Francine Mestrum on Promoting the Social Commons

By Francine Mestrum:

“All major international development organisations, from the World Bank over the ILO and the European Commission, plan to promote social protection in all developing countries. This may seem bizarre, since, at the same time, social protection mechanisms are being dismantled in the region where they first came about: Western Europe and Scandinavia. It is important to know, then, that words do not have the same meaning for all, and the ‘social protection’ of the World Bank is not the same as ‘social protection’, let us say in Sweden. In other words, there are no ‘welfare states’ emerging in Africa. But these plans are now being implemented and social movements have largely been absent from the debates. Where are the alternatives? What can we do to avoid social protection being at the service of markets?

In today’s world, more than one billion people are extremely poor, almost half of the world’s population is just poor, and inequality is soaring. In many parts of the world, wages and labour conditions are particularly bad, and social services are hardly available. This means we do need social protection, though we should be prepared to re-think the formulas that were invented a century ago. Political, economic and social circumstances are now very different from what they were after the second world war, and no country can find solutions and implement them efficiently on its own. Popular demands have also changed.

We should be looking, then, for a new paradigm that offers economic and social security for all. We may think in the direction of ‘social commons’, since the needs of people, wherever they live and in whatever political or economic regime, are all the same. We might find divergent solutions, but there will always be common characteristics. ‘Social commons’ aim at achieving a common good, a situation in which people are free, equal and emancipated, in a world based on human rights and solidarity.”