By Frauke S. Austermann
Το άρθρο που ακολουθεί αποτελεί κεφάλαιο της ερευνητικής εργασίας "Towards Generational Justice on the European Labour Market", η οποία δημοσιεύτηκε στα Maastricht European Studies Papers, July 2007/05.
As governments on the national and international level remain relatively moribund when it comes to the implementation of generational justice in the labour market, civil society organisations (CSOs) are eager to boost this specific issue and lobby political decision makers so that concrete results are finally tangible. In the following section, it will be presented how these CSOs manage to create an important impulse that might trigger governments to leave the above-mentioned impasse.
The first example for this civil society activism towards generational justice was mentioned in section 1, namely the Foundation for the Rights of Future Generations (FRFG). The Foundation is a typical case for what the sociologists Buechler and Kendall call a “New Social Movement” (cf. Buechler, 1999; Kendall, 2005). According to these scholars, ever since the 1960s social movements have distanced themselves from well-known ‘classical’ economic concerns such as workers’ rights, and emphasise more fundamental social changes in lifestyle and culture (Buechler, 1999). Thus, FRFG’s vision is a generationally just world which goes hand in hand with sustainable development (Tremmel, 2006, p.196-220).
Keeping the ideal of generational justice in mind, the activists of the Foundation launch concrete campaigns to realise better working conditions for young people. However, their engagement is not limited to single issue campaigns. They pursue change in several fields that are related to their vision, ranging from advocating renewable energy sources to campaigns for a proper internship scheme in Europe (FRFG, 2006).
The daily work of the Foundation involves various activities, like the publication of its proposals for generational justice, thereby making use of diverse media, networking with similar organisations, or lobbying political decision makers. The CSO therefore applies a rather flexible protest, or what the sociologist Byrne bluntly calls “relatively disorganised” (1997, p.10). Still, this new protest leads to concrete results. Thus, it was thanks to the lobby work of FRFG that 100 members of the German Bundestag adopted a proposal in November 2006 stipulating the inclusion of generational justice in the German constitution (FRFG, 2006).
A second example of a CSO fighting for generational justice in the European labour market is the French organisation Génération Précaire. This loose association of young people focuses on the above-described particular field concerning generational justice on the labour market, namely internships. Representing many of the 800,000 French interns, the activists of Génération Précaire all experienced internships of similar patterns: they worked a lot more than the (in France) legally fixed 35 hours per week; their tasks were oftentimes not properly supervised; they were in most cases not paid for their work, nor did they enjoy any social rights.
Many employers kept them working under these circumstances, sometimes for more than a year, by promising them regular employment if they stay for a ‘sufficient’ time in the firm as interns. The employers kept this promise in only 8 percent of the cases (APEC, 2005).
The interns accept these conditions since the alternative would be unemployment (cf. Génération Précaire, 2005). The profile of this cheap or even free of charge labour force is quite homogeneous: they are in their twenties; they have studied four or five years, and graduated with diplomas with good or even outstanding grades and; and they are highly motivated to enter the labour market.
Since September 2005, Génération Précaire tries to improve this situation in France and also Europe-wide with the ultimate aim of achieving generational justice in the European labour market (cf. Generation P, 2006). This makes Génération Précaire a kind of hybrid. It is a classic social movement since it pursues a specific campaign, aiming at a well-known economic concern, namely the improvement of working conditions. Yet, similar to FRFG, it also envisions the new ideal of generational justice, which is typical for a New Social Movement.
What tactics does Génération Précaire utilise to achieve these goals? The action taken is threefold: publications, demonstrations, and concrete legal proposals. Regarding the first item, publications, Génération Précaire established a proper Internet site that is visited about 600 times per day. Here, they present their demands in more detail, offer a platform to exchange experiences, inform on how to fight abusive intern practices (e.g. how to take companies to court) and publish press articles. Moreover, they edited a book called “Sois stage et tais-toi” and two different film producers made documentaries on the movement which were recently shown in public.
Their Internet presence and related means like email groups are used to organise a particular kind of demonstration, the so-called “flash mobs”, involving about 10 or 20 people at strategic spots on which the movement spontaneously decides, for example private companies that pursue an abusive intern policy, but also public institutions that should adopt political measures to stop change the situation.
Always appearing masked and accompanied by the media (print, TV and radio), this punctual demonstration, a new form of protest, has turned out to be a successful way to attract attention of the wider public in France concerning the movement’s critiques, demands and propositions. Turning to the third point, Génération Précaire has formulated its demands into concrete legal proposals, for example their petition for a legal status for interns, addressed to the French government. Although such a status does not yet exist, a recent judicial success is worth mentioning: because of her abusive intern policy, a Parisian CEO was penalised in November 2006 by the regional court with six months of prison and a fine of 25,000 Euro. This sum was equally distributed among the interns that were the victims of the exploitation (Faure, 2006).
According to the French model, similar intern organisations are rising in other
European countries: the German association “Students at work” has addressed a petition to the German Parliament in December 2006 (Bundestag, 2006). The movement “Generation Praktikum” has just started a media campaign in Austria (Generation Praktikum, 2007). The Italian “Milleuristi” fight as well for a better insertion of young people in the labour market (Generazione Milleuristi, 2007).
And the first “stagiaires association” of the European Parliament has had its inaugural meeting in January 2007 to improve the working conditions of interns in the legislative EU institution. Organisations in other European countries start to work on the subject, for instance in Spain, Belgium or the Netherlands (see e.g. FNV Jong, 2006). It becomes evident that just according to the Union’s principle of subsidiarity these intern organisations lobby their individual national governments. At the same time, they are building Union-wide synergies in the framework of their European umbrella organisation “Generation P”. To give an example of these synergies, a Europe-wide strike was simultaneously organised in Paris, Berlin and Brussels on April 1, 2006 (Le Monde, 2006).
Moreover, Generation P formulated a petition and addressed it to the European Parliament (Génération Précaire, 2006; Generation P, 2006a). In January 2007 they even met with membres de cabinet to the European Commissioners for Enterprise and Industry (Günther Verheugen) and for Employment, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities (Vladimir Spidla), in order to discuss the precarious situation of the youth (Figaro, 2007). The aim was to convince the Commission, being the instance that proposes European legislation, to include the issues into upcoming legislative proposals. Especially because the Commission announced 2007 to be the European Year of Equal Opportunities for All, Generation P has right now good conditions to campaign for generational justice on the EU-level. As one result of the Commission meeting, the movement was asked to contribute to the recently published green paper “Modernising labour law to meet the challenges of the 21st century” (European Commission
So Generation P’s pragmatic policy seems to be effective because they adapt to the reality as described in previous parts of this paper: given the difficulty to reconcile national and supranational governance, the activists realised that they need to simultaneously take action on national and supranational level. Therefore, they established a network of national movements with similar objectives.
Each organisation that is part of this network addresses its state government, and together they create synergies to influence the supranational EU government, for instance by organising a European-wide strike on one and the same day in Member States’capitals or by lobbying the European institutions. Furthermore, thanks to its new protest forms (e.g. punctual demonstrations with masks, always accompanied by the media) Generation P indeed raised public awareness and helped to put the intern question on the political agenda.Tying up to the specific issue of internships, the movement is triggering politicians to reconsider the implementation of generational justice in general.
So far, the dimension of the movement is rather impressive. Nevertheless, it has not yet achieved its goals. The legislative measures that Generation P demands have not yet been adopted, let alone implementation. One must, however, take into account that it is still a very young civil society movement. How can its future potential be evaluated? The outlook for the future is ambiguous: on the one hand, one must remain sceptical: the fact that the most successful national movement so far, Génération Précaire in France, refuses any hierarchic structures and prefers spontaneous protest actions makes the engagement of and for interns even more fluid and instable than civil society movements in general are already.
Moreover, except for the German organisation “Students at work”, which is part of the German Confederation of Trade Unions (DGB), their partners in other EU Member States are independent and have only very recently started to raise public awareness on the intern question in their countries.
On the other hand, the movement consists of a rather homogenous group of young, motivated, well-educated people that can be considered as one electoral target group. According to the political scientist Balme, this homogeneousness is exactly what the masses of unemployed people in Europe lack (2002, p.466).
So the probability that European and national politicians will respond to the social demands around the intern-question is quite high because they may recognise this electoral potential (ibid. p.465). Nevertheless, when it comes to active participation in political decision-making, the new civil society movement can at best influence parts of the process. It can help initiating and formulating policies and evaluate them after being adopted and implemented. The decisive stages, namely decision making and implementation, rest however on the shoulders of governmental institutions (cf. Howlett and Ramish, 2003).
In conclusion of this section, the current European intern movement shows that the engagement of civil society can be very fruitful. It is not the solution to circumvent the political dilemma of reconciling approaches pursued by national and supranational governments. Yet, it constitutes an important impulse that might trigger a way out of this impasse.
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