A new social contract for Europe?

Questions and answers with Vasco Pedrina, author of “The Eurocrisis and the European trade union movement.

Press release | Geneva, Switzerland | 04 June 2012

Can you explain the “renationalising policy” you refer to and how this is intended to boost the economies in the Eurozone?

One of the tendencies in our movement defends a “strategy of withdrawal.” This contends that because the EU is heading toward ultraliberal destruction, the only realistic answer is the formation of resistance networks for the defence of the social state within each nation. The increasingly international and coordinated character of the attacks against social Europe makes such a strategy inoperative. This will only lead to an impasse.

Can you explain what you mean by the “offensive strategy” of Europeanising social struggles?

The other tendency in our movement advocates an “offensive strategy” of Europeanising social struggles, based on defensive, national struggles. For such a perspective to be realised it is necessary to see a quantitative and qualitative leap in political action and joint mobilization in Europe. The most important challenge today is probably that of a union strategy towards the “Fiscal Pact”, a strong instrument to promote wage and social dumping in all Europe.

What impact could this have on the protection and creation of jobs in the Eurozone?

The European Trade Union Confederation’s (ETUC) proposals for qualitative growth and employment could constitute a sufficient basis for effective joint action as well as the planned “New social contract for Europe.” Good proposals without European big social mobilizations and political pressures will not bring us forward. This is the lesson of the last years of this crisis.

Why has the European trade union movement failed to unite around opposition to anti-social austerity plans and go for this “offensive strategy” you refer to?

The trend towards a “national withdrawal” of trade unions appears to be continuing in an almost inexorable manner, also weakening in terms of members and force. On the one hand, everyone is caught up in national defensive struggles. On the other, the highly uneven developments between the so-called surplus countries and the deficit countries, along their political lines, are undermining the basis for solidarity. On top of that, there are the differences in both trade union demands, cultures and traditions The objectives and the rhythms of mobilization are also different in different countries.

How would a common rule for a minimum wage in Europe help the current economic situation?

Two developments are making European wage issues particularly urgent. On the one hand, all across Europe, inequality, the incidence of low pay in relation to job insecurity, the number of working poor are continually on the rise. On the other, through the “Euro Pact” and the “Six Pack,” the EU-Commission has recently acquired effective instruments to call free collective bargaining into question and to impose a fall in wages in the countries in distress.

You refer to wage-dumping?

Any form of pressure to push down salaries. Wage-dumping pressures and attacks on workers’ rights have increased just about everywhere, following, first, the rulings of the European Court of Justice in 2008 (cases Laval, Viking, Rüffert, Luxembourg) and, then the proliferation of pro-market and labour legislation reforms.

A European campaign on this issue could be one of the major levers for a European counter-offensive by the entire trade union movement. This is in fact why we proposed – unfortunately without success – to the 2011 ETUC Congress that a European Citizens’ Initiative be launched on the subject with the aim to anchor in EU-legislation two closely related principles: the primacy of fundamental social rights over free-market economic freedoms and the principle of “for work of equal value, equal pay in the same place.”

What hopes do you have for increased policy coordination across national borders between trade unions in the coming year?

Sooner or later trade unionists across Europe will reach the conclusion that the only track that can force a change of direction in order to re-found the social Europe, to impose a real “New European Social Contract” is, to Europeanise the social struggles and increase pressure by making use of an instrument like the European Citizens’ Initiative.

Vasco Pedrina is the National Secretary of the Swiss inter-professional trade union Unia and Vice-President of the Building and Wood Workers’ International (BWI). He represents the Swiss Federation of Trade Unions (SGB/USS) on the ETUC Executive Committee.

He is the author of the chapter “The Euro Crisis and the European Trade Union Movement” from the book just published by the International Labour Office “Confronting Finance: Mobilizing the 99% for economic and social progress."