• Nurses, teachers, firefighters and other public sector workers are being made to pay for the crisis (Photo: European Commission)

Opinion

Public sector workers are being forced to pay for the crisis

04.07.11 @ 09:27

  1. By Jean Willem Goudriaan

Austerity measures recently agreed by EU leaders has seen the focus completely shift from addressing the causes of the crisis to making public service workers pay for a crisis they did not cause, nor contributed to.

Public sector workers are now systematically put into the firing line. They are used by policy makers to resolve the crisis and balance the books letting speculators and international finance off the hook. The latter have returned to pre-crisis days of large profits and massive bonuses.

The conservative majorities in the Council in the Parliament and the European Commission are pushing through an agenda that has nothing to do with resolving the crisis. A recent UN report on the World Social Situation in 2011 argued that such measures do not address the growing inequalities nor promote a stronger financial system. It has more to do with imposing a vision of a harsher, more unequal, less democratic society and rolling back the welfare state.

Greece, Portugal, Romania and others are under the yoke of old-style IMF conditionalities. These policies have been discredited but the danger is that these one size fits all policies will be expanded to all EU member states.

The europact plus, a strong set of governance rules, and the current economic governance means forcing member states into a strait-jacket that will squeeze public services, cut public spending and put pressure on the wages of nurses, teachers, police, fire-fighters, refuse collectors, tax-inspectors, child and elderly care workers and many other public service workers.

Workers, who did not cause the crisis, are targeted by these measures. The EU employment rate has fallen again, to 68.8 % in 2010, far removed from the European Union target of 75%.

Rolling back the welfare state

Public services are essential for the future of our societies: nurses help to maintai a long life expectancy, tax inspectors are key to fighting tax fraud and evasion and enforcing redistribution from the wealthy to the less well off, teachers are the basis for a society based on knowledge.

Those that are pushing for austerity policies have put their faith and trust in the market which has so desperately failed us and caused the financial crisis. It is important to remember that many public sector workers do jobs that are very physical, sometimes badly paid and often in anti-social hours but which are needed for the basic running of the economy.

Will trucks deliver goods in the winter without the work of these public sector workers clearing roads? Or will companies manage to work without public sector workers collecting the rubbish they create during their working hours?

The European Commission has obtained more powers to intervene in member states' policies and in a one-sided direction: reduce public deficit and public debt. The legislative package combined with the Annual Growth Survey and the Recommendations of the Commission on the national reform plans demonstrate a bias against public services. These policies fail to focus on job creation, on reducing poverty or on investing in sustainable development and hence risk jeopardising the future of the EU.

This is an ideological battle against a vision of society that appeals to justice and fairness. If the policies continue as they are, it will mean a rolling back of the welfare state and the creation of model solely based on neoliberal principles. Is this what Europe is all about?

We do not believe so!

And while the financial and economic crisis has demonstrated that the EU is definitely in need of economic governance, the current policies fail to boost public investment, address poverty, create jobs or address macro-economic imbalances. In that sense we will continue to struggle to show that another Europe is possible and not only necessary.

More balanced measures to get out of the crisis start with the introduction of Eurobonds so countries like Greece and Portugal can profit from lower interest rates, a financial transaction tax (FTT) at a European level as a first step to a Global FTT to address speculation, fighting fraud and tax evasion and addressing the common tax base for corporate profits and minimum tax rate.

This will allow members states to undertake the massive investment in public services and infrastructure that is needed for job creation and a fair transition to get us out of the mess that has being created.

The writer is Deputy General Secretary of the European Federation of Public Service Unions (EPSU)

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