European Federation of Retired and Elderly Persons (FERPA) - Congress

Brussels, 03/05/2007

To be checked against delivery

I bring the greetings of the ETUC to the Congress of FERPA.

I bring the thanks of the ETUC to Luigina de Santis who finishes as your secretary at this Congress. Luigina has been a friendly and effective force for good in the ETUC family. We will miss her and we wish her well in her return to her native country of Italy.

I bring the congratulations of the ETUC to your new secretary Bruno COSTANTINI.

I hope that we enjoy working together as much as we did with Luigina and that our relations will be productive for the workers and pensioners of Europe.

We need productive relations in order to do our best to strengthen FERPA. We must convince those who doubt us, those who believe that a European organisation of retired trade unionists is not necessary. We must take up the challenge posed by those who do not support us.

And we will do this by demonstrating relevance to the people and trade unions of Europe. It is the ETUC Congress in Seville in three weeks and we too must demonstrate our relevance and capabilities.

We face some tough challenges but we should not be hesitant about them. The challenges are better in many respects than those 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. People are wondering about the world their grand-children will face. 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 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:

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, combat and reverse the 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 want better welfare states, not worse ones.
- 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 expose and combat “casino capitalism” and short-termism more generally, by taxation, regulation and worker involvement,

These are great challenges. I do not underestimate them but we can overcome them and make Europe, the birthplace and main bastion of world trade unionism a glittering success again. That is the challenge to us all. Europe's workers and pensioners deserve no less.

Good luck for the future.