Is Europe a powder keg?

In the European Union of 28 countries (EU28), 118 million people (23.5 percent of the population) were at risk of poverty in 2015. This risk affects both workers with jobs (12.3 percent in 2017) and the unemployed (32.7 percent).

The increasing precariousness of labor relations means that the risk of poverty for workers between 18 and 24 is 12.5 percent; while for workers between 55 and 64, it is 8.8 percent. The risk of poverty for full-time workers is 8 percent, for part-time workers 15.8 percent. In the EU, those in the highest quintile, or fifth of the population, are paid 4.1 times what those in the lowest quintile are paid.

In the EU28 in 2017, 8.1 percent of families were unable to adequately heat their homes; 30.9 percent could not afford one week of holidays per year; 8.4 percent could not afford a quality meal even every other day; 9.3 percent had arrears on housing expenses since 2003; 7.8 percent of households had great difficulty sustaining themselves; 35.6 percent had no possibility of enjoying any leisure activity.

Also, 26.5 percent of EU28 households had to make heavy payments for rentals and mortgages; 5.8 percent had no means to travel by public transport; 25.5 percent were unable to replace used clothes with new ones; 13.1 percent of households had leaky roofs, with wet walls, floors and foundations and rotten wood in windows and floors.

It is really unnecessary to go to Eurostat [the source of all the above numbers] to see the extent of the existing economic and social divide. Exploitation, poverty and inequality exploded after the fall of the Soviet Union. Capitalism was judged to be the be-all and the end-all. But the alternative will arise precisely from the intolerable nature of capitalism itself. And from the unstoppable struggle of the workers and the peoples.

This opinion article was published Dec. 13 in Avante, the newspaper of the Portuguese Communist Party. It succinctly describes the growing inequality and poverty in Europe — both East and West — since the end of the Soviet Union. It was translated by Workers World Managing Editor John Catalinotto with permission of the author.

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