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New TUC General Secretary warns Euro-unions on UK threat to social Europe

While the British media have concentrated on the timing and content of the proposed ‘in-out’ referendum on the U.K.’s membership of the European Union, trade unions are in no doubt about the coalition government’s desire to dismantle social and labour protection as part of ‘renegotiation’. However newly-elected TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady told a recent ETUC conference that workers on the continent could also be in the firing line.

 THE EUROPEAN TRADE UNION CONFEDERATION (ETUC) recently celebrated its fortieth anniversary at a high-level conference in Madrid The meeting opened with the launch of a new logo and visual branding for the organisation. As well as contributions from Messrs. Andor and Rehn the European Commissioners for Employment and Economic and Monetary Affairs respectively, union leaders from across the continent gathered to give their views on the current dangerous state of the European economy and the implications for the European Social Model. For most of the time since the ETUC’s foundation in 1973 dialogue between unions, employers and the governmental authorities has underpinned a way of life in which decent levels of social security, training, health and safety, rights and, latterly, equality at work have come together to make up Social Europe. Mr. Rehn quoted a figure of 52% as the total proportion of all social spending in the World that takes place in Europe. Now this is coming under attack as the European Commission and its partners at the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund have insisted on austerity and forced indebted governments to make deep cuts in their social provision. According to General Secretary O’Grady the next front in this war will be opened by the U.K. The Prime Minister’s drive to renegotiate EU treaties and form a looser relationship with the Community has as one of its principal aims ‘to make it easier for bad employers to undercut good ones, drive down wages, and make people who already work some of the longest hours in Europe work even longer’ she said.  But much as she implored continental unions to put

pressure on their governments not to give in to Mr.Cameron in solidarity with British workers, Ms. O’Grady appealed to their self-interest as well. The Prime Minister did not want to just opt-out of EU legislation ‘he wants to end Social Europe altogether’ she emphasised – ‘your own rights, your own wages, and your own jobs’ will be threatened if your governments ‘pull the very same trick and get rid of their own workers' hard-won rights too’. In their speeches both Commissioners stressed the importance of social dialogue in steering through reforms to the European labour market. Mr. Rehn wanted these to be ‘balanced but ambitious’ and to ‘respect the relevance of collective bargaining, as enshrined in the EU’s Charter of Fundamental Rights’ while Mr.Andor drew attention to ‘the first EU tripartite exchange of views on wage developments’ and the imminent Tripartite Social Summit where European unions would have a voice. ETUC General Secretary Bernadette Ségol closed the conference with a renewed call to defend Social Europe: ‘the social dimension cannot be a plaster that you stick on a squashed leg’ it ‘is an integral part of economic governance’ she said. Agreeing with ‘our British friends’ she continued: ‘attacking workers and workers’ rights is not a solution for the European Union’.

General Secretaries Ségol (on screen with new logo) and O’Grady and Commissioners Rehn and Andor at the ETUC conference



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