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A counter-summit of resistance, challenge and solidarity
Promoted by the Portuguese Presidency of the Council of Ministers of the European Union he Social Summit will be held in Porto on May the 7th. Hosted by António Costa, representing the Portuguese Presidency of the European Council, and Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, this meeting will gather top-level political leaders and will also be attended by representatives of trade unions and employers, and international organisations such as the OECD and the International Labour Organisation.
The goal is to highlight the importance of the European Pillar of Social Rights, through a commitment between heads of state, "social partners" and civil society organisations (which is expected to be achieved following the meeting on the 7th), and to give a new impulse to the Pillar of Social Rights, through a Declaration on its associated Action Plan, (which will be approved at an informal Meeting of Heads of State on the 8th of May).
A European Pillar of Social Rights has been advocated in the European context since 2015, given the extent of the outrageous imbalance between the priority given to growth and the little attention paid to fighting inequalities. Approved in 2017, the Pillar of Social Rights sets out 20 principles, divided into three main areas: i) equal opportunities and access to the labour market; ii) fair working conditions; and iii) social protection and inclusion. Since then, no truly significant progress has been made, apart from pompous, grandiloquent declarations of no consequence.
The Pillar of Social Rights and its Action Plan lacks ambition, concrete targets and strength within the European Union's institutional architecture. In fact, it is the rules of the European Treaties (which do not contemplate the Pillar of Social Rights) driving the European Union with an economic policy rooted in liberal dogmas and the rules of the European Semester preventing countries from making investment choices, that lay down the regulations subordinating all policies to a 3% deficit target (now temporarily suspended given its inadequacy) and subjecting national State budgets to the pressure and boycott of the European Union.
This Social Summit will be another moment of performance, as no fundamental change in European policy is on the table. Rather on the contrary: the European institutions now wave the flag of the Pillar of Social Rights and, though some of the principles contained therein are unquestionably fair, labour precariousness has not ceased to worsen, assuming new and radical forms of deprotection and deregulation being imposed under the pretext of "digitisation of the economy"; poverty is constantly increasing and there are currently more than 93 million poor people in the European Union, many of whom are workers that fall below the poverty line; and there is no fair climate transition plan submitting the logic of accumulation to the demands of the planet and social justice. Moreover, the intervention of the European institutions has been to counteract national policies aiming at increasing minimum wages and to oppose, for example, the reversal of the legacy that austerity policies present in labour legislation and social protection in countries such as Portugal, Spain or Greece. On the other hand, the announced banner of this Social Summit, a reduction of 15 million poor people by 2030, is symptomatic of the state of the European Union. By assuming and being satisfied with such a goal, the Portuguese Presidency prepares to brandish as a major social commitment to have, by 2030, an Europe with 76 million poor people. In other words, this entails an absolutely conformist approach to the issue of poverty, already declared a violation of human rights -, but which continues to be treated as inevitable and natural.
These official Summit and Meeting of heads of state are taking place in a context of deep economic and social crisis throughout Europe. The Portuguese situation is no different. In Portugal, the government rejects any changes to austeritarian labour legislation and uses the European blackmail as argument to maintain the troika's imposed cuts in dismissal rules or in the period for granting unemployment benefit. Nearly half of the unemployed in Portugal do not have access to unemployment benefit. Anti-poverty benefits condemn people to poverty: for example, the average value of RSI (“Rendimento Social de Inserção” ou Social Insertion Benefit) corresponds to less than one third of the poverty threshold. The extraordinary support measures put in place to cope with the suspension of many activities has left thousands of workers with no answer or with an income that falls well below the poverty threshold. Trade union action is suffering from the dynamics of precarious labour relations and a fear-mongering climate combined with legislation that deprotects workers and introduced a profound imbalance in collective bargaining, creating the background for major abuses being perpetrated on the shoulders of the health crisis. The housing and the care crisis challenge fundamental human rights, further exacerbating gender, ethnic and racial-based inequalities. One must not forget that Portugal champions the lack of investment in measures to face the crisis. Despite the official social narrative and the existence of some economic and social emergency responses, the government has just appealed to the Constitutional Court to halt a small increase in social benefits.
Therefore, while the Official Summit promoted by the same European powers that have been complacent with the poverty increase and conniving with a labour model based on wage poverty and precariousness will be held in the building of Alfândega do Porto, Bloco de Esquerda promotes a Social Counter-Summit joining those who refuse to face this reality with the fatalism of the complacent and who have contributed to networks of resistance and solidarity against the crisis. Under the motto “Erradicate Poverty, Fight Precariousness, Ensure Full Employment”, this counter-summit of resistance, challenge and solidarity will take place on the 6th and 7th of May, in the city of Porto, bringing together political leaders, trade unionists, social activists and citizens committed to fighting inequalities, to discuss alternatives guaranteeing social protection for all without exception, labour rights, investment in public health, housing and care policies, and an exit from the crisis that achieves a social, climate and feminist transition in Europe.