Recovery for whom?

It is constantly repeated in the pro-boss media that the Irish economy is in recovery, and that this is in full swing throughout the European Union. One has to ask the serious question: A recovery for whom, and at what price?

They repeat the mantra that unemployment levels are coming down. Unemployment in the 19-country euro zone is at its lowest level in nearly nine years, at 8.7 per cent—down from 9.7 per cent in 2016. This comes amid a strong economic growth rate of 2½ per cent last year.

But behind this supposedly good news lies a grimmer reality.

Fixed-term or temporary contracts are increasingly the norm throughout the EU since the crash of 2008–10. This has resulted in widespread income insecurity among tens of millions of workers, but growing profits for employers. To paraphrase the multi-billionaire George Soros, never miss the opportunities presented by a crisis to advance your position.

Throughout the EU, workers have experienced increasing attacks on hard-won rights and their terms and conditions, seeing legislation that supposedly protects workers’ rights being watered down and in some cases removed altogether. Employers remain reluctant to risk open-ended contracts, which further down the line could be an unwelcome burden because of severance pay and other legal requirements.

This is leading to what is termed a “dual labour market,” resulting in some workers getting a healthy pay packet, reasonable benefits and employment security while others are reduced to low wages, job insecurity, and few if any avenues for promotion.

In January 2018 the Spanish government announced that 2017 was a record year for job creation, with 21.5 million employment contracts. But 19.6 million of these jobs were temporary.

In Italy, the largest trade union federation estimates that the number of people with temporary or part-time jobs who are seeking permanent full-time work grew to a record 4.5 million in the first half of 2017. The numbers looking for full-time work had more than doubled, from 756,000 in 2007 to 1.8 million in the first half of 2017.

In Portugal unemployment was 7.8 per cent in December, the lowest in eight years; but only 34 per cent of employment contracts signed between 2013 and last year were open-ended, that is, full-time work. From 2013 to the end of 2017 nearly three million employment contracts were signed, but by the end of 2017 only about one million of these jobs still exist.

Portugal’s economic recovery is largely in the tourism industry, where seasonal work is widespread, while in the building industry, contracts are valid only for the duration of specific construction projects. This pattern of employment practices is repeated throughout the European Union.

There is a recovery for big business: profits are up, CEOs’ bonuses are up, shareholders’ dividends are growing, while workers see their living standard under constant downward pressure, with our rights eroded and precarious employment as the norm, which in turn is leading in an insecure future.

This is not good for workers, for their physical or mental health. It is not good for their families or their communities. Our only possible defence is our strength in numbers, leading to strength in organisation if we join and are active in our trade union.

The old slogan is come back to haunt another generation: We either organise and resist or we bend the knee and starve.