I have been noting this for several years now. It is sometimes very difficult to talk about social protection with progressive forces.
Sure, they all support actions and policies ‘in favour of the poor’, they all support ‘social justice’. But once you start to talk about details and how to achieve all this, there is mostly total silence. And little support.
There are several reasons for this, and some are easy to understand though not necessarily to be accepted.
In the South one often hears that the ‘welfare states’ that were developed in Western Europe were made possible because of colonialism. The wealth created by the plundering of countries in the South was enough to give some crumbles to the working people. There are no arguments to deny colonialism and plunder, obviously, but these are not at the root of social policies. Furthermore, some colonizing countries had welfare states, while others had not. The fact is that welfare states would never have emerged without strong and long social struggles of working people. It is not colonialism that gave us pensions or health care, in many countries not even paid by the State but by workers themselves in a structural solidarity system.
A second argument, with more solid ground, is the fear of communism after the second world war in Europe. This is certainly true. In the 1950s, governments in Western Europe did all they could to break the strength of the communist parties, and social welfare states were just one tool for that.
A third argument that has to be taken with caution is the fact that basic social assistance can kill all revolutionary efforts and is in fact a basic tool for reformism or even a tool for keeping capitalism alive. It was the argument used against the ‘bolsa familia’ of President Lula in Brasil. He is said to have created consumers instead of citizens.
Yes, but …
If some of the arguments are understandable, the question remains what to do? Do we not all need some kind of protection for when we are ill or old? Social and economic rights certainly do not fall out of the sky! Can one just condemn social protection systems? Or should one try to break away from their reformist characteristics? Do not all people, all over the world, deserve health care, pensions, good labour conditions? How to provide these without a solid system of solidarity within society, geared towards social justice? This also means one cannot only look, at ‘the poor’, since the poor are not born poor but are made poor and it is time to stop these impoverishment processes.
That is why Global Social Justice has been working, with its friends all over the world, at a different system that does allow and even contributes to social transformation.
We clearly have to go beyond systems that can only be perceived as corrective mechanisms for an economic system that already failed.
Global Social Justice thinks we have to preserve the solid basic principles that have underscored our welfare states, such as economic and social rights, solidarity, reciprocity and universalism.
Beyond that, it is people who have to say what they need and what their priorities will be. Commons are to be put in place, by definition, in a participatory way. Social commons basically mean we have to democratize our social policies.
Also, it is often said that commons go beyond state and markets. Yes, but that does not have to mean they go without states and markets. What it should be about is that we have states at the service of their citizens and markets that are not exclusively meant to make profits.
So, in promoting social commons, Global Social Justice wants to defend our individual and collective rights, in the interest of the whole of society, because collective rights are what makes society.
We also want to extend our current economic and social rights to water, to land or, in other words, to some environmental rights.
We are convinced that social justice can make an important contribution to environmental justice and that they go in fact hand in hand.
So, our social justice in general, and social protection in particular have to be transformative and emancipatory. They cannot be made compatible with neoliberalism. That is what makes the difference with other initiatives, such as the ILO’s Social Protection Floors or the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. These initiatives certainly have to be supported, but as social network we think we should go beyond. We should not be satisfied with what has already been given to us. We have to look further and work at social, economic and political change.
This is the way we think we can contribute to the sustainability of our world and, in fact, of life: the sustainability of people, of nature, of individuals and societies. This is what our work is about. We are happy with all the support we can get. Social justice and social protection should have no enemies among progressive movements.