerity will work but this takes time’, and a miniscule 5% said unconditionally that ‘yes, austerity works.’ So much for confidence.

Read the full report “Austerity and Alternatives – Briefing #2: The Confidence Myth”, and see how even the IMF is starting to have its doubts.

These publications provide great background for the Wednesday morning panel discussion "The Financial and Economic Crisis: what Type of Economic Policy?", with Elena Flores, Director Policy Strategy and Coordination of the Directorate General for Economic and Financial Affairs, European Commission, Sian Jones, from the European Anti Poverty Network, and Rossana Dettori, General Secretary FP-CGIL.


Waste and Recycling: Workers at Risk

Thursday, May 15, 2014

The European Trade Union Institute, in collaboration with EPSU, has dedicated the latest edition of its health and safety publication, HesaMag, to the European waste and recycling sector.

This sector is having to meet the challenges posed by globalisation and the growing demand for reusing and recycling waste. The sector is clearly reorienting itself away from disposal (“How to get rid of waste?”) to reuse (“How to make the most of waste resources?”). This ‘green transition’ demands changes in both work organisation and the characteristics of the jobs in the sector.

In Europe, two thirds of waste-management companies are publically funded, but the role of the private sector has grown due to sub-contracting out collection and sorting of domestic waste. However, since the mid-2000s, there have been moves back towards the public-sector in collection contracts in Germany, the UK and France.

Since the crisis in 2008, French multi-nationals Suez and Véolia, both leaders in the waste-management market, have developed cost-cutting strategies, by slashing overtime and not replacing workers who have left the company.

With the aim of tackling environmental problems, the European Commission has set out its objectives for waste-management in its Europe 2020 strategy.  The potential for job creation is key. According to a study conducted by the NGO Friends of the Earth, 50,000 new jobs could be created in waste management n Europe.

For EPSU and the wider trade union movement, these issues present some major challenges: unionising workers in the sector, improving working conditions, and workers’ health and safety.

In the UK, for example, the waste management and recycling sector has the highest level of work-related accidents. In 2012-13, 12 workers lost their lives, a figure that is 16 times higher than the cross-sector average in the UK, according to the Health and Safety Executive.

In Italy, risks have grown and working conditions have worsened for the rubbish collectors. In order to not raise costs due to the implementation of waste sorting, the number of workers has remain unchanged yet the quantity of work has quadrupled.

The participation of workers and trade unions in this ‘green transition is vital to guarantee the sustainability of these new jobs. Social dialogue is a means of achieving a structural involvement of the workforce in this changing industry. 

You can read this edition of HesaMag here, in English and French.


Austerity Isn’t Working: First in Series of EPSU Briefings Counter the Arguments of the ‘Austerians’

Thursday, May 15, 2014

They are certainly a strange species: ‘austerians’ seem ubiquitous at one moment  only to be nowhere to be seen when the consequences of their decisions are laid bare. They are found in their natural habitats, national governments, central banks and the European Commission, rarely venturing out to meet the people that their policies effect.

In October, EPSU published the first in a series of briefings to counter the arguments set out by these austerity-mongers. In simple language and with clear economic data the myths peddled to promote cuts in spending  and services are debunked, one by one.

This first briefing shows how the policies followed in the wake of the crisis, prioritising deficit reduction at all costs, has been counter-productive, not only in terms of employment and growth, but even in reducing overall levels of public debt.

Since the onset of the crisis, a staggering €700 billion has been taken out of the European economy, just when falling employment and consumer spending necessitate money being pumped in. 26 million Europeans are out of a job, whilst the aim of the ‘austerians’ seem to be a radical deregulation of labour markets, meaning that these unemployed Europeans may never be able to find high-quality, dignified work ever again. The European workforce risks being  scarred for a generation by long term unemployment and, in the meantime, we are told to hold tight and twiddle our thumbs whilst the ‘medicine’ takes effect.

But a medicine that leaves the patient permanently ill is no medicine at all. European and national leaders need to change direction and take concrete action to promote jobs and investment. Otherwise, the European economy, along with ordinary citizens, may be condemned to the wilderness for years to come.

Austerity and Alternatives - Briefing #1: The Failure of Austerity can be downloaded here and provides essential arguments against austerity, all in just 7 short pages.

The publications provide great background for the Wednesday morning panel discussion "The Financial and Economic Crisis: what Type of Economic Policy?", with Elena Flores, Director Policy Strategy and Coordination of the Directorate General for Economic and Financial Affairs, European Commission, Sian Jones, from the European Anti Poverty Network, and Rossana Dettori, General Secretary FP-CGIL.


Q&A on ‘Women in EPSU Survey’

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

What is the survey?

In 2009 EPSU, with the support of our Swedish affiliate Vision (then SKTF), carried out a survey of women’s representation in affiliates’ decision-making bodies and other structures. This compared data from 2008 and 2000 to see to what extent the position of women had changed over that period. We wanted to repeat this exercise and compare to update the survey to see whether there has been any improvement in the position of women since 2009.

Why is it needed?

Traditionally, women tend to be under represented in the decision making structures of Trade Unions, even in sectors where the workforce and union membership is predominantly female. Our aim is to see what improvements there have been and also collect information on what our affiliates might be doing to encourage better female representation.

What were the results?

54 unions in 31 countries replied to the survey, covering a total of 10,648,547 workers. 67% of all the membership of the surveyed affiliates are women. The proportions range widely between 80%-90% in the Health and Social Care sector, for some unions, to only 10-20% in Public Utilities.

So the survey asked for a breakdown by sector?

Exactly. This means we can see that women are still underrepresented in traditionally male-dominated sectors, for example in public utilities.

So what about female representation in the decision making bodies of the unions?

The good news that on the whole women’s representation has improved. The average percentage women congress delegates was 52.9% this time round, compared with 49.6% in 2009. We see a similar rise in the percentage of women in the highest decision making bodies: 53.8% compared with 51% in 2009.

So things are improving…?

Definitely. But there is still some way to go. When we compare the percentage of women as union members with the percentage of women at congress or in the highest decision making bodies we see that there is still a gap. The averages that we’ve mentioned here also mask a very nuanced picture with greater improvement in some areas than in others. But on the whole a lot of progress has been made and we are moving very much in the right direction.

You say it’s a ‘nuanced picture’. Can people look at the figures themselves to get a better understanding of the wider picture?

Of course! The results of the Women in EPSU survey are available here and are definitely worth taking a look at.


Enough of Their Crisis - Back to Our Future!

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

 There can be no doubt that young people have been hit hardest by the crisis that has unfolded across Europe over the last five years.  What is more, the austerity policies that have been implemented by both national governments and the European Commission have aggravated the situation, strangling growth that would create desperately needed jobs for young Europeans. 

The figures make for stark reading:  23.4% of under 25s are unemployed across the EU, with the number hitting 55.5% in Spain and a chilling 58.3% in Greece (see Eurostat figures here.) These figures only include young people “actively seeking work”, masking the despair of tens of thousands of young Europeans who have given up the search knowing that they will not find anything. 

In March, EPSU and the other European trade union federations launched a joint campaign calling on the EU institutions and employers to put youth at the top of their agenda. Under the slogan “Enough of their crisis – back to our future”, the ETUFs have set out their demands for the next European Parliament and Commission mandate period: immediate and effective action to release the mortgage on young people’s future in the European labour market resulting from the European crisis and policies.

Public services across Europe have been hit by massive redundancies, whilst demand for  services is rising. EPSU’s message is clear: Public Services are Europe’s strength. They are the solution, not the problem. Creating quality jobs in public services would not only benefit young people in search of work, but would boost the wider economy and improve provision of these essential services that all citizens rely on. 

This is a struggle not just for young people and the unemployed but for all public service workers. Young unemployment risks blighting an entire generation of Europeans, as well as being used as a battering ram of supress wages for all. 

Watch the Take Back Our Future video on youtube.

Check out the website and follow the campaign on Twitter and Facebook