Introduction by John Monks General Secretary, European Trade Union Confederation

On the offensive with the ETUC


To be checked against delivery

On the Offensive with the ETUC

President, delegates, and guests.

As you have seen, my French is work in progress.

I take the floor now to present the activities report but also to look ahead at the next mandate. By all means, question and, if necessary, criticise what has been done. That is your right and duty. But also reflect on the experience of the past 4 years to help us prepare for the next four. My purpose this morning is to prepare us all to take the offensive.

Over the past mandate, we have often found ourselves swimming against the tide – a tough and tiring experience.

Nevertheless, we have won battles to defend our post war achievements. At European level, the victory over the Bolkestein directive was undoubtedly the highlight of the past four years, and was allied to other European trade union victories, such as over the Ports Directive.

Excessive liberalism was stopped in its tracks on both occasions, although be vigilant – there are efforts still being made this week to include health services in the text of the new Services Directive.

At national level, we have supported unions in France against the Contrat Première Embauche; in Italy against the Berlusconi programme; in the UK on the opt out from the Working Time Directive; in the Netherlands against pre-retirement benefit changes; in Belgium against plans to weaken pensions; in Turkey, against repressive measures. And many, many more.

But the tide runs against us in at least two ways.

First, Europe and North America no longer have unchallenged hegemony over the world economy. China, India, Russia and others are following Japan to become major players. We see that in the trade talks of the Doha Round. We see it too in the doubling of workers in the world economy since 1990, and the new arrivals are mostly cheap, ununionised and, in China’s case, denied basic human and trade union rights.

One consequence is that the share of wages and salaries in the income of most European nations – our share – has been falling relative to profits. Within that declining share, the slice going to executives is rising sharply, so the rest have a tough time in many of our countries.

Another consequence is the rise of precarious, insecure work.

Globalisation was invented in Europe for the benefit of Europe in the days of empire. So, I am always careful about complaining when, today, not everything goes in Europe’s favour. I welcome too the rising living standards in Asia and hope that Latin America and Africa can emulate that success.

But the casualties are often the low paid and the low skilled of Europe – our people and our responsibility. We are on their side for a better future.

A major problem is the response of the European authorities to all this. The original strategy agreed in Lisbon was a bold and imaginative attempt to balance economic progress with social and environmental advance – to help change, and to help workers handle it. But that balance is being lost.

The orthodoxy that has captured the European Commission and many governments is that in order to compete with cheaper, more flexible countries, social and environmental progress (where Europe is the world leader) should be “parked”; priority should given instead to economic growth where Europe is a slow mover compared to the USA and Asia.

And here the Commission and others have made an error. The most successful countries in Europe and the world – on all tests – are the Nordic Countries where unions are strongest in terms of membership; and collective bargaining is the most extensive; and also the countries where social and environmental progress and economic progress are most closely intertwined.

And this is not just a lesson from the North. In the post war period, Western Europe as a whole did not reconstruct itself by giving all the priority to economic growth. All countries combined growth with building welfare states, and also supporting collective bargaining, strengthening worker participation, social partnership and tripartism.

So the Lisbon Strategy has become unbalanced.

There are recent welcome signs that sustainable development and renewable energy are being taken into much greater account – as they should be given the danger of global warming. I thank President Barroso for that switch. But there are little signs yet of a general revival of support for advancing Social Europe.

Indeed the danger remains that it is running away from us.

Flexicurity – Denmark style - is the fashionable exemplar for Europe’s labour markets. In Denmark and the other Nordic countries, it is a change process based on strong union engagement and collective bargaining.

But at European level, it is becoming an ‘à la carte’ menu with the most popular choices for politicians being an end to secure contracts, reduction in employment protection and less entitlement to unemployment benefits. All of a sudden, if you have a steady job, you are an insider keeping others outside regular work. You are supposed to feel guilty and give up entitlements. But making more and more workers insecure and precarious cannot be the answer to Europe’s or any country’s problems.

We have welcome allies in our campaign. We have important friends in the European Parliament. And 10 countries recently agreed to press the case for a stronger Social Europe. My predecessor, Emilio Gabaglio, as the new chairman of the European Council of Employment Ministers, had an influential hand in that. Thanks again Emilio.

What our allies realise is that without a strong Social Europe, Europe becomes unpopular. If Europe is seen as dynamic Single Market only, with profits soaring while jobs emigrate to cheap locations and people immigrate from those locations, then popular reactions will be hostile, nationalistic and protectionist. That was evident in the “no” votes in France and the Netherlands – and is evident too in polls in other countries. That is the mistake being made by the Commission and some important member states.

Our way forward to speeding up growth and reducing unemployment is agreed plans with the social partners to take tough decisions together. That has been the Nordic way. It has also been the Irish way and now the Spanish way to prosperity too.

The key to successful economic growth is not deregulation, excessive liberalisation and more precarious work; it is successful social partnership; it is building collective bargaining, long-term commitment and strong unions.

And this is why now, the ETUC must move on to the offensive. First to build trade unionism in the new industries and services to the levels we have established in manufacturing and public services. To get away from the idea of many young people that unions are for my father, not for me. That’s a number one challenge for all of us – and one which public authorities and the European Commission should support.

As rip-roaring financial capitalism booms, as its wildest animals like private equity and hedge funds treat more and more companies as vehicles primarily for speculation, strong unions are needed to keep companies honest.

If governments fear taking these financial manipulators on through regulation and taxation, then let them give us support to do the job. Give us active help for a bigger role in restructuring and new rights to prior information, consultation, access to experts and negotiation. We cannot let these wild animals, or to use Vice Chancellor Müntefering’s graphic term “locusts”, turn Europe’s economy into a giant casino in which companies become vehicles for gambling, not for investment in the technologies of the future.

Let’s look next at another growing phenomenon in Europe. Go to any town in Western Europe, and to some in Eastern Europe, and listen to the variety of languages spoken. Migration is a huge new feature of what is an emerging European labour market. Now the EU/EEA numbers 30 countries, there are more and more migrant workers, sometimes exploited, often treated as second class. This is wrong.

Let me be clear. We welcome migrant workers. We support free movement but not roving armies of cheap, vulnerable labour ready for exploitation by the unscrupulous. Organising migrants into unions, securing proper traffic rules for this mass migration, and ensuring that the applicable standards are the standards of the host country – these are our campaign. If we do not win these arguments, we risk a protectionist backlash among our own members.

A key development this week will be the publication of the opinion of the Advocate General of the European Court in the Laval and Viking cases. Of that, more later in the week.

And we need to be on the offensive for a stronger social dialogue. Uniquely in the world, trade unions in Europe have the right to initiate laws if agreements can be made with employers. That was due to a previous victory by the ETUC. But employers generally, with some sectoral exceptions, are not agreeing to new regulation at European level. And they are not being encouraged enough to do so by the Commission. Useful agreements have been made recently on teleworking, stress and violence at work but we want to move on to strengthening union influence on agency workers, on restructuring and relocation and on a better work/life balance. We want to support the decent employers against the bad, and not allow a race to the bottom.

On the offensive too on pay and for a growth economy. Real wages have been flat in some key countries in the eurozone. We need rises in purchasing power to stimulate more consumption and growth – and so reduce unemployment. Not all growth should be export led. The time is right for a push on wages and for us to be on the offensive for increases. Profits are high, growth is improving, unemployment is falling, the workers deserve a fair share of the gains – decent minimum pay, decent living wages. That’s a message to employers and to Governor Trichet, who joins us tomorrow, and his European Central Bank.

We are working too for a more growth orientated approach by the ECB. The euro has been a success but it is too strong for many manufacturing enterprises. The ECB is understandly nervous about countries breaking the rules but an approach that is more symmetrical, more employment friendly and more relaxed about real wage growth when productivity is rising, is, we believe, very necessary.

On the offensive too for public services. Not all our economy should be subject to the profit motive and shareholder value. Public service is an honoured part of the European system and we need a directive which recognises that it should not be swamped by the operation of the single market. That’s why we want a million signatures on our petition. I congratulate some of you on your efforts so far and encourage you others – you know who you are – to deliver your share.

President, my final offensive for the ETUC concerns Europe itself. It is in the nature of national politics that Europe gets the blame when things go wrong while credit for things going right is kept at home. Europe is too often a scapegoat, too often a whipping boy.

Yet 50 years on from the Treaty of Rome, Europe has been successful in combining prosperity with good welfare states, public services and influential trade unions.

The accession of 12 new countries to the EU since 2004 has been a success, despite all the transitional problems – worse, by the way, in Central and Eastern Europe than in Western Europe. Uniquely in the world, Europe’s nations become more equal as the poorer nations’ growth rates in general exceed the European average. We wish the new members well. May your path follow the spectacular journeys since EU membership of Spain and Ireland towards prosperity.

And we don’t forget the other Europe. The countries that lie to the East. I am proud that we have launched the Pan European Regional Council of the new International TUC to make sure we take full account of trade unionism in the whole of Europe.

The ETUC stands for a Europe which is both more and better; a Europe which is integrated around rights and values including peace, liberty, democracy and fundamental rights; a Europe with more and better jobs; a Europe in which nation states do not compete on cheaper tax systems or lower labour standards but show solidarity and common purpose.

That’s why whatever happens to the EU constitutional treaty at the summit in June, the Charter of Fundamental Rights must be given full legal status. We want the rights to organise and to strike, among other rights, fully recognised in Europe, all of Europe – not just by the European institutions as now, but in all member states.

More will be said about this later in the week. But, Congress, prepare to mobilise, prepare to unite around the one part of the Treaty that we have all accepted.

Remember - we marched for the Charter in Nice and again at Laeken in Brussels. What we failed to obtain then, we secured in the convention which drew up the constitutional treaty. That gain must now be maintained. It is central to more and better jobs, and a future for Social Europe.

On that note, I call on Congress to prepare to go on the offensive to make Social Europe real. And to make a Europe a model for the world – a place of peace where workers take their full share of all the benefits, where capital must respect the interests of others, and where unions remain the worker’s first and best friend.

I move the activities report.