European Trade Union Institute – looking beyond Growth

In December 2022 ETUI held a Conference about ‘Just Transition Beyond Growth‘.

Context of the conference:

In light of the 50th anniversary of the limits to growth report and the recent finding by the IPCC that “economic growth (measured as GDP) and its main components, GDP per capita and population growth, remained the strongest drivers of GHG emissions in the last decade” there is a need to question the possibility and desirability of the continued pursuit of economic growth. This is strengthened by the fact that Europe is currently facing multiple crises undermining future growth potentials.

These range from the impacts of climate breakdown and biodiversity loss, demographic changes in Europe, the Covid-19 pandemic and rising inequality, to the war in Ukraine further threatening world security.

Moreover, the mainstream approach to pursue green and inclusive growth has so far delivered little progress, with GDP growth decoupling from growth in employment and wages (Laurent, 2021: 12-16; 21-23) and not producing sufficient reductions in ecological impacts. The scientific evidence is stacked against sufficient absolute decoupling of ecological impacts from economic growth, meaning that truly addressing our ecological crises will require what the IPCC calls a shift from a “GDP growth-oriented economy” to a “low-carbon energy-services, well-being, and equity-oriented economy”. This could allow for a focus on improvements in human wellbeing and the quality of life of workers.

Trade unions have a key role to play in a future ‘beyond growth’, as political actors representing the interests of working people and advocating for the wellbeing of workers, equity and social justice. This may present trade unions with substantial challenges, such as deconstructing the narrative that growth is essential to job creation and redistribution but it can also offer opportunities for trade union renewal, as well as new momentum and new allies to push-back against prevalent neoliberal economic policies undermining trade unions.

The aim of the conference is to build bridges between the trade union movement and the post- and de-growth community, and to situate a transformative just transition vision within the ‘beyond growth narrative. It should prompt reflection on how the (contested) concept of just transition and related policies, now a top priority in trade union agendas, fit – or can fit – with the futures proposed by post-growth scholars, and what just transition policies might look like in an alternative green deal for Europe that is not a ‘green growth’ strategy but a more radical societal and economic transformation.

The conference is a major side-event of the broader “Beyond Growth 2023 Conference” which will take place on 15-17 May 2023 on the initiative of twenty-one members of the European Parliament from five different political groups and supported by more than forty partner organisations. The conclusions from this ETUI-ETUC-EEB-ULB conference should feed into the debates of the 2023 event at the European Parliament.

Some documents arising from the discussions at the 2022 ‘Just Transition Beyond Growth’ conference: Programme for the event, ‘Two Scenarios for Sustainable Welfare‘ and ‘Welfare to Farewell’.

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