Book of the Day: Re-Thinking Social Protection as a Commons

* Book: Francine Mestrum: Building Another World: Re-thinking Social Protection. Global Social Justice, 2013

Francine Mestrum writes:

img3“It is a proposal for a new concept of social protection, which is particularly important at the moment that international organizations start to make their proposals for ‘social protection’. The ILO came out with its ‘social protection floors’, the World Bank completes its old proposal with ‘resilience’ and the European Commission switches from poverty reduction to ‘social protection’ in its cooperation policies.

While these proposals have to be welcomed and promoted, there is a real risk that they will not go beyond poverty reduction. They do have nevertheless a potential to do more: they are rights-based, they imply permanent mechanisms and they do take into account – finally! – the income dimension.

We think however that more is needed.

Most of all, and whatever choices societies make, we are convinced that the wall of neo-liberalism has to be brought down. As long as this does not happen, social policies will be at the service of growth, the economy will be purely market-driven, and states will have to repress social movements while poverty and inequality are rising. Capitalism’s ‘dirty little secret’ is that it only works for the few.

We do not however, propose a model of social protection. We are convinced this can only be made by peoples themselves in a democratic process, based on their needs. Societies may have divergent needs and hopes. They will have to decide for themselves if and how far they want to go beyond the current new proposals from the international organisations.

In this book we want to demonstrate two things:

First, we want to propose some basic principles for social protection. It is often forgotten that while Western Europe has been the cradle for comprehensive welfare states, all nations had social protection in the past, even if only in an embryonic form. But ‘Washington Consensus’ policies have dismantled them, as they are now doing in the European Union. Instead, they introduced ‘poverty reduction policies’, thus switching from economic and social rights to only civil rights (the right to life).

These basic principles are universalism, organic solidarity and de-commodification. They will be based on individual, collective and solidarity human rights.

Secondly, we want to emphasize the transformative potential of social protection. By this we mean that when reflecting on how to organize a comprehensive social protection, it soon becomes clear that this goes far beyond social policies. Not only does the proposed concept of social protection concern social security, social assistance, labour law, public services and environmental rights, but in order to achieve this the economy, democracy, the legal system, media, and so on will have to change. A market-driven system pursuing growth can have no future in a finite world and can never provide social and economic security for individuals and for societies.

The objective of social protection will have to be in the very first place to preserve society as such, in the second place to promote social integration and finally to give people social and economic security.

We also want to embed this social protection in a global dimension with two other initiatives: the banning of poverty and the Common Good of Humanity.

We want to emphasize that in our vision, social protection is not meant as a reformist correction mechanism. Rather, it is a core mechanism for organizing States and for protecting societies, people and the planet. Social protection is not about redistribution of the surplus of exploitation, it is about the distribution of wealth produced by society.

Our world is changing very rapidly. However revolutionary the welfare states of Western Europe may have been in the past, they cannot answer the current needs anymore. In third world countries, governments are still struggling with a combination of limited social security and ‘asistencial’ poverty reduction policies. The time has come to fundamentally re-think the way States and societies are working. Several solutions have already been proposed. Apart from the international organizations, we have the ‘buen vivir’ proposals of Latin America. Both can be a source of inspiration.

But once again, it is governments and societies who will have to decide on the kind of social protection they want. In order to make their choice, we offer them this reflection on what is possible. It is social movements who will have to see and decide how far they want to go and what social struggles they are prepared to organize. Because international elites may have decided they want social protection everywhere, it will not be given for free. The further societies want to go, the better they will have to organize.

This book would like to be a modest contribution to this struggle. Explaining why we need social protection, what it can mean and what it can change, it is a description of what another world could look like. It offers a broad range of choices, while leaving the decisions to the people.”

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