UNI-EUROPA 2nd Regional conference
To be checked against delivery
Chairman, delegates, I am privileged to bring the greetings of the ETUC to this Congress. UNI-Europa, and UNI generally, have gone from strength to strength and play an essential part in European and world trade unionism. The mergers have gone smoothly to my outside but still close eye.
The position of UNI in sectors of the economy that are generally growing has been capitalised on and the impact on behalf of workers has been considerable. The campaign on private equity spearheaded by UNI and its affiliates has been attracting huge attention and admiration.
In the direct field of UNI-Europa, I could pick out many achievements but I single out for a special mention in despatches the role played in the Services Directive. You played a crucial role in making sure that an ultra liberal directive - the Bolkestein text - was defeated and that we have got one now which should promote services and protect workers.
I express my thanks to UNI and UNI-Europa for their help and work, and a special word of thanks to Bernadette who is a close and dependable friend and colleague to me and the ETUC.
But the purpose of this Conference is not to reminisce or celebrate. It is to dedicate ourselves anew to the challenges we face representing the workers of Europe.
We face some tough challenges but we should not be hesitant about them. They are better in many respects than the challenges faced by our predecessors who were confronted by mass unemployment, grinding poverty, the ravages of war, post-war reconstruction, the later overthrowing of dictatorship and the reunification of Europe. And what our predecessors could do with the challenges of the past, we can do with the challenges of the present and the future.
The first challenge is that Europe’s citizens have become more sceptical about the creation of a stronger, more integrated Europe. Indeed, among many trade unionists, Europe risks being seen as the cutting edge of globalisation’s worst effects whereby jobs are emigrating to cheaper locations and people are immigrating, prepared to work for lower rates than the local populations. The result is a developing public mood which is more susceptible to the simplicities of nationalist and protectionist rhetoric than to the more complex processes of strengthening European integration; and there is a mood less willing to recognise that globalisation has benefits, as well as drawbacks.
In the economic sphere, unemployment has been high in many countries, and while there has been recent, welcome improvements, many of the new jobs are precarious and low paid. Additionally, real wage growth been negligible in some key countries. More generally in nearly all high income countries, the share of wages and salaries in the gross domestic product has been declining. As Warren Buffet (the American investor) reportedly said recently - “there is a class war and my class is winning”.
It is also evident that there is a trend towards more and more short-termism among financial investors with private equity, hedge funds and others treating enterprises primarily as vehicles for speculation rather than investing in new products, new services, high productivity, and sustainable technologies. With macro-economic policy being contained by the European Central Bank within the current rules for the euro, Europe is struggling to generate growth to match other existing and emerging economic powers in the world.
Environmentally, there is heightened awareness among Europe’s citizens of the threats posed by global warming. But to date, the efforts made to combat this by the European authorities do not equal the scale of the challenge. Europe should be in the lead in tackling these problems and in some areas like regulation of dangerous chemicals, it is. Progress at European level was also made recently on expanding sources of renewable energy. But generally, there are wide variations between member states and too little concerted action at European level. De-regulation has been the dominant theme of the current European Commission and this has impeded progress on environmental questions.
Social Europe too has been a casualty of the overriding belief in de-regulation. Virtually no new legal measures to support European workers have been introduced over the past 4 years. A majority of the Commission, most employers, and some member states have combined to stop progress on measures such as working time and temporary agency workers. Indeed, at times, some Governments have questioned whether there is a Social Europe at all, ignoring the 60 or so legal measures which have been introduced already on health and safety, European Works Councils, equality and information and consultation. Instead they have argued that Europe does not need a social dimension, carelessly forgetting the need to win popular support for the project of European integration. The result is that Europe has been damaged recently. As Jacques Delors has said “no-one falls in love with a single market”. Social Europe has been crucial to a successful Europe in previous years. It must become so again. In fact the ETUC recognises that in the 50 years since the Treaty of Rome, the EU has made quite remarkable progress. Generally, welfare states, and public services have become the best in the world. Peace has been maintained in the EU, accompanied by greater prosperity. In spite of its limitations, European integration has helped new member states reduce the gap with existing members.
Despite all the difficulties, the ETUC remains absolutely committed to work for a Europe which is both “more” and “better”; a Europe which is integrated around rights and values including peace, liberty, democracy, fundamental rights, equality, sustainable development, full employment and decent work, social dialogue, the protection of minorities, universal and equal access to high quality, public services, and a successful economy which supports social progress and employment protection.
Our Congress will be held next month in Seville and will be a new stage in our development towards an organisation which is stronger, more cohesive, and more influential in benefiting the workers of Europe and the world. Moving on to the offensive needs an organisation which can criticise and mobilise, of course, but can also propose, negotiate, and act. Strengthening European trade unionism and the capacities of the ETUC will therefore be central to the task of making our offensive effective and productive, and carrying through the main thrusts of our Strategy and Action Plan listed below:
The ETUC plans to go on the offensive on five broad fronts:
We must develop an effective strategy of organisation to help affiliates increase the numbers of members. And, also, we need a stronger ETUC, more able to lead campaigns and to promote more solidarity
Next we want a true European labour market with more and better jobs, full employment and European minimum standards in areas such as pay, working conditions, trade union rights, and health and safety, combate and reverse rising trend towards precarious work.
We want to help raise real wages and promote the cause that Europe’s workers need a pay rise
We want to prioritise the elimination of the wage gap between men and women, we want to fight ‘délocalisation’,
We will always promote equality and gender mainstreaming. We will always fight racism, discrimination and xenophobia
We will launch a campaign for union rights to take strike action at transnational level
We aim to capture the flexicurity debate from those aiming to cut employment protection and unemployment benefit
We will promote a higher quality social dialogue and more intense consideration of how to develop and co-ordinate European level collective bargaining, also develop European Works Councils and promote worker participation
We will, with UNI and others, expose and combat “casino capitalism” and short-termism more generally, by taxation, regulation and worker involvement,
And we want a stronger EU with
a defence of the substance of the Constitutional treaty including the Charter of Fundamental Rights, and the trade union rights to organise and to strike; with the addition of a stronger social dimension expressed in a social protocol or declaration
we also want a positive approach to enlargement towards the Balkans and Turkey based on full compliance with the requirements of EU membership and with fundamental rights; our aim is for generous neighbourhood policies to the east of Europe, and in the Mediterranean; and co-operation with the other regions of the world;
Friends, these are great challenges. I do not underestimate them but we can overcome them and Europe, the birthplace and main bastion of world trade unionism needs again to become a glittering success. That is the challenge to us all. Europe’s workers deserve no less.
Good luck for the future.
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