“The EU could turn into one big Denmark”

Article published on Sept. 5, 2005
community published
Article published on Sept. 5, 2005

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In an interview with café babel, the Argentinean social economist Mauricio Faenza talks about job insecurity and its consequences.

What are the reasons behind the increase in job insecurity in Europe?

Job precarity began to appear during the seventies and eighties when the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank promoted the liberalisation of work and capital markets, also precipitating a crisis in the welfare state. During this process, the business lobbies gained ground in Europe whilst society lost out. Managers are favoured in decisions in which the consequences are measured in economic terms, whilst ignoring the external costs which they generate. For example, 90% of the new contracts signed in Spain in the last two years have been in temporary work and services (contracts which can expire at any given moment) proving that a secure contract for workers has almost completely disappeared in Spain. Likewise, since the eighties, networks of civil servants who fought against precarity have been disappearing. In short, with the policies of liberalisation, the bridge of support between losing and obtaining a job has almost completely disappeared.

But we have to be competitive on a global scale. Isn’t a more unstable workforce a price worth paying for a more competitive market?

Not necessarily. It is not about guaranteeing work but ensuring a minimum wage for all citizens. Although greater productivity may be the main economic objective of the policies involved, we should ask ourselves why we want it. In Argentina, for example, greater productivity has not resulted in increased general wellbeing, but rather an increase in benefits for the upper classes and multinational corporations. Experience thus demonstrates that the positive effects of competitivity do not benefit the lower classes of society, as neo-liberals claim. In order to obtain this effect, one has to define correctly the social problem which needs resolving in order to be able to apply the necessary means and evaluate the external consequences which these problems generate.

But the United States has a large unstable workforce, and they are the number one power in the world…

What purpose does it serve being the number one power in the world? If it means that we all have a better standard of life, perfect; but it if does not, then it serves no purpose. The costs which the United States has had to pay in terms of violence and delinquency is too high and this is especially true as the benefits are only obtained by 5-10 % of the population. Meanwhile, the salaries of the lower class have not increased since the seventies; productivity has greatly favoured the upper class. If the objective were to create a better standard of living within society, we could sacrifice a decade to obtain it (which is what happened in Europe after the Second World War) but inequality will not stop increasing.

What is the social impact of job insecurity? How is it changing lifestyles

When work is badly structured it creates a general feeling of disorganisation for the person and their immediate family. Precarity mainly affects the lower classes, unqualified workers and immigrants in particular. Right now, there are situations in Catalonia which are tantamount to slavery: workers who have a 15 hour working day and who earn €2 an hour or less. Due to these poor conditions, a fear of being unprotected and losing everything has arisen. A fear which, due to an increase in crime, has been transferred to the middle and upper classes. The myth that "(paid) work means dignity" is often false. Let's not forget social and voluntary work! Social economy companies such as cooperatives and workers' associations are a good starting place from which to fight against precarity or at least to look for a way of creating stable jobs.

How will the labour situation in Europe change in the next 10 years?

If the EU continues to introduce the minimum wage all over the Union, it could potentially turn into one big Denmark. The capital market could be liberalised if the networks of wage constraints were strong enough. If this happened, society would benefit as a whole. It is possible – and viable – as has already been shown to a certain extent by the Cohesion Funds [which support weaker countries in the EU]. The EU set this in motion by regulating immigration rights and policies or forming wage constraint networks (of precarity), using money that is currently set aside for less worthwhile projects. In national job centres, it is possible to personalise the deal for the unemployed, giving them psychological help and providing them with detailed monitoring programmes. On the whole, this comes down to giving jobseekers a place of work where they feel comfortable and where their needs are met. Despite everything, I'm sure that the future is in Europe.