Active citizenship is the glue that keeps society together. Democracy doesn’t function properly without it, because effective democracy is more than just placing a mark on a voting slip.
You can read here 25 examples of how our members engage in active citizenship and get an idea how you can act as well!
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Laure Batut says she has been a militant trade unionist all her professional life. In the 1980s, she left the French customs service to start working for the union movement, and is now focusing on European Union and international relations within her organisation the CGT-FO. It is through her union work that she expresses her commitment to active citizenship.
One of her most important duties was training trade union members to understand and participate in the EU. “As a senior customs officer I was already closely involved in European issues because the customs union was one of the ﬁrst aspects of European unity to become a reality,” she points out. From 1985 to 2004, Force Ouvrière ran two-week seminars each year on the EU and the trade unions’ role within it.
There has been a long history of Europe-wide trade union activity, ever since the founding of the European Coal and Steel Community in 1951.
All our activists, young and old, should be aware of and understand that history,” explains Ms Batut, “so as to know what position to take. That was one of my tasks, and it was a pleasure for me, because the EU was the ﬁrst model of international political solidarity in the twentieth century.”
She made a point of inviting trade unionists from other countries to take part in the seminars, hosting guests from Austria, Denmark, Germany, Greece, Italy and the UK. She also called on attachés from different embassies in Paris to come and speak about social rights in their own countries, enabling French trade unionists to compare their own experiences. “Those moments were memorable,” she adds, “because our members saw a stranger arrive, but by the time they left they had become a friend, sharing the same problems.
“I don’t know how to evaluate the beneﬁts,” admits Ms Batut. But she believes that by the end of the sessions participants had a full knowledge of the EU. In the past there used to be a great deal of demand for such courses, because nobody else offered them – neither schools nor workplaces, anywhere in Europe. “Frankly, anyone who wants to be a European citizen has to be self-taught, wherever they are,” she says, “and I have conﬁrmed that with my colleagues.” Some of her activities drew in people from France’s overseas territories. “They were even more demanding – because they were even more interested in the topic. For many years they had a favourable attitude towards Europe. But then with the Treaty of Lisbon and the reorientation of the EU towards economic growth, neglecting social Europe, people turned away. We don’t run information courses any more because there is no demand.”
Active citizenship is always a plus, and I think the digital society will help develop it
A growing disillusionment
Trade unions are a mirror of European society, she points out, representing all professions, young and old, women and men; so decision-makers should pay attention to their views. Now, especially since the crisis, she senses a deep unease among members, who feel their opinions are no longer listened to. “Governments don’t want the EU any more,” she argues. “They want intergovernmental relations. But that doesn’t motivate people.”
Ms Batut says she made good use of European funds in the past, to produce information on women’s rights, for example, but now these too are harder to obtain. NGOs and trade unions need small subsidies for their activities, but the EU is only interested in funding large projects, so the ETUC has taken over management of budgets.
“Active citizenship is always a plus, and I think the digital society will help develop it,” she believes. Through the internet, citizens will increasingly be able to set their own agenda, rather than accepting “top-down” policies. But people need better digital training in order to beneﬁt fully from the opportunities.