This year’s European elections are taking place in a volatile context, with far-right parties threatening to gain ground and increase their positions in the next European Parliament. As already seen in the case of Finland, far-right parties pose as the ‘friends of working people’ but once in power, they attack trade unions and workers’ rights. 

At European level, our ‘Good Industrial Jobs - 5 Wins, 5 Demands’ Campaign sets out a common manifesto, encouraging workers to vote for candidates who actively support good industrial jobs and trade union values.

During the exchange, we heard a first-hand testimony from our Spanish trade unions on how they mobilised to defeat the Far Right during their last national elections, throughout which CCOO and UGT actively campaigned in workplaces to prevent VOX from gaining ground. Mariano Hoya (UGT-FICA General Secretary) and Juan Blanco (international secretary at CCOO de Industria) explained their trade unions’ mobilising strategies of cooperation with other social movements. 

IG Metall presented its strategy against the AFD based on political education for trade union members, campaigns against far-right narratives at the workplace and on social media (particularly targeting young people, with positive results), and a clear stance with employers against the Far Right. Maximilian Waclawczyk (Head of European Policy) and Jan Wilde (Youth Secretary) explained that AFD seems to be successful especially among middle-aged male voters whose jobs are being threatened by the transformation of their industries as a result of political decisions. IG Metall is countering AFD’s discourses by presenting progressive economic and social policy demands for secure, sustainable, and quality jobs. 

Judith Kirton-Darling, industriAll Europe General Secretary, said: 

“We are at a turning point with the upcoming EU elections, and the positive Spanish and German examples need to be replicated to prevent the Far Right from gaining ground in the next European Parliament. This is personal for industriAll Europe, as the Far Right are targeting our members and workers in our sectors. This webinar was only the beginning of industriAll Europe’s increased efforts in fighting the Far Right, including through our ‘5 Wins, 5 Demands’ Campaign ahead of this summer’s elections. 

“The efforts won’t stop in June! We need a properly resourced strategy to counter the fake news and attacks on trade unions from the Far Right – building alliances to counter their political campaigns.”

Daphne Halikiopoulou, Professor at the University of York, presented research which shows the Far Right’s successes at the expense of the mainstream, tripling their votes in the past decades. 

The austerity measures imposed after the 2008-2009 financial crisis by mainstream centrist parties increasingly contributed to this worrying trend, increasing far-right support since 2010. Daphne warned against the dangers of these parties entering government through the breakdown of the ‘cordon sanitaire’ by centrist parties. This normalises their divisive discourse which presents nationalist solutions to all problems, and giving far-right parties seats and power allows them to change and shape laws that outlast them, thus eroding democracy which we are already witnessing in Hungary and Poland. 

Dr. Stiofán Ó Nualláin (Trademark Belfast) explained how the previous four decades of neoliberal establishment led to a legitimate resentment among voters; that the Far Right has successfully utilised. Many feel abandoned by mainstream parties, due to the constant fall in the labour share of income over the past decades, while the cost of living has steadily increased. Trade unions need to (re-)start programmes of political education for their members to explain why far-right solutions are not going to solve economic problems. 

The Far Right is successful at playing different groups of workers against each other or against other vulnerable groups. Here is where trade unions need to come in and unite them, by increasing their presence on social media where the Far Right is dominant, and to be on the offensive with a narrative based on what they are, and who they stand for. 

Isabelle Barthès, industriAll Europe’s Deputy General Secretary, said: “The erosion of democracy and the attack against trade unions in countries where the Far Right has gained ground is worrying. Their first targets are always the right to strike and sectoral collective bargaining. As trade unions, we must not be afraid to take a clear stance against these parties and to expose their fallacy. We need to address the economic considerations of those far-right voters who feel left behind by mainstream parties, and win them back. 

“At the same time, we have to push progressive parties who support our values to put forward progressive policies and avoid a return to austerity. The upcoming vote in the European Parliament on the reform of the economic governance rules is of crucial importance and MEPs must vote against the current deal that will bring back austerity as that will only play into the hands of the Far Right.”