The agenda of the European Intergovernmental Conference (EIG) is dominated by institutional questions. These are far removed from the day-to-day preoccupations of Europe's citizens. Public services and employment are major preoccupations here in France, as we saw during the strikes of November and December 1995.
In fact, unemployment is probably the question which brings most people's interests together. After all, the number of jobless is increasing in Germany and Scandinavia, as well as in the south of Europe.
We should recognise the contradiction between the expectations linked to a re-discussion of the finalities of the European project, and the demand for determined, effective policies to reduce unemployment. And we should use this contradiction to organise a broad, pan-European mobilisation.
The most important problem is the perception that »Europe« has a far-away centre, where decisions are made, but about which it is difficult to know the details, or to establish who we can put our demands to.
This reduces the credibility of a pan-European mobilisation, for large sections of the population. One way to reduce this difficulty is to combine European and national preoccupations. This would create, in each country, points of support, and allies. Such demands are easy to formulate, and easy to win wide support for.
The second difficulty follows from the first: the priority demands of the trade union and civic associations in the various countries of the European Union are not the same. The campaign for the reduction of the working week does not have the same contours or priority in Germany, France, and Great Britain.
Nor is it easy to find demands which can most appropriately be raised at the Europe-wide level. The European institutions have no »mandate« to carry out social policy. And demanding the incorporation of social demands (like unemployment levels) into existing texts (like the convergence criteria for the single currency) could separate those of us who accept such texts, and those who do not..
Thirdly, there is obviously a legitimate debate within trade unions and associations over the content and articulation of demands for reducing unemployment and exclusion, and more global demands: is reducing the working week top priority?; should we demand that this be achieved without any loss in salary?; shouldn't we prioritise industrial policy, and job creation?; what is the nature of jobs created like this?; what should we say about delocalisation, social clauses, and quotas? What about the immediate demand for a minimum personal revenue?
The solution may be to draft a pan-European radical text, denouncing unemployment and its consequences, criticising the European policies which aggravate the situation, but rather general about our proposals: job creation; shortening the working week; full employment as our goal; fighting labour precarity, etc. We would leave it to those in each country to refine the detailed demands. It could also stress the co-operation agreements between trade union and associative forces in the different countries.
We can test all this when we meet in Florence.
To shock people, shake up their consciousness and lift their enthusiasm, we need a mobilisation which marks their spirits. It has to be significant. Hence the idea of European marches which, over a three month period, would traverse the continent, demonstrating the extent of the unemployment problem, and the depth of our determination to fight it!
There are, of course, numerous practical problems. The first concerns the difficulty of organising such marches. In France we have organised six-week marches, with their personal problems, difficulties in organising reception in the various towns visited, logistic difficulties, and so on. British and Spanish colleagues have similar experiences.
The second problem reflects the unequal level of mobilisation in the various European countries. And secondary difficulties in the initial stages (we can start in Portugal, in Spain, and in Berlin, or, if necessary, by »picking up« an Italian march up and into the Rhine corridor) become insurmountable in the final stages. Imagine the consequences of a failure of the Belgian march, or of the Dutch organisation !
The third problem concerns the European co-ordination and impulsion of the marches. If this initiative is to have a sense, it cannot be simply a »collage« of national marches. They need an European identity. This implies propaganda material, logos, and speakers who are ready to move from one country to another.
It also implies a »general staff« which can centralise the essential minimum, and deal with the European finance.
The effort is justified.
Despite their limits, the 1994 French marches against unemployment were the beginning of the launch of a wide movement of the unemployed, AC! One of the specificities of this movement is the close alliance between unemployed and working members, thanks to the participation of trade union participation.
The marches we are suggesting would be the first attempt to carry out a mobilisation of this size, at the European level. Previous international demonstrations have been more limited, or sectoral (farmers and rail workers, for example). So this is a real challenge, at a moment which Europe is re-discussing its own future. This is the moment for the social movement to affirm itself, and to show that it is an actor for tomorrow's Europe.
Here are some details of the French marches, as food for thought (it would be very useful to share information about the British and Spanish experiences too).
We decided to organise marches when we founded AC! in autumn 1993. 500 people came together in January 1994 for the public hearings which launched the marches, which actually started in April that year. Five major marches were organised; South West (Carmaux, Toulouse, Bordeaux ); South East (Narbonne, Marseilles, Lyon ); West (Brittany, Normandy ); East (Alsace, Lorraine, Champagne ) and North (starting in Lille). Many smaller marches were organised to enable towns which were not on these main routes to organise locally, and, over one or more days, to rejoin one of the main columns.
Each march combined »permanent« marchers, who covered the entire distance, and occasional marchers, who joined them for a few days, or just a few hours. In fact, the number of permanent marchers was larger than we had expected. In effect, the marches became a rallying point for the long-term unemployed and the »homeless«.
There were less than ten permanent marchers on the East march, but more than 40 on the South East march. Most of the occasional marchers were employed people, activists in civic associations or trade unions. A number of those marching had plenty of experience of popular mobilisation: mainly in the trade union movement. These activists animated the marches, and became the de facto leadership. Such militants either did several marches (Southwest and North) or took part for at least a week (as on the Southeast march). Every evening a reception was organised in the towns designated as staging posts (about 20 km apart). A bed, a meal, and often a political programme of some kind was organised. There were only a few demographic and activist »deserts« where this was not possible).
There were glass of wine' receptions at town halls, and public meetings where the marchers explained their motivations, followed by discussions with local associations and trade unions. Each reception was organised by a local committee, established by the nearest AC! group, or (where AC! did not exist) by local trade unions, associations, or municipalities.
Generally speaking, the local scene' brought together the associations of the unemployed, the CGT, FO and »group of ten« trade unions (SUD, SNUI), the left opposition in the CFDT, the peasant confederation, and municipalities controlled by the Socialist or Communist parties. As well as the elected representatives and militants of the ecological movement, the Citizens' Movement (MC) and the far left.
The marches were co-ordinated at two levels: in each of France's 22 regions collectives were organised to assure the reception of the march onto their »territory«, solve any problems with the reception of the march in a particular town, provide the midday meal, manage the caravan of vehicles which followed the march. While most of the march was on foot, there were short stages on canal barges and in fishing boats. The regional collectives defined the exact route of the march.
At the national level we co-ordinated the different regions, compensated for theweaker regions, and ensured the services best provided at the national level: five issues of a marchers' newspaper (tabloid, 8-12 pages), press contacts (including at least one press statement every second day), circular letters for AC! collectives and co-operating trade unions (twice a week). And, of course, organising the national demonstration when the marches arrived in Paris. We produced a large quantity of national materials (posters, leaflets, badges, tee-shirts).
The national collective had 20-30 members. Different members had responsibility for each of the five main marches, for the newspaper, for a permanent telephone-answering rota, for faxing, maintaining the address data-base, for mailing out material, for contacting the press, and so on.
Before arriving in central Paris, the marches moved through the suburbs for a week. About 20,000 people participated in the final demonstration.
In June, in Florence, we need to agree on the principles behind any common initiative. If we want to organise marches of this type, but we do not agree, in concrete terms, in Florence, then we will not have the time to organise them the way we want. Obviously, the exact architecture of the project can be worked out a little later. But geography represents a temporal constraint. Madrid and Rome are at least 1,600 km from Amsterdam. If we plan to walk 20 km/day, this means a minimum of 80 days. Which means leaving at the beginning of April 1996 in order to arrive in Amsterdam in the second half of June. If we want to start marching from Southern Italy, Greece, Portugal or Andalusia, we will have to start even earlier. The other main points of departure are closer to Amsterdam: Stockholm is 1,300 km away, but Dublin is only 850 km from the Dutch capital, and Berlin only 650 km.
We need to fix the general route and dates by the end of January 1997. The best way to fix these details, and launch the project, would be an European meeting (conference, forum, whatever), which would enable the militant networks in the various countries to become acquainted with each other, to learn about the specific situation and social problems in each country, and launch a debate on the European-level solution to these problems. This discussion is particularly important, in that we will probably not be able to draft a platform of demands which is as detailed as we would like. This means taking the time for debates and exchanges, with the participation of a wide range of trade unionists, activists in civic associations, intellectuals, and political representatives.
Once we decide what actions to take, the marches can be fixed in greater detail.
Such a meeting could be held in December 1996 or January 1997. The minimum goal should be to attract 600 participants. And maybe as many as 1,000. We need to find a place (Brussels?) which is suitable in terms of transport networks, availability of meeting space with translation facilities, and space for all the participants to sleep, at least for one night.
Before this mid-term meeting, we need to widen support for the marches among Europe's trade unions: within the European Trade Union Congress, but essentially through a commitment of each union, on a country by country basis.
We also need to involve the associative milieu, at the national and the European level (such as the European networks of organisations of unemployed people, of anti-poverty groups, of family groups), and the various national and European political groupings (including the European parliamentary groups). We should present our viewpoint to them, and ask for their support.
Before this meeting, we should begin thinking about a whole series of material and political questions, particularly the extent to which this event will have a »European« profile.
Some of these questions are easily solved: such as the development of a common logo for the marches, and a set of posters. Other questions are more difficult: do we want an European newspaper during the marches, or a European section in a series of national publications? And how to manage the speakers who will be able to intervene in the public meetings in the different countries during the marches? How to build an European »general staff«?
Just listing these problems demonstrates that the first thing we need is a discussion bulletin, covering the practical and political questions, so as to collectivise, at the essential level, our preoccupations. And this is the pre-condition for success of a pan-European event of this size.
Paris, 24 abril 1996.