Paul Sweeney19/12/2017


My last blog focused on growing inequalities in Europe, which it was argued, is due to the breakdown in the Post War Social Compact (PWSC). Under this, the owners of capital had been prepared to share national income more equitably with those who worked for a living to promote social cohesion and to help recycle money to boost demand.

However, the demise of strong left parties in Europe, globalisation, the end of the Soviet threat, weakened labour laws and thus weakened trade unions and changes in workplace structures have undermined the need for capital to share.  This PWSC has thus been under siege and inequalities at work, in welfare, in housing, in living standards etc are rising.

One of the more important bodies which studies the ways in which European live and work is Eurofound, short for the European Foundation for living and working conditions.

Eurofound focuses on the world of living and of work, key parts of the Social Contract. It is one of two EU institutions located in Ireland. It is based in Loughlinstown in the southern reaches of the city, by the Wicklow border. It’s 100 staff undertake invaluable work on the way the European Union’s 500 million citizens live our lives and the way we work in the 28 member states of the European Union. This Union of ours is currently the most desirable place on the world in which to live. Besides the cultural and economic attractions of Europe, its social policies on health, education etc, are the best in the world by a long shot.

 Eurofound looks into more practical issues than this broad philo-political one. Issues such as industrial relations between Capital and Labour, the decline of the trade union power. The decline in union power is partly due to smaller industrial enterprises and globalisation but much is due to man-made legislation, thanks to the increased power of capital.

 The European Company Survey completed every four years - the “European Establishment Survey on Working Time and Work-Life Balance” assesses and quantifies information on company policies and practices across Europe on what it calls an harmonised basis. And it also analyses relationships between companies practices and their impact, as well as looking at practices from the point of view of structures at company level, focusing in particular on social dialogue. Eurofound monitors trends and contributes to the Europe 2020 Strategy. It is attempting to to ensure that Europe achieves smart, sustainable and inclusive growth. There is growth in Europe, but it is far from inclusive growth and increasingly so.

Eurofound’s Dublin Forum 2017

Eurfound is also undertaking work in the importance of the impact of the digital age on work and employment. It held a two day Forum in Dublin in November this year on convergence, titled “converging economies, diverging socieities. The consensus was that the title accurately describes what is going on in Europe. The Single Market is being completed for companies but citizens are being left behind.

 Branko Milanovic, whose excelent book I reviewed on Progressive Economy was a key speaker. Employer and European trade union leaders and many academics contributed to a useful dialogue. It was agreed that the EU Pillar of Social Rights must be mainstreamed at EU and natonal levels and that there should be social protection for all workers, regradless of their formal status, which is what was done at Gottenburg later.

The Minister for Foreign Affairs, Simon Coveney made a good speech at the forum on Brexit, where he set out his obvious frustration with the British leaders in a polite but firm way on this troubling, slow train crash.

There was strong agreement at the Forum that there must only be upward convergence within Europe, that those countries with the best social systems, such as the Nordics, must not be dragged down to the lower levels of cohesion in the east. But this is proving difficult. 

In conclusion, the work of Eurofound informs us on how the changing world is affecting our lives and work and how we in Europe are coping and responding.  That there are growing inequalities is clear and the move by EU leaeders to adddress this by adopting the European Pillar of Social Rights in Gothenburg in November 2017 is a positive step. However, it is unlikely to be enough to reverse the world’s inequalities. We now live in a world where a tiny 1% of the world’s population own the same assets as the bottom 50%.


Paul Sweeney     @paulsweeneyman


Paul Sweeney is former Chief Economist of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions. He was a President of the Statistical and Social Enquiry Society of Ireland, former member of the Economic Committee of the ETUC, a member of the National Competitiveness Council of Ireland, the National Statistics Board, the ESB, TUAC, (advisor to OECD) and several other bodies. He has written three books on the Irish economy and two on public enterprise, including The Celtic Tiger; Ireland’s Economic Miracle Explained and Selling Out: Privatisation in Ireland, chapters in other books and many articles on economics.



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