We Can’t Eat Austerity

Jul 25, 2012

We are in a world where people are being taken out and economically shot, executed by the terror of the balance sheet. Turn to Europe and you’ll see the plan: a troika — the International Monetary Fund, European Central Bank and European Commission — keep thinking that the path to a stable world is by making their balance sheets work, no matter how many people must suffer.

Sharan Burrow, the General Secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), has it exactly right, when she led a delegation to meet with the Greek labour minister and called out the Troika for pursuing mindless austerity:

The Troika needs to start by looking at the incomes of working people and unemployed.   If you have more than 20% of the workforce unemployed and 50% young people excluded from secure jobs and livelihoods, and a minimum wage that has been cut by up to 32%, people will not be able to survive.

It takes a union leader to understand what is up and what is down, what is reality for people:

There is a lack of sanity of the part of these institutions. You can’t keep putting money into the bond markets and the banks, but have countries where people can’t eat, feed their children or pay their bills.  This is an economic model that is not creating jobs, protecting livelihoods or providing the social protection that people need to stabalise the economy.

Burrow’s final point sums up the world we live in:

People are being discarded, as the interests of banks and bond markets come before families.

Now, we could say, and we would be right, that these policies are insane, immoral and economically dubious. Except that the Troika, and the institutions representing the bond holders and banks don’t operate in a moral world — meaning, a world where economic policy is built around bringing prosperity to the people. If that were the case, bankers would be in jail, the richest among us would pay far higher taxes and, rather than impose austerity on people who had no hand in creating the current crisis, we’d be spending trillions of dollars to make sure people had jobs — and a way to put food on the table.

Pause on that final point. We aren’t talking about fur coats and mansions. As Burrow says, this is about people being able to eat.



    •  Thanks for your comment. Actually, when I hit the first part of what you wrote “overpaid idiot” I thought your comment was going to talk about the Wall Street bankers, CEOs and mining barons and the rest of the 1 percent who get paid millions, most of whom were at the heart of the GFC and/or simply give very little value to shareholders. There are probably hundreds of thousands of non-idiots, many from trade unions, who could do the job of running companies a whole lot better, and for a lot cheaper, because greed is not what motivates them.

      And, so that you understand– trade unions don’t print money. That would be the Reserve Banks, run, by the way, usually by people who hail largely from the business or financial sector, not the trade union movement. Just so we’re clear how things actually work.

      Lastly, we aren’t out of money. That’s a false argument. Australia, if you just take a look at the back page of that well-known left-wing rag, The Economist, has a pretty tiny fiscal deficit compared to the vast majority of developed nations around the world. And if the mining barons and The Empty Suit, leader of the Coalition, were not so intent on fighting a modest resources tax, we’d be in surplus.

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