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IATP's Alexandra Strickner is blogging from the fifth European Social Forum taking place in Malmö, Sweden, from September 17-21.

While discussions about free trade agreements at past European Social Forums (ESF) have centered on the WTO's Doha Round and its impact on people in the Global South, the trade debates at this ESF have taken a new focus. Organizations that don't usually deal with trade policy are exploring the linkages and/or impacts of the current European trade policy with their issue of concern. Given the increased levels of unemployment, stagnant wages and the deterioration of job quality and social security, the impact on labor is an important lens through which to analyze the EU´s current trade policy. The EU´s trade policy, titled “Global Europe – Competing in the World,” claims to contribute to growth, jobs and the European Social Model. Representatives from trade unions in Europe and Latin America, as well as groups working on trade policy and labor issues in the EU and U.S., shared their analysis and experiences of how trade policies affect labor.

John Hilary from War on Want, Tim Costello from the U.S.-based Global Labor Strategies project and Gonzalo Berron from the Trade Union Confederation of the Americas outlined the negative effects of free trade agreements on workers in the Global South and North America. Hilary also referred to soon-to-be published data on the effects of free trade agreements on labor in the EU. Ana Camposampiero from an independent Italian trade union (Sdl) explained that most European trade unions still believe the opening of other countries' markets for EU products secures jobs and creates new ones, as long as there are social clauses included in such free trade agreements. A young member of the Metal Workers Union of Germany commented that German workers in transnationalized companies are supportive of the free trade agenda: they see their jobs saved if more export possibilities are secured. This spurred a discussion over the need for trade unions to develop transnational solidarity and collaboration. It also showed the need for more discussion and educational work to be done among workers.

Overall, the majority of participants in the discussion concluded that the EU's external trade strategy will further deteriorate job conditions and social rights, not only in the Global South, but also in Europe, and will further dismantle the European Social Model. Based on this assessment, changing the supportive approach of most EU trade unions was considered a key challenge for the near future, together with the need to develop alternative proposals for trade and investment rules that truly respond to the interests of workers.