Sunday, July 14, 2019

“The transformation of production and unifying slogans of workers in Europe”

Intervention by Christos Tombazos, Member of the C.C. of AKEL and Central Organizing Secretary of the Pancyprian Federation of Labour, at the PEL seminar on the subject: “The transformation of production and unifying slogans of workers in Europe”
12 July 2019, Fiuggi Italy
First permit me thank the organizers for this fine and useful initiative.
I consider that before we focus on the essence of the issue regarding the transformation of production and working people’s joint action, it is important to look at the context within the EU itself. If we do not see the stark realities, we may not arrive at beneficial conclusions.
For that reason, to talk about rights, joint action, about a Europe of the working people, it is in our opinion useful, albeit briefly to look at today’s realities, to see the current EU as it actually is and not as how one may imagine it to be.
As AKEL, we believe that today’s European unification has no relationship whatsoever with its own declarations and – above all – with the aspirations and needs of the peoples in the EU member states. When during the mid-1990’s, AKEL decided to consent – but according to preconditions and taking into account the cause of the Cyprus problem – to Cyprus’ accession to the EU, it proclaimed that this was the result of the dramatic changes that took place in international conditions and not in the character of the European Union itself. During that period, the assessments and warnings of AKEL, as well as that of a large section of the Left in Europe about the capitalist nature, course and policies of the EU were ignored or mocked. However, today it is evident that these assessments and warnings are being verified.
One wonders, can the EU today continue implementing the same neoliberal policies when their very results have led to millions of unemployed, poor, under-employed and even homeless people?
When even the former President of the Commission himself, Jean-Claude Juncker, admitted that the EU is in danger of becoming a Wild West of social dumping and that the living standards of today’s young people are worse than their parents?
What meaning do the EU’s declared supposed values have on the crucial issue of our era, namely with regards the refugee and migration issue? The principles of solidarity are being replaced by the doctrine of “Fortress Europe”, by the Right and far-right logic of repression, the militarization of the EU’s external borders or the refugee “detention centres” on European territory.
How “European” is the xenophobic attitude of governments like those of Orban in Hungary or Kurt in Austria, governments that are members of the European People’s Party EPP?
How “European” is the government of Italy that has reached the point of arresting rescuers? They refuse to participate in a system of hosting refugees across all member states, depending to their capabilities. It is the attitude of these forces that has resulted in states such as Greece to take on a disproportionate share of responsibilities in hosting refugees, despite the fact that this constitutes the legal and moral obligation of all member states. In particular, on this burning issue, we believe that the progressive forces of Europe must send out the powerful message that – even though we know the issue of immigration is a complex one and there are no easy solutions – racism and hatred are not only not the solution, but are part of the problem.
As regards foreign policy and defense issues, we pose the following questions: How can the EU be considered a “force of peace”, as it itself claims, when it is proceeding towards a “turn in investment” towards the war arms industry?
When its powerful member states are engaging in widespread selling of arms and weapons with authoritarian regimes and warring Middle Eastern countries?
When it is continuously deepening its coupling and association with NATO?
When the EU opts for an ongoing escalation of confrontations with Russia, instead of choosing the path of dialogue and cooperation?
The issues relating to the democratic functioning, transparency and essential parity of member states within the EU structure are one of the most debated European issues. In our view, the “democratic deficit of the EU” not only concerns its operation and procedures. It is a structural issue. The EU has a class character, given that the elites and powerful interests prevail to the detriment of the peoples, citizens, trade unions and social movements. Their characteristic expression is the huge influence of multinational giants’ lobby on decision-making by EU institutions.
The answer to these huge deadlocks cannot be the nationalist “Euro-skepticism” of the extreme-right that has unfortunately increased its position in the recent elections. The answer cannot be the forces that are threatening to plunge Europe back to the darkest times of its history. The situation is more worrying than many people think.
On the political horizon of Europe democracy, peace, the rights and the conquests of our peoples are now facing a terrible danger. Extreme right-wing forces are already in governments and have entered parliaments in a number of member states. They bring with them xenophobia and racism, fanatical anti-communism and anti-Semitism, sexism and homophobia, even praising Hitler and Mussolini. For some years now, they are being legitimized in the eyes of the people as a result of the tolerance shown towards them or even by the treatment they enjoy mainly from the member parties of the European People’s Party. They are now encouraged by Trump’s government. They are now being coordinated and organized with a view to the European elections. All of them not only do not represent an “anti-systemic alternative force”, but instead the most barbaric and reactionary version of the system. Every democrat and progressive citizen of Cyprus and Europe must rise up against this threat. This is why, as AKEL, we feel the strong need in these conditions to address an appeal to all democrat fellow citizens who, even if they may not agree with us on all issues, share however the need to block the road to the far-right.
We are waging our struggles in this framework, in constantly changing conditions, both on a political level and production levels. I will give you some examples from my own country, Cyprus, as they roughly have evolved in all countries, with variations of course.
Since the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, drastic changes have taken place in the developmental model of the Cyprus economy, which has resulted on the on hand in a gradual but rapid shift in economic activity and, consequently, in employment, from the primary and secondary sectors to the tertiary, i.e. services.
One characteristic example is the fact that in 1995, where changes such as the disappearance of the footwear industry that flourished in the 1980’s had already taken place, the manufacturing industry had a double GDP than the financial sector, whereas the share of agriculture and fisheries in the GDP was as much as the banking and insurance sectors combined.
The most significant changes are related to the dramatic contraction of manufacturing and agriculture and their replacement with banks, insurance and the wider service sectors such as private education, private health, technology companies, auditing and law firms and other related sectors.
In 2017, financial and insurance activities were at the forefront of the Cyprus economy with their contribution to GDP standing at 9.64%. Yet a few years ago they were in tenth place with their contribution just 4.79% of GDP.
All this, combined with other factors such as the increase in the Cypriot people’s educational level and the young generations’ orientation towards occupations that are in demand, have created the preconditions for a form of “de-proletarisation” of the Cypriot working class. That is to say, the numbers of manual workers and craftsmen have fallen drastically, while the number of highly qualified workers and of working people in the general services sector have risen sharply.
Another reality that has evolved is the gradual covering of even the reduced needs for the low-skilled manual jobs by immigrants, who make up 30% of private sector workers.
However, apart from the shifting of employment from traditional sectors of economic activity to the services sector, another important factor that had a drastic effect on the production process is the continuous development of new technologies.
In the course of human society technological advances and achievements have led to new developments in the production process. One would expect that today, the vigorous growth of productive forces combined with scientific and technological innovations would have led to an improvement in living standards and that working people across the world would enjoy at least minimal dignified living standards.
Instead, however, these benefits mainly serve the interests of the ruling circles and multinational companies and hardly any workers. Developments in the production process with the introduction of new technologies reveal the capitalist system’s contradictions. In the context of neo-liberal capitalist globalization, social inequalities, the exploitation of the working class and the concentration of wealth in the hands of the privileged few are intensifying. There is an increase in the number of working people who have a job and a steady income, but are living in conditions of poverty or are on the poverty line. The number of poor working people is growing.
One characteristic of the ongoing acute unequal distribution is the fact that today 1% of the world’s population own the same wealth as the 99%, while over 300 million people survive on less than one and a half dollars a day.
In recent years, there has been an explosion in the development of new technologies and their use in industrial production and the economy in general, leading to the fourth industrial revolution, as it has been defined by experts.
At the same time, and while the “fourth industrial revolution” is being implemented, as defined by the mass use of new technologies in industrial production, millions of people all over the world are still being denied access even to electricity, drinking water, health and education. Even worse the progress of new technologies and their introduction and use in the production process is being used by capital for the further deregulation of labour relations. Employment through electronic platforms is yet another form of flexibility and undermines working people’s possibility to take collective action and to assert. The International Labour Organization estimates that 42% of the world’s labour force is employed in conditions of flexibility.
At the same time, the application of technologies is displacing the labour force, and according to estimates by 2020 it is expected that in 15 developed countries there will be a loss of 7 million jobs which will be replaced by machines.
In a context where the correlation of forces are not favourable for working people, historical labour gains are being abolished. The current balance of forces, in combination with the imposition of neoliberal austerity policies and the deregulation of labour relations, have led to greater exploitation and increased capital’s profitability. At the same time, and as a result of the heterogeneous development, acute social contradictions are being observed.
In Europe, the ruling circles taking advantage of the capitalist crisis have imposed a framework with attacks against working people’s gains and trade union rights, the abolition of the welfare state and the privatization of public organizations, the promotion of “flexible forms of employment” such as part-time work, mini-jobs and “zero hour” contracts as a means of tackling unemployment, intensifying the pressure and attacks on labour rights and as a result serving the interests and profitability of capital and multinational companies.
At this point we of course believe that we need to also look at the situation within the trade union movement.
We are obliged to point out that many battles against these policies could have been won had the ETUC as the dominant force demonstrated the required class consistency and determination by mobilizing the working people.
Instead the ETUC chose the path of class compromise.
We as AKEL and the class-based trade union movement of Cyprus believe in solidarity and mutual support, in coordinating our actions and struggles to respond to capitalism’s globalization and the imposition of neo-liberalism.
My organization, PEO, as the Coordinator of the European Regional Office of the World Federation of Trade Unions (WFTU), is working actively, despite the negative balance of forces, for the unity and solidarity of the class-orientated progressive forces in Europe and the development of actions against neoliberal policies.
In these conditions and despite the difficulties, organized struggle, class struggles and international solidarity remain for working people the means to defend their social and labour rights, as well as the means to project a different perspective.
As the Left, of course, we don’t seek to stand out just for our consistent opposition to everything we disagree with. We therefore shouldn’t just be a voice of protest. We above all are seeking to develop action, with our proposals, by putting forth our demands and assertions, through our struggle and vision. We are promoting demands for a different model of socio-economic development in Europe. For investment programs to create permanent and dignified jobs. To support social policies and combat poverty. For the effective safeguarding of collective agreements and the right of trade union organization. We should aim and achieve a common package of minimum social rights for all the peoples, starting with the EU’s accession to the European Social Charter. We should aim to bring more democracy, participation and transparency through the implementation of measures that will make the EU institutions truly open and accountable to people. We are struggling for a Europe that will reject militarization, interventionism and the pursuance of a double-standard policy in the EU’s international relations. We are struggling for a foreign policy that must be based on principles, peace, the respect for international law and solidarity.
The big question is: what kind of Europe do we want and who should it serve? We unequivocally reply that we want a Europe that will serve working people, citizens and the peoples. A Europe of peace, social equality, democracy, equal co-operation and open multicultural societies. The Europe of the Peoples.
We need to step up our actions for this kind of Europe. We need to focus on what unites us as the left, put aside possible differences on secondary issues. We need to get closer to the class-based trade unions and social movements and listen to their concerns and support their assertions.
We aspire to and are sure that, as always, our Group, the Confederal Group of GUE/NGL in the European Parliament will as always be our ally.
We thank you again for the hospitality and organization of the event. We wish you all the best in your struggles for all of us.

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