Latin America and Europe: one voice for peace and a better future for their youth

The labour market is becoming increasingly harsh for the youth of both continents. In addition, Latin America is heavely burdened by the violence that is capsizing the whole society in many countries of the region.

By Yolanda Lamas, IFSI

In November 2019, the Institute for International Trade Union Cooperation (IFSI) co-organised two events with the Trade Union Confederation of the Americas (TUCA) as part of a “South-South Latin American project” which facilitates union meetings and exchanges in the region and with the General Federation of Labor of Belgium (FGTB).

Youth’s reality in both continents: same fight

The first event, which included the participation of some 30 young union members, analysed the reality of young people in the workplace and in union structures.

Young working people are particularly exploited and suffer the consequences of flexi-jobs (temporary contracts and flexible hours). In Europe, some governments have taken steps to facilitate these “mini-jobs”. It has become legal to pay young people less, to make them work a reduced schedule or to have them coming on command. And of course, it is women who are the most affected by these methods.
In Germany, for example, they occupy 70% of all mini-jobs.

Platforms - call centers, home delivery of meals, etc. - feed on the vulnerability of young people and exploit them more by pushing them to become autonomous, false self-employed.

In the short-term, unemployment figures are falling, giving the illusion of full employment. But in reality, young people working in these conditions swell the ranks of the working poor, and precariousness becomes their way of life.

In Latin America, the situation is worse because young people often do not even sign an employment contract. They have no social rights. And if there is a contract, it is then a "contrato basura" (trash contract) with very low wages, minimum social contributions and hours that border on illegality.

The situation is clear in both regions, young people have never had it so bad!
Young workers want change. For young people, a job is necessary to live, it is a source of income that only makes sense if you have time to see your children grow up, socialise outside of work, read, practice sports ... and to commit to social and political change.

The “all for the economy” mantra and the exploitation of the planet to make the few super wealthy wealthier is revolting. And in this sense, the climate crisis has become a triggering factor and the social networks have become instrumental tools. They enable young people to make their situation known beyond the national borders and put more pressure on the national employers and politicians to change the situation.

For peace, social justice and democracy

The following three days of meetings in Bogota brought together more than 100 people from 18 countries, with the support of SOLIDAR, the European network of civil society organisations. They discussed and shared experiences on topics as diverse as trade union freedoms, attacks on human rights, peace in Colombia, the situation of young people at work and in life, the condition of women, natives and peasants robbed of their lands for the benefit of multinationals.

At the end of these three days, all participants - TUCA and its various Andean and Central American affiliates (Colombia, El Salvador, Honduras, Peru, Venezuela ...), European unions (Belgium, Spain, France and Italy) as well as organizations of the civil society coming from these same countries - noted that the violence and inequalities created by the neoliberal model united them across continents. And even if the social and economic situation differs from Europe to the Americas, workers’ struggles are very similar. Precarious jobs, excessive working hours’ flexibilisation, employer and political violence, resurgence of bogus self-employed workers, de-responsabilisation of employers, alienation of workers as they gradually have no contacts among themselves, and weakening of unions.

This meeting welded the links among the participants to build a strong and effective counter-power to defend human and union rights, freedoms and consolidate peace and respect for peace agreements in Colombia and act against violence in Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador.

On the trade union side, European unions proposed a roadmap for other unions, members of the Latin America group of the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC). There will already be a first meeting to advance in the fight against the assassinations of social leaders in Colombia, organised by the Spanish trade union confederations Workers’ Commissions (CCOO) and the General Union of Workers (UGT) in June 2020 in Spain. A second meeting between unions and European civil society organisations will take place in the second half of 2020.

Photo: IFSI

Note: These events received the financial support of the Belgian Cooperation. The second event also received some financial support from the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung