Society and Jobs

Full version

03mar98: Pauline Green: Speech to Labour Party Conference, November 1997, extracts on job creation.


For many centuries and in particular twice in this century, we Europeans have murderously fought each other. To our cost our forefathers have slaughtered each other.

There is a better way. The European Union may not be the most exciting institution in the world, but let us for a moment just be proud of a body which has brought together, from strength, 15 countries.

15 countries united in their desire to find that better way rather than send our young people out into the fields of Europe to fight it out. It may be slow, it may be bureaucratic and it may often be boring - but by God I'd rather do it that way than put our young at risk of war.

The European Union is a shared vision of the future. A vision that Europeans share for their young. A vision of a Europe, united, secure, at peace. A Europe prosperous, dynamic, innovative, exciting.

A Europe which does not just tolerate those of different cultures, ethnic or racial origin, but rather celebrates, enjoys and benefits from those differences. A Europe sharing and pooling those things which we can do best together, whilst preserving those precious and special features of each country and each people. The European Union is something of which we should be proud.

It is imperative that our political family find common cause and a common response to combat the negative aspects of globalisation without losing the positive advantages. This is our challenge.

We must find ways to strengthen the hand of workers in the globalised marketplace. Our workers must have in their hands a strengthened card when they come to the job market. That strengthened card can be created by education. The need for greater investment in education, training, retraining, upgrading of skills, high technology skills has never been greater.

A vested interest that tells them that they cannot succeed in the global market if Europe remains divided with all its potential for conflict, destabilisation, economic dislocation, political confusions and mass migrations.

Labour in Government in Britain has a chance to make a significant difference on one of the perennial problems of the EU. But to succeed we must begin the preparation now.

If you are one of Europe's 18 - 20 million unemployed, the situation looks pretty dire. One thing they know is that on the back of the global market and the information society - jobs have been lost. The socially excluded, the unemployed and the underemployed can be excused for eyeing last Friday's Employment Summit with some scepticism or indeed indifference. They have been there before, seen that, done that, got the T shirt.

Without question the best way that we can really aid job creation is to begin the process of co-ordinating our economic and employment policies. I am confident that the job summit began that process and provided at the same time a package of support measures.

Full speech - Europe's social model

03mar98: Wim van Velzen: Europe lacks jobs not skills

Unemployment in Europe: Can Things Only Get Better?

In the European Union 18 million people are officially registered unemployed, i.e., 12% of the active population. Half of them have been out of work for more than a year. More than one fifth of all young people are without a paid job. Between 25 and 30 million people in Europe are looking for work. Critics of the European social model are not getting tired of pointing out, how much better the United States are doing in creating net employment. What they seem to forget is that millions of employed Americans live in poverty without a decent social safety net and health insurance and that the inequality in American society is growing. This is not the way Europe should polish up its unemployment statistics: we do not have the political ambition of creating a social class of the "working poor". Furthermore, the European Treaty obliges us to strive for social cohesion.

In the Thatcher era, the UK government had firmly set course for the American model. The new Labour government seems to want to find a "third way" between the American and the European, i.e., Continental, model. Coming from the good old continent, I want to come to the defence of the solidarity-based European social model. I think it is worthwhile defending: it has done well, it is doing well and there is no reason to dismiss it. However, it has to undergo certain changes. That is normal. Systems have to be dynamic, they have to be able to react to economic, social and societal changes.

It is true that our employment rate (60.4%) is low compared to the USA and Japan where it exceeds 74%. So, what can we do to exploit the huge labour reserve we have in Europe? According to the recent Commission document "Growth and Employment in The Stability-Oriented Framework of EMU" two conditions must be met: firstly, the existing workforce must be "employable" and, secondly, the economy must create the necessary working posts.

For quite a while European institutions and national governments have presented training as a miracle cure against unemployment. It is, therefore, nothing less than astonishing that in this recent document the European Commission changes its tune. Where in earlier documents the lack of skills of the European workforce was blamed for high unemployment, it is now strongly pointed out that actually skill-wise our workforce is not doing so badly after all, and that the economy must create the necessary working posts in the first place:

"...from the present 10.7 per cent of the labour force which is unemployed, about 6 per cent could re-enter the job market fairly fast if and when jobs are offered to them. Thus, despite some bottlenecks in a few specific sectors, there is no evidence that the skills offered by a sizable share of the workforce are basically outdated or insufficient to ensure employability the true immediate bottleneck is located at the level of net job creation in the economy."

This only underlines what the European Parliament has been pointing out for years: that training people without being able to offer them jobs is pointless. For years European citizens have been trained and retrained several times in a row with money from the Structural Funds without ever finding sustainable employment.

It was against this background that the European Parliament has asked the Summit in Luxembourg:

  • to link training programmes to a guarantee that the retrained unemployed will be given paid employment for at least a year. Special attention should be devoted to groups which are particularly badly affected by unemployment;

  • to progressively use resources intended to alleviate the consequences of unemployment (passive measures) to finance active employment measures, in order to raise employment without putting public funding or social protection systems at risk;

The Parliament asked the two sides of industry to conclude agreements on creating jobs for the young and the long-term unemployed after completion of training. Also, a combination of job rotation, parental leave and lifelong learning should lead to the creation of (temporary) jobs. In order to create the necessary jobs we need a policy mixture consisting of:

  • reduction in working time and redistribution of work (paid and unpaid) and incomes, stimulation of innovation, research and professional training;

  • tax reforms including the reduction of non-wage labour costs, primarily in the case of low-wage groups, a shift of taxes from labour to environmental and energy factors and a social VAT;

  • creation of jobs in the public sector, the "Third System" and through local employment initiatives

  • special support for SMEs (which, after all, account for 55% of jobs in Europe).
The reaction of the European governments in Luxembourg was encouraging. Under pressure of the European Parliament they have agreed to set concrete common goals based on bench marking and best practices. The most important goals being:

  • a new start to every unemployed young person before they reach six months of unemployment;

  • a new start or individual vocational guidance for unemployed adults before they reach twelve months of unemployment;

  • to increase significantly the percentage of unemployed persons receiving training to gradually achieve an average of the three best performing countries, or at least 20%.
If European governments are determined to continue this course forcefully, I am convinced that - to say it with the words of the song millions of people in the UK probably never want to hear again, at least not till the next elections - things can only get better. In the meantime, the unemployed in Germany and France have made clear to their governments that they know other tunes as well.

28dec99: M'learned Friend: Unemployment: So you think its all over?

I have to represent the dispossessed of Grimsby and Castleford eking out their life, killing the pain of unemployment and alienation with that most effective of pain killers, heroin.

Five years ago in mining communities, lads would have been playing rugby league for their pits. Now they have turned to heroin. The dealers now live in the villages.

Editor's note: M'learned friends comments are supported by a report on the BBC Online Network, "Heroin 'epidemic' in rural Britain" in May last year. This reports

A 1998 Police Research Group report found that towns where there was no problem before are now reporting heroin abuse, with use noted in areas like Lincolnshire, Gloucestershire and Norfolk.

and in the north

York's Compass Needle Exchange Centre told the BBC it has seen a 20% increase in the number of heroin users in the last year.