By AEPF Working Group, Stiftung Asienhaus, May 2, 2016
The current situations of the labour movements in Asia and Europe are very different, but they are intimately connected. Over the last decades, capital has shifted production to Asia, creating new centres of production and large new working classes in China or Southeast Asia, whilst de-industrialising large parts of Europe.
In Asia, workers’ rights are often ignored by authoritarian regimes of various hues and activists can only organize in semi-legal conditions, giving rise to new forms of militant struggles. In Europe, de-investment and austerity regimes, precarisation and the rise of right wing movements and regimes place new challenges to the labour movement.
When government representatives meet at the ASEM meeting in Ulaan Baatar, their agenda will be shaped by business interests. In their vision of “development” centered on the free movement of capital, “free” trade, and growth, workers rights play a marginal role at best. Freely roaming capital and the shift of investment to low wage countries serve to shift the balance of power more firmly towards capital, while national governments facilitate and promote the flexibilisation and precarisation of work.
Meanwhile, global production networks mean that workers are connected in new and very direct ways between Europe and Asia. For the labour movement as a whole, successful struggles by the new proletariats in Asia are immensely important, as are strategies against austerity and for alternative development trajectories in Europe.
The AEPF meeting in Mongolia and the AEPF process in general is an opportunity for labour activists to learn from each other’s struggles and to develop ideas for labour solidarity between Europe and Asia. European activists have a lot to learn from semi-legal organizing strategies and militant wild cat strikes in Asia, or from organizing in the ‘informal’ sector, whilst Asian activists will be interested in recent experiences of generalizing labour struggles against austerity agendas, particularly in Southern Europe. Labour movements in both continents face similar challenges of precarious work, different forms of repression by capital and governments, the rise of nationalist movements etc. For the labour movement in Europe, successful struggles in the new industrial centers in Asia will be immensely important to stop the downward spiral in wages and social standards.
New forms of labour solidarity are needed. But labour is still trailing behind capital in forging concrete links between the two continents. In particular, transnational organizing along global production networks is still in its infancy. By connecting labour activists from Europe and Asia, we hope the AEPF process will contribute to creating concrete transnational solidarity networks that we need so much.