Europe’s trade unions come to London to show solidarity
This morning, the leaders of Europe’s trade unions met in the TUC General Council chamber – people like ETUC (European Trade Union Confederation) General Secretary Luca Visentini and German union leader Reiner Hoffman. They are here partly to show solidarity with British workers and stand shoulder to shoulder with our struggle to prevent workers being made to pay for the Brexit decision. But also to start working out what to do for workers not just here but across the rest of the EU.
The TUC will be fighting our corner in the post-Brexit political and economic disruption, but over the next few years, the practical solidarity of our fellow European trade unions will be crucial, especially where they have the ear of their government: from Austria and Sweden where former trade union leaders are actually in power to countries like Germany and Portugal.
We have common cause, of course, on the status of EU27 workers in Britain and Brits abroad. But we also have a shared interest in preventing any attack on the workers’ rights set out in EU directives. We don’t want British workers to lose out and our European colleagues don’t want us undercutting their rights. Our Irish colleagues have a particular interest in a settlement that preserves not just jobs and rights, but peace as well.
Our European trade union colleagues will be doing what they can to promote solidarity rather than a competitive race to the bottom, and to maintain the maximum trade between the UK and the EU27, especially through lobbying their governments. They will also be arguing that trade unions should have a role in the negotiation process, here in the UK and in the EU27.
Frances O’Grady said today:
“Leaving the EU does not mean weakening our alliances with European unions – in fact they will be more important than ever. We will continue to strive for stronger social and workers’ rights in Europe, and a future trading relationship between Britain and the EU that ensures our workers keep the same guaranteed workplace rights as EU workers.”
The Brexit decision has also thrown into sharp relief the ETUC call for a change of course at European Union level – a relaunch of the European social model to forestall further challenges to EU membership. European trade unions have consistently argued for a new start for Europe: more public investment in infrastructure and housing to stimulate the creation of sustainable, decent work; and more protections for workers against new forms of exploitation such as Uber-jobs, zero hours contracts and so on.
The position of migrants – both within the EU and from outside – will be a key issue facing trade unions around the EU. Unions across the EU have found their members concerned, just as British workers are, about uncontrolled migration. This is fuelling the rise of right-wing populism, with many workers voting for parties like UKIP here, AfD in Germany, the Italian Northern League and the Front National in France. And, at the extreme, it is leading to an increase in racist harassment and violence which trade unions need to combat. European trade union leaders were united against allowing Brexit to divide workers.
Standing together is part of the fabric of trade unionism, and that hasn’t been changed by the referendum.