Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Massive protest in Brussels rejects European austerity plans

More than 100,000 trade unionists from throughout Europe took to the streets of Brussels on 29 September to oppose austerity measures which, if governments do not change direction, will have disastrous social and economic results. Parallel national protests taking place across Europe include a general strike in Spain, and demonstrations in Italy, France, Portugal, Lithuania, Latvia, Germany, Cyprus, Serbia, Poland, Finland and Ireland. Protests already held in Bucharest and Prague brought together more than 20,000 and 40,000 people respectively.

John Monks, General Secretary of the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) which organised the Brussels march, said “Trade unionism is on an unstoppable march for progress, equality and justice, determined to build from the debris of the current crisis, a new, better society where those who are too big to fail cannot be allowed to continue to ignore those who they have regarded as too small to matter.” Along with the actions in Europe, trade unions from across the world are planning events to call for jobs, public services and regulation of banking and finance in the lead up to the World Day for Decent Work, on 7 October.

Tens of thousands of US trade unionists will take part in a rally in Washington DC on 2 October, organised by “One Nation Working Together”, a grassroots coalition advocating the creation, protection and advancement of good jobs. “During this economic downturn, creating good jobs and helping those who have lost their jobs are defining issues not only for Americans – but for all workers throughout the world. We need a global economic recovery that works for all working people,” said Rich Trumka, President of the AFL-CIO, which is organising the Washington march along with dozens of civil and human rights organisations.

More than 100 events have already been registered on the World Day for Decent Work website, which tracks activities organised by trade union organisations in the lead up to and during 7 October itself. A major international conference the following week in Geneva will focus on countering the threat to quality public services posed by the growing obsession of governments to implement austerity measures without proper regard to the consequences on social cohesion and employment.

“Working people and those seeking jobs are justified in their anger at having the costs of the crisis forced upon them while bankers, financiers and speculators once again reap the spoils at the expense of the real economy. Tens of millions of jobs have been lost, and 100 million people pushed into absolute poverty in the developing world. Governments, especially the G20, pledged to regulate the finance sector, to create jobs and put the world economy on a sustainable and productive pathway. Yet they are not showing the common will needed to meet these goals. We will continue and step up the pressure until they do,” said ITUC General Secretary Sharan Burrow.

Monday, 27 September 2010

The cost of hunger and a summit failure

A new ActionAid report has revealed that hunger could be costing poor nations $450bn a year - more than ten times the amount needed to halve hunger by 2015 and meet Millennium Development Goal One. The report, Who’s really fighting hunger? shows the real dates countries will meet MDG1 and scores nations on their efforts to fight hunger. Is was released to coincide with world leaders meeting at the UN in New York to discuss progress on the Millennium Development Goals.

As the UN Millennium Development Goals summit closes in New York, ActionAid’s Chief Executive Joanna Kerr says: “With the world still reeling from a global food crisis and the threat of another looming, world leaders should have initiated an emergency response here at the summit. Instead for yet another year nearly a billion people will go to bed hungry and the world will be $450 billion poorer.”

According to ActionAid, UN summits will continue failing to deliver so long as leaders keep making empty promises on too many issues. With only five years to go, concerted action on the goals most off track is the only way forward. “Spreading yourself too thin never gets the job done.”

Saturday, 11 September 2010

Unions call for IMF and ILO: Work for jobs and recovery

At a major conference organised by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the International Labour Organisation (ILO) in Oslo on 13 September, a high-level international union delegation led by ITUC President Michael Sommer and ITUC General Secretary Sharan Burrow will be arguing that priority must be given to maintaining economic stimulus policies, and achieving a real and sustained economic recovery with jobs at the centre.

"Achieving durable recovery means that the labour market imbalances and inequalities that were a major cause of the crisis must be tackled and prevented. Therefore, recovery must not be built on deregulation but can succeed only if based on policies that can improve well-being for people – on better and more available social protection, on collective bargaining, on higher minimum wages, on more progressive taxation, on green jobs – policies encapsulated in the Global Jobs Pact of the ILO," said ITUC General Secretary Sharan Burrow, adding “Furthermore, a financial transactions tax is needed to help provide the resources to carry out those policies.”

The Conference comes shortly after the release of the OECD’s Interim Economic Assessment that signals a likely slowdown in growth to 1.5% in the G7 economies in the second half of the year.

* A link to an ILO/IMF background document on the conference can be found >>> here.

Thursday, 9 September 2010

Ecofin meeting: Not the end of Robin Hood Tax debate

The recent meeting of the EU ministers for economy and finance (Ecofin) could not find an agreement on the implementation of the Financial Transaction Tax (FTT) also known as Robin Hood Tax. But according to Peter Wahl of weed Germany, “this is not yet the end of the discussion”. The official communiqué says: “Ministers will further discuss the issue at an informal meeting in Brussels on 30 September and 1 October." This is confirmed by a statement of the German finance minister Schäuble who said (according to the German edition of the Financial Times) that the implementation of the tax was not for sure but there would be a chance for which one must fight. The British finance minister Osborn said instead: "This has been discussed since decades and will continue to be discussed for decades."

Unofficial sources said that Greece would have joined the camp of the proponents which by now consists of Austria, Belgium, France, and Germany.

The president of the EU Commission (the executive of the Union) Barroso said in a speech at the European Parliament yesterday: "I am also defending taxes on financial activities and we will come with proposals this autumn." It is unclear what he means by "financial activities". It could be the "Financial Activities Tax" as proposed by the IMF, but it could also be something else. Probably the opacity is by intention in order not to occur partisan between the big shots Germany and France on the one hand and the UK at the other.

France announced to raise the issue of the FTT again in the G20, although the Toronto summit had refused the FFT.

As the Germans had announced that in case that an implementation at EU level would not be possible - and the statement of Osborn points very much in that direction - an implementation in the Euro Zone should be considered. The finance minister of Luxembourg, Luc Frieden, opposed this and said the FTT "in the Euro zone only is not acceptable."

Despite the political differences on the subject Peter Wahl still sees a window of opportunity for the FTT:

“The differences between the elites are obvious. They are not capable to come to an agreement in either direction. Pressure from civil society should therefore continue. This is also important in those countries, where the government is in favour of the FTT, in order to prevent a retreat. There are some major countries such as Italy and Spain where the government is silent. There, pressure should try to reach a positive attitude.
The option of the implementation in the Euro zone should be looked at more in detail. The Europeans should prepare for the October Ecofin and the proposal announced by the Commission. At global level, the UN conference on the MDGs and the General Assembly and the G20 summit in Seoul could be further landmarks for campaigning.”

Thursday, 2 September 2010