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The level of participation in the recent ETUI-ETUC conference, on the need for a new socio-ecological contract, was impressive. As was the quality of the diversified discussion instigated by the speakers and the questions from the audience. The urgency to discuss this topic is clear. From a trade union perspective, we take away at least three main lessons from this debate.

First lesson: being right is not enough. The European trade union movement has been challenging the status quo for quite a while. We have consistently argued that we need to build a different, more sustainable and alternative economic model. The climate emergency, the digital challenges and the Covid19 crisis, bring to the forefront the stark reality. It’s now very clear that simply changing some fiscal rules, reforming the European Stability and Growth Pact, reforming the European Semester, or even rebalancing the power struggle between capital and labour forces, to put in place more redistributive policies, is not enough.  These were strong lines of reasoning during the austerity years. However, now, with these additional challenges, we need a new strategy. We need to reshape our vision of the future.  We need to have a more holistic and comprehensive approach to the economic model.  This model should be one that moves away from the mere measure of GDP to a more comprehensive approach to wellbeing, giving due consideration to the needs of the people and the well-being of the planet.  If we, as trade unions, do not make this paradigm shift in our vision and strategy, it will be difficult for us to achieve the change we wish to see.

Second lesson: take a lead in the transformation. We cannot simply follow the changes or events that are happening around us.  We need to be one of the key actors that shape our future when it comes to sustainability.  Environmental sustainability cannot just be a slogan.  There is so much more at stake for working people. It is not only about skills and social protection, but also about governance.  Where communities, workers, businesses, public authorities can and should be part of the transformation. When jobs are going to be disrupted, when working conditions are going to be challenged, we need to create better opportunities for all. The same quality of protection, the same quality of rights and the same quality of jobs, it's a matter of having the right tools at our disposal. It's a matter of having a vision to reshape the future.

Third lesson: the old narrative is not dead. There may be trends showing the need and willingness to change, but there are still too many politicians, business, community leaders and others who are pushing for the return to business as usual and to build what they call a new normal. As you know, sometimes these forces can be very powerful. That's why we really need, as Mariana Mazzucato said, to build the remedies for problems.  We need to be at the core of the decision-making process and show what can do by building trade union power.  We need to make sure that social dialogue, collective bargaining, workers’ interests, wages and working conditions, living conditions of people, workers participation, workplace and democracy prevail. These are the tools we have at our disposal to rebalance power and to be at the core of the decision-making processes.

We are facing unprecedented circumstances and enormous challenges, but we can make it if we work together with a clear vision on how to shape our future.

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photo credit: ArtRachen01