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From Athens to London: Europe Under Austerity

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FRANCES OGRADY
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On Saturday morning, I'm meeting Alexis Tsipras, the leader of the Greek Opposition and head of the left-wing Syriza coalition. We will be talking about the spectre that's haunting Europe: austerity.

On Wednesday, the TUC held a rally in Westminster calling on George Osborne to use his Budget next week to change course and provide families with some real help in difficult circumstances. We are calling for fair wages, fair benefits and fair taxes as part of a stimulus for the economy, starting with an immediate boost to domestic demand by stopping damaging welfare cuts that are reducing people's living standards and reversing cuts in capital spending that have badly affected the construction and housing sectors.

The next day, CWU General Secretary Billy Hayes, who represents the TUC on European issues, addressed a rally in Brussels calling on the EU leaders gathering for the Spring Summit to do something for the six-eight million young people around Europe who are unemployed - a million of them in Britain.

In Greece, more than one in two young people are unemployed, and one in four of all adults. The austerity demanded by European leaders has slashed Greek GDP by over 20% in the past five years.

That's why Alexis Tsipras, who narrowly lost out on forming the Government at the last elections and may well become Prime Minister after the next, told the New York Times editorial board in January "they say I am the most dangerous man in Europe. What I feel is dangerous is the policy of austerity in Europe. The Greek people have paid a heavy price."

The spectre that haunts some of Europe's political leaders is what happened in Italy's general election this month, where the insurgent anti-austerity Five Star Movement became the largest single party, or in the Eastleigh by-election where the anti-establishment (as well as anti-EU and anti-immigration) Ukip forced the Conservatives into third place. For Europe's elites, who think austerity, unbridled free markets and growing inequality are the only path to take, Alexis Tsipras and the European trade union movement are part of that ghostly threat.

But it's their own policies that are leading to recession, joblessness, poverty and social unrest.

Syriza are one of the forces on the left who represent part of the solution to Europe's problems, and unlike Beppe Grillo and Nigel Farage, Alexis Tsipras wants to stay in Europe and make it a better place, not just tear it down.

Alexis and I will be discussing how progressive politicians who know we need a better Europe can work with trade unions and other parts of civil society to change the narrative and develop a new Europe based on social justice, sustainable growth and inclusive politics.

As well as the immediate changes to economic policy we want to see in next week's Budget, we have suggested a publicly-owned business bank that targets growing industries, such as green technology and high-value manufacturing; and an active industrial policy, led by a National Growth Council.

Our German colleagues in the DGB have proposed a new Marshall Plan for Europe, the European Trade Union Confederation is calling for an investment strategy worth at least 1% of European GDP, and the Party of European Socialists are demanding a Youth Guarantee to prevent the waste of a generation. These are ideas that will solve, rather than exacerbate, Europe's economic and social problems.

Rebooting growth in Europe would also be hugely important for Britain, because without a thriving, growing European economy, Britain's chances of recovery are slim, even if the Government does change course. We won't rebuild UK manufacturing without export markets with people willing to buy our products. We also need to challenge the prevailing economic orthodoxy across Europe as part of our challenge to it domestically. A two-speed Europe won't do Britain any favours, and even worse would be a Europe where some countries thrive while others starve.

It may seem that Britain and Greece - at almost opposite ends of Europe - have little in common. In fact, we have lots in common, and lots to discuss.

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