Working Paper

Austeritarianism in Europe: What Options for Resistance?

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In much of Europe, the social rights and social protections won in the first post-war decades, by labour movements in particular, have subsequently been seriously eroded, and are further threatened by neoliberal austerity.

Efforts to resist have been largely unsuccessful; but is an effective fight-back possible? In this paper I first outline the role of the European Union (EU) as a key driver of the recommodification of labour, through its growing emphasis on market ‘freedoms’ as an overriding priority, and on ‘competitiveness’ as the central policy objective for national governments. I discuss how this orientation has been reinforced by the economic crisis, and the ensuing pursuit of austerity and the imposition of ‘new economic governance’. I then survey a range of forms of protest and opposition: trade union action, ‘new’ social movements and engagement in the formal political arena. I suggest that a nuanced evaluation of success and failure is necessary. In conclusion I propose that the articulation of different forms of resistance – cross-nationally and between different actors – is essential in order to stem the neoliberal hegemony