Education International
Education International

European day of action: no cuts, more growth

published 24 March 2011 updated 24 March 2011

The European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) staged a Day of Action on 29 September 2010 to show unified opposition to austerity measures being adopted by governments across Europe.

Almost 100,000 people from the public and private sectors took to the streets of Brussels in Belgium with simultaneous protests in Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Portugal, Romania and Serbia.

The message from the union movement was for governments to give priority to recovery and to jobs, instead of the early reduction of public deficits based on premature exit strategies from economic stimulus measures.

The debt snowball problem

In May 2010, the Greek government announced plans for €16bn cuts over four years, including cuts to pensions and raising the retirement age. It was the start of a snowball effect. The crisis in Greece rattled other European countries who followed with their own cuts to public service budgets.

In Britain, the Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government announced spending cuts reaching €93bn with the loss of 500,000 public sector jobs in order to reduce the budget deficit.

In Spain, austerity measures included cuts in teachers’ pay and a pensions freeze, as well as an increase in the age of retirement to 67. With unemployment already at 20 per cent, 500,000 more people are set to lose their jobs while reforms erode the basis of collective bargaining agreements. Spanish unions held a general strike on the Day of Action.

In France, state education has also been attacked as the Ministry of Education has forecast the loss of 9,000 jobs in primary education, despite pupil numbers set to increase by 4,000. As well as the increase in class sizes, schooling from the age of two will end, and adult education programmes will be reduced. Massive protests in France showed opposition to the attack on pensions and working conditions as well as the future prospects of young people.

Education must be saved

Teachers’ unions recognise that a genuine resolution to the financial crisis is necessary but then also believe it is crucial that social dialogue with governments helps to identify collectively bargained solutions. Consensus can avoid the risk of austerity measures opening the door to unbridled privatisation of vital public services like health and education.

EI General Secretary, Fred van Leeuwen, stated: “Measures have to be targeted at young people, to avoid having the next generation leave education and move into unemployment, or being passed over by employers when the recovery comes.”

What unions propose

As an alternative solution to austerity measures, trade unions have proposed growth policies based on keeping workers in economic activity until investment measures make their impact. This is the path followed by Germany, where workers were kept employed until demand picked up, even short-time working, compensated by state support for training and retraining. This has led to the fastest levels of recovery in Europe.

Many governments’ finances could also be bolstered by implementing a financial transactions tax (FTT) on banks and creating a fair and more equitable tax collection system. The FTT, as a charge on specific types of financial transactions, could end the short-term speculation which created the financial mess in the first place. Figures show an FTT of 0.05% could generate €200bn every year. This would allow governments to repair the growing cost of the global economic crisis by reducing high rates of unemployment.

EI also believes tax evasion by the richest members of society must be addressed because of its revenue-generating impact and the basic principle of social equity.

For trade unions, the European Day of Action was, beyond all else, a call for solidarity. In the words of ETUC General Secretary, John Monks: “Solidarity has been lacking in the EU during the past 12 months. They have listened too much to the markets – and not enough to the people.”

By Mar Candela

This article was published in Worlds of Education, Issue 36, December 2010.