Stronger unions depend on what happens in Europe
We’ve co-published a pamphlet on European social and employment laws this morning with our friends at the Foreign Policy Centre (and in partnership with the European Commission). It sounds like a pretty dry read (honest, it isn’t!) but the issues addressed are fundamental to future union organisation and our ability to deliver for working people.
Single market, equal rights? looks at what is happening to labour law in the EU. There were major advances in workers’ rights when Jacques Delors was President of the European Commission – health and safety, rights for atypical workers, protection from redundancy and so on. Then workers’ rights advanced at a snail’s pace for a decade (not least because of the problems we had persuading our own Government to make progress on the Temporary Agency Workers Directive). But now it looks like they may be in reverse.
Adverse judgments in the European Court of Justice (eg the cases known as Viking and Vaxholm) have been compounded by the response of the Commission and right-wing national governments to the global and european economic crisis. The ECJ has elevated business rights above workers’ rights, restricting unions’ ability to defend wages and prevent a race to the bottom, or social dumping. Meanwhile the Commission wants to see unit wage costs fall, for example by undermining the Belgian system of wage indexation which automatically uprates wages to keep pace with inflation. And right-wing governments in places like Hungary are actually beginning to roll back workers’ and unions’ rights in law. Yesterday’s decision in Greece to slash the minimum wage is a warning of what is to come.
So Europe matters more than ever to unions and to workers. We need to defend the systems and rights we have – and our wages – and we need to demand a better deal from European governments and employers. That includes establishing minimum standards of employment conditions across the European single market, and providing unions with the potential to secure improvements in working conditions that could begin to tackle the inequality that has caused so many of Europe’s current economic problems.
Although some (eg the article in the pamphlet by Mats Persson from Open Europe) will argue that this would be better done at national level, by repatriating employment laws from Brussels to Westminster, does anyone really think that David Cameron would be more keen on workers’ rights than his counterparts in France and Germany, even if they are both from the right of the political spectrum?