To be checked against delivery
Colleagues, dear guests,
Today's conference is a significant step towards a new culture of trade union cooperation and action all over the European continent.
I am not a special friend of great rhetoric: but this is a unique event in European trade union history. This is the résumé of the wide reaching changes in Europe that started in the fifties; that continued in the eighties; and that brought us together in the eighties and nineties. The fall of the Berlin wall is a symbol for that.
With the ITUC's founding congress in Vienna, for the first time since the end of World War Two, the division of the international trade union movement was overcome. The building of a new and united pan-European regional instrument is a logical follow-up to trade union unification at world level.
Let me be clear: this founding assembly, here in Rome, is not a routine celebration. It is not just a bureaucratic duty. It is not about furnishing another room in an old fashioned trade union house.
It will be first step on a new and long way, paved with hope, but also with obstacles.
What we need to do today is to underline the main axes of our strategy, to set up our priorities and to put into life our navigation.
You have in front of you a very ambitious and detailed document, the PERC programme orientations. Before trying to bring up some of the essentials, let me say a word on ETUC and PERC.
In previous debates, some of you expressed a fear that the ETUC could be disengaged and that PERC just would be a pretext for the ETUC to escape from its responsibilities in the wider Europe. And that the ETUC General Secretary taking over the responsibility of the PERC General Secretary could just be an operation to please the gallery. This evaluation is wrong.
The ETUC is, this is a fact, the trade union response to the challenges of the European integration process. That dictates its main working and action agenda. And that will continue to be the case.
So others, who expressed fears that the ETUC would in some sense lose its identity and purpose through its association with the PERC, are also wrong.
A strong, autonomous ETUC as the main defender of the European Social Model is in the vital interest of trade unions all over Europe. And the European Social Model is the most relevant reference point for society-building on our continent.
That ambition includes the objective need for close cooperation and networking among all those trade unions in Europe that are part of the International Trade Union Confederation. We are connected by common interest. We need each other. That demands common views and joint actions.
To illustrate that, I will mention three areas where bridges will be built between ETUC, its institutes, and the PERC:
- The European Neighbourhood Policy describes the EU¡¯s approach to those countries in Europe that are not part of the integration process. The ENP focuses not only on trade and the economy but also on human and workers rights, on good governance and on social dialogue. This opens a window for cooperation and action. PERC must articulate common positions and use the existing support instruments of the ENP in the best possible way.
At the same time we will not shirk our responsibilities towards our neighbours to the South through the Euro-Mediterranean process.
Our work needs to be concrete: It would be politically wise and strategically healthy if the united European trade unions would start a medium term campaign of ¡°workers against corruption¡± in a broad alliance in order to strengthen democracy and the state of right, to promote social justice and the just repartition of economic benefits. Corruption is a widespread phenomenon, taking advantage in a globalisation without rules and transparency. I have no doubt that workers all over Europe do expect a strong and coherent action of trade unions against corruption.
The ETUC has already engaged with colleagues in Russia, and just recently with those in Ukraine, in seeking to bring a social dimension and social dialogue to the accords that are being negotiated between their governments and the EU. While such bilateral approaches will continue to be necessary, taking into account the specificities of each situation, there will also a need for a strategic oversight, and that is where PERC comes in.
- Second: some of the European countries are, or will be in the near future, part of the pre-accession process to the EU. This needs special policies and consideration from our side. The detailed experience of the ETUC and its members especially in Central Europe must be transferred to an adequate PERC operation to support the affiliates in those countries. This will complement and reinforce the work we have been carrying out, for example in the Balkans Trade Union Forum.
- Third, practically all countries with PERC affiliates are members of the Council of Europe. The Council of Europe has a pan-European architecture and some instruments that should be exploited, especially when it comes to human and workers rights.
Time is too short to detail all the perspectives of our working agenda. This will evolve, in the same way as the PERC will evolve, to meet our changing realities.
But let me put the finger on some key elements:
- we cannot pretend that everything is fine in our trade union world. We need adaptation and modernisation, restructuring and organising. Homework must be done. We have deficits to overcome in convincing young people and women to unionise. And they merit more and better positions in our structures;
- it is not enough to complain about globalisation. We must bring ourselves in a better position in fighting for a structured and manageable globalisation. This cannot be done within the limits of national borders. We must improve and strengthen our regional and international organisations to enable them to translate programmes into reality;
- ITUC, PERC, ETUC ¨C all of us must put into place instruments to fight violations of workers rights, child labour, the increasing exploitation of the weakest. Existing instruments must be strengthened;
- services to the public; the public sector; must be preserved and protected against blind privatisation, against ideologically-driven change, that focuses on profit but not ¨C as is its mission - on accessible services for all, without discrimination. That principle is at stake in too many European countries;
- and finally: we must organise resistance against a financial capitalism vagabonding around the world, looking for victims and destroying work places and workers resistance. This new capitalism is a wild animal. It must be brought under control. This is our main challenge in the international trade union movement in the months and years ahead.
Let me, colleagues, end with a quotation of a famous Roman, Cicero, who probably was not a trade unionist but nevertheless a wise man. He said and I bring this into modern English: 'Never stop to start. Never start to stop'
Let us go for that. Let¡¯s do it. Together.