The European Trade Union Congress has issued this statement on the current crisis. The London Declaration comes from the ETUC summer school held on September 26 and 27. The document is a mix of strong and lilly-livered language. Attacking “Casino Capitalism”, the ETUC says that the current crisis must be a turning point, that the unfettered financial capitalism of the last 25 years has become unsustainable, and a threat to the real economy. The document rightly blames the greed and recklessness of senior executives at corporations for betting their future on high risk investments, and points to the costs to ordinary populations of the rescue packages across the world. “Never again can irrespnsibility by banks and hedge funds and the rest be allowed to come close to bankrupting nations.” All this is excellent stuff, especially as we can’t expect a social democratic formation to cut to the real heart of the matter, which is the very nature of the system itself.
What then of the recommendations the ETUC makes? After the opening, they are disappointing. More public influence in institutions that received public money – this is a far cry from nationalisation, or even a call for the public to become the dominant voice on the boards of the banks it has rescued. Influence is an extremely amorphous concept, and not a lot to ask for given the scale of the investment in these institutions. The ETUC also calls for European-level regulation, and help for affected workers, those threatened with eviction, pensioners, and entrepreneurs seeking investment capital, while also calling for public policy attention for income and wage inequalities, as well as government action to ensure that funds are available for investment in the real economy, for green jobs and sustainable development.
All this sounds good. But the average left-leaning person could have thought it up in about five minutes. Unlike the average left-leaning person, the ETUC represents millions of members, with thousands of workers, and vast resources. In short, this is a pathetic response for organisations that are supposed to be the first line of defence for workers. Why haven’t they got the facts and figures to back up what they say? Why do they not have more concrete proposals, costed and ready to go? It was clear that this crisis was coming, especially after the Northern Rock and other warning signs. What are the unions doing? A look at both the TUC and ICTU websites reveals very little beyond the London Declaration.
The bankruptcy of social democracy could not be clearer. This can be an historic turning point. But not without social democracy making clear demands to restore the role of the state in the strategic levels of the economy. Less talk about influence and ensuring capital is available. More marches and demands for higher taxes, nationalisation, and targeted public spending rather than giving blank cheques to bankers.