European Labour Rights at a Crossroads

The dismantling of labour and social rights has gained in strength on the EU political agenda ever since the crisis broke out. This phenomenon, if more acute in the so-called periphery countries, is however to be witnessed everywhere in Europe.

In order to contribute to the assessment of the situation from a labour and trade union perspective – as well as to the debate over the alternative proposals for another employment policy –, transform! held in Vienna on the 6th and 7th of May a European workshop bringing together researchers, trade unionists and social movement activists.

If the recipes put forward by European and national neoliberal elites alike to allegedly fight unemployment are of the same essence across Europe – though with shades in intensity and dates of implementation –, trade unions’ power resources differ from one country to another. It is necessary to study in-depth these differences to help develop a trade union strategy at the European level: trade union density, collective bargaining’s institutional tools, relationship with the state and degree of radicalism of the alternative proposals – all of these matter when it comes to explain the mobilisations against labour markets’ reforms, stressed the senior researcher at the Institute for Work, Skills and Qualifications (IAQ, Germany) Steffen Lehndorff.
The very foundations of these reforms are the same. But this does not make a genuine European social model – or if so, then one based on internal devaluation and the destruction of labour rights, as stated by the labour law professor at the University of Valencia Adoración Guamán. And it seems things will only speed up in the years to come: according to the Five Presidents Report, “for the European and Monetary Union to succeed, labour markets and welfare systems need to function well in all Euro area member states”. No need to read between the lines to understand that what they plan is “more of the same”, regardless of the lack of efficiency or of the growing opposition to such reforms.
Former senior official of the French union CGT and now member of the board of Espaces Marx Christian Pilichowski did not beat around the bush: “for years we have been fighting against such reforms. We managed to stop some of them. But what did we win? Nothing. We need to set our own agenda.” One step towards this direction could be to develop more alliances between trade unions and social movements. More and more of the latter, often made up of young people whose only horizon has been precariousness, are focusing on labour-oriented issues. In spite of sometime profound differences between these two types of organisation, the convergence should be deepened. It has bore fruit in several countries (especially in Portugal), and it is therefore possible.
The AlterSummit network provides such a platform where trade unions and social movements can meet, debate, exchange – and more importantly try to develop common strategies. The dismantling of labour and social rights across Europe, as well as the alternatives to oppose to it, will be at the core of large conference to be held in Brussels next autumn. The transform! Working Group on Labour will play a key role in the preparatory process. By then, it will prepare a collective publication to contribute to this European discussion of utmost importance.