Does European Social Democracy have a Future?

By Robert Taylor

The process is familiar to Americans. Manual workers—skilled as well as unskilled—lose their jobs when the firms that employ them close down as they fail either to survive competition from abroad or they downsize by moving their operations offshore. Trade unionists find their collective strength is being eroded as they negotiate takebacks, while company executives accumulate vast fortunes with a recklessness and irresponsibility not seen since the 1920s. Organized labor in Europe has suffered from a dramatic decline in membership over the past twenty years except in the Nordic region. In Germany, less than one in five workers are now organized, and the picture is no better in Britain. In France, where trade unionism was always weak, private-sector membership is down to 3 percent. With declining power and influence, workers who used to enjoy representation as social partners with organized capital in containing and regulating the ravages of uncontrolled market forces are lacking the bargaining strength they once had to hold their own. Women, immigrants, and gays may have won hard fights for legal rights, but their position is also growing more insecure in Europe from those, mainly Muslim, arrivals but also embattled male manual workers, who are less tolerant about pluralism and divergent moral values and more hostile to difference. The fear and experience of crime and terrorism is also more likely to hit the least advantaged than the better off.

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2 Responses

  1. In my opinion, the decline of many trade unions is entirely their own fault. Instead of doing what they were created to do – look after the interests of their members – they more and more got into playing politics. Politics is by far and away the dirtiest business on the planet. So, live with arseholes and you eventually become like them. Play their games and you forget what you really want. Ergo – you’re screwed. Sorry, but I mourn the loss of good trades unionism, but it mostly only lasted a few short years.

  2. […] of representing workers when technocrats and corporations are shaping a neo-liberal Europe. Robert Taylor’s article on the future of European Social Democracy analyzes the political dimension of the challenge that European integration poses to democratic […]

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