[OPE-L] The unions in Europe...

From: Jurriaan Bendien (adsl675281@TISCALI.NL)
Date: Wed Jun 06 2007 - 16:00:46 EDT

Europe has one internal market, but still has 27 separate labour markets.
European trade unions are going against the tide. Jobs disappear, investors
are more concerned with profits than with employment, cheap staff makes its
appearance from the new EU member countries, and the European labour
movement tries to save what can be saved.

By NRC editor Michèle de Waard

Sevilla, 25 May. European trade union leader John Monks is visibly excited.
"The right of trade unions to take action and force enterprises from other
EU countries to stick to the collective employment contracts has prevailed.
This is an important milestone for all European unions."

He was responding to a message to that effect from the European Court of
Justice, issued last Wednesday. In the Congress palace in Sevilla, there
were loud cheers. More than a thousand European trade union representatives
had travelled to the Spanish city to hold their four-yearly congress about a
social Europe, which ended yesterday. "The stakes are very high for us",
said Monks, the chairman of the European Trade Union Confederation, which
includes trade unions with 60 million members in 36 countries. Admittedly
there is only an preliminary opinion by two solicitors-general at the Court
about two Swedish labour-conflicts, but usually the European judges, who
will decide later this year, accept these conclusions. "At stake is a Europe
that does not consist only of one internal market, but also has a social
dimension", Monks (aged 62) says. "We are in favour of migration for
workers. The trade unions are also in favour of globalisation. But we want
to prevent that social security systems are undermined."

So when the Latvian construction company Laval some years ago gained a
contract to build a school in the Swedish town Vaxholm, the Swedish unions
inquired if the staff could be paid according to the Swedish collective
employment contracts. The company rejected this, and employed Latvian
construction workers, who earnt a quarter of comparable Swedish salaries. In
response, the Swedish unions blockaded the construction site, and pushed the
Latvian company off the Swedish market. Laval went bankrupt, and took its
case to the Swedish Labour Court, which referred it to the European Court of

The Laval case is of great importance for labour relations in the EU. "Even
our right to settle collective contracts is at stake", Monks says. If the
Court judged that, in this issue, the national right of Sweden can be pushed
aside, then this undermines the position of trade unions as party to
collective employment contracts in the whole of Europe.

The trade unions can certainly use their temporary backing from Luxemburg.
For them, it is battling against the stream. Most European unions are
suffering losses of members. "We have the tide against us in different
areas", Monks admits. "The labour movement in Europe is confronted with a
number of challenging questions: the number of poorly paid and insecure jobs
is increasing. A growing inequality is emerging between the top earners and
workers in enterprises. The share of salaries in the national income of many
European countries is declining, the share of profits is increasing".

Employers place the economic risks more and more with employees, Monks
concludes. "At the same time, we have the feeling that in European business,
a giant casino is being built. Large investors like private equity funds and
hedge funds more and more lay down the rules." The takeover of ABN-Amro is,
according to him, a case in point. "We are very worried about the new face
of capitalism, and the lack of social obligations that these new financiers
bring with them."

That aside, the labour movement is battling with a loss of confidence in the
ability of the EU to influence social progress. "We are busy making Europe
one internal market, but we have 27 different labour markets. That causes
frictions. Governments with a one-sided promotion of privatisation and
liberalisation of the economy are making a big mistake. If Europe is seen
exclusively as internal market with profits which go through the roof, and
with jobs which disappear to cheap locations, the response of the population
will be hostile and protectionist."

Monks issued an appeal in Sevilla to the 60 million members to take the
offensive. "We should not become a playground for adventurist shareholders.
The trade unions want better wages and better jobs. We think that the EU
should protect public services against the vicissitudes of the internal
market. And fundamental social rights such as the right to strike, social
negotiations and participating of workers in decisionmaking should be
recognised. The protocol for constitutional rights must be completely
included in the new European constitutional treaty. For that reason, we are
demonstrating in June in Brussels."

25 mei 2007 Translated by Jurriaan Bendien from NCR-Handelsblad (Rotterdam)

See also http://sevilla.etuc.org/ and http://www.etuc.org/r/847
http://www.epsu.org/a/1501 (for the Viking line case, see
http://www.eurofound.europa.eu/eiro/2006/05/articles/eu0605029i.html )
For the European Parliament debate, see

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