YS Annual Conference ( Confederation of Vocational Trade Unions - Norway)
To be checked against delivery
Thank you for the opportunity to attend and address this YS conference. Europe is not always top of a list of the people of Norway’s favourite ideas. So an opportunity to talk about its significance and importance to working people in our continent and in Norway is welcome.
I will be sorry to see Randi retire. She is a bright, pleasant and intelligent contributor to the work of the ETUC and we shall miss her. I have a short list of my favourite Norwegians and Randi is right up there with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer (and of course Gerd Liv Valla of the LO-N).
Many in Norway might think that the country can succeed with a generally go-it-alone approach, at least to a degree. That’s what being energy rich and fish rich can do in a world which is short of both and will pay premium prices for both.
But Norway has also recognised that it is not independent from what happens in Europe. By signing up to the European Economic Area, it has embraced just about everything (except for energy, fish and agriculture), in particular, the single market, and is supporting the enlargement of the EU to the former Warsaw Pact countries and perhaps further to the Balkans and Turkey.
So Norway might be semi-detached from Europe, but it is not isolated from it. In important matters, it is as bound by the policies and rules of the EU as other members - with of course less scope to influence those policies and rules than would be the case if it was a member.
Well that semi-detached status is a result of a judgment of the Norwegian people - and it is a judgment that I must respect.
Europe is an easy concept to sell when your recent history was a part of the old Soviet bloc or under fascist dictatorships in Iberia and Greece; or if you were France and Germany trying to recover after 3 huge wars between them in 70 years, the last two enveloping the world; or if you are a country like Italy first, Ireland next and Spain now where membership of the EU has coincided with a huge burst of prosperity.
Many in countries like Norway and indeed my own do not feel the same music, the same rhythms. Europe is a harder case to make up north, more an assessment of a balance sheet rather than a political and economic ideal to inspire a different future.
But if the original case for the EU was the avoidance of war and the promotion of peace - good trade union objectives by the way and still relevant when you look at the recent history of the Balkans, today’s case rests on what we call globalisation - this term which creeps ever more into the everyday usage of trade unionists.
The world is changing. No longer a Cold War, no longer a monopoly of prosperity in Northern Europe and North America, but a complex mix of conflicts marked by unstable regimes, dictatorships, terrorism and sometimes religious fundamentalism; by widespread poverty in Africa, Asia and Latin America; by global warming and environmental degradation; by jobs emigrating to cheap locations and people immigrating to rich countries, often marked by low birthrates, by the emergence of new economic superpowers notably China and India.
All this is bewildering and challenging but there is no room for nostalgia for those of us fortunate enough to come from stable democracies.
And there’s little room for nostalgia in the trade union world. In the 1960s, my home town of Manchester was full of mills, mines and factories - most of my school friends and acquaintances went to work in them. Today, there’s not a mill, mine or large factory left. Services are the way the city earns its living. Only 14% of people in the UK, once the Workshop of the World now work in manufacturing.
Is Europe the answer or is it part of the problem. For me, it can be both and our task in the ETUC is to make it the answer.
So in the ETUC we are mobilised to both defend and advance.
To defend the collective bargaining systems of the Nordic countries against careless use of the free movement of labour rules
to defend ourselves against the crude Bolkestein directive which would have established a free market in services based on the country of origin principle,
to combat the neo-liberal school of politicians and business men who believe that Europe needs to become more like the United States if it is to compete strongly in the world
to campaign against the hedge funds and other voracious, short-term speculators who have no interest or concern for anything other than returns to shareholders - and quick returns at that
to be active and vigilant against the nationalists and racists whose fathers and mothers did such great harm to humanity and who are still around in nasty little parties dedicated to the hatred of neighbours and other folk who are different
We know what we are against. But trade unionism is not just a protest movement. It must always be a force for change, for progress and for development. So our defensive work is matched by positive work
to combine economic growth with social justice and rights for workers and to popularise the approach which has generally worked well in recent years in Nordic countries
to develop the collective bargaining agenda at European level to help workers cope better with the rapid rate of change; and to do this particularly by working for greater union influence on company policies, by using the European Works Councils, by targeting leading companies, and by giving new life to the Social Dialogue
to highlight environmental concerns in trade union work, most recently by brokering a deal on the REACH regulations to promote safer chemicals
to work with democracy - the European Parliament in particular - to counter the worst effects of modern capitalism and to establish a deeper commitment to a Europe of strong welfare states, public services and influential trade unions.
to help trade unions cope with the new world of service employment. Our natural habitat of mines, mills and large factories has emigrated. So we must build new natural habitats, in the hotels, leisure centres, tourist resorts, financial and retail services and the like.
I could go on all day about challenges and plans but let no-one underestimate the central task of the ETUC. It is to support a strong Europe, fair at home, generous to new members, on good terms with our neighbours to the east and to the south in particular; promoting democracy, trade union rights and freedom in the wider world; preaching solidarity and unity - and practising it too.
Norway and its unions have a great part to in this great adventure and I look forward to YS continuing to play an enthusiastic and intelligent role in the years to come. My best wishes for the future to Randi and to you all.
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