Trades Union Congress (TUC)
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President, Congress and honoured guests, it’s with great pleasure that I address the annual Congress of the TUC. It is also a pleasure to see another woman President.
I would like to thank you for the invitation. Let me take this opportunity to wish you every success in your debates and discussions.
I was supposed to give a speech here in 2001 as well, on the 11th of September. However, as you know, the tragic attack on the World Trade Centre in New York on that day affected so many and changed so much.
I went home to Sweden with my undelivered speech. Perhaps I can use the same speech. Let’s see. “Europe and not least the European Monetary Union stands at the forefront of your discussions” . No, it might be other issues that are important now and, of course, I also have another role. This time I return as the new President of the ETUC as well as the President of the LO Sweden. In the ETUC we have a lot that binds us together. Europe is the region in the world where both economic and social dimensions have developed over the years.
In the ETUC we have a common responsibility to strengthen the social dimension of the European Union. We must work towards a social Europe in order to achieve full employment, quality in work, equality, social security, integration and reinforced human rights.
Equality between women and men is a crucial issue for a more social Europe. There are still many steps to be made. And it’s important that the question of equality should not only be a women’s issue, it concerns both men and women. It is a matter of distributing the responsibility for home and family in a better way as well as reinforcing the position of women in the labour market. I hope that I – in my capacity as the first female President of the ETUC – can contribute to strengthening women’s position in working life and in the trade union movement. It is fair to say that Britain and Sweden have not been at the leading edge of the European adventure.
We both have our own strong sense of distinct, national identity. The Swedish one about a strong labour movement, a strong welfare state and collective agreements.
But at the same time, Sweden has some of Europe’s largest and most successful multinational companies like IKEA, H&M, Ericsson and ABB. So many of our companies think on a world scale.
We have to think in the same way. We can hold them accountable in Sweden. We have 75 percent union membership – which is, I am proud to say, the highest in the world. But even with that, we cannot on our own hold them accountable outside Sweden.
And there is always the threat that if they don’t like find the Swedish conditions, they will move elsewhere. Recently, for example, some of them have considered relocating to London.
At all costs, we must avoid threats from employers, not so much “take it or leave it” as “take it or we leave”. And leave for countries where wages and working conditions in our view are unacceptable. Some progress has been made in stopping it. Over 50 European laws have been enacted on employment questions.
But these are not enough to give workers confidence in the future. We need more – and let me be frank – we need the support of the British Labour Government.
In a Europe with free movement of labour across the countries of EU, we need regulations to support the workers, we need for example controls on temporary employment agencies.
The TUC has led the way on being open and welcoming to migrant workers. We feel the same way in Sweden.
We want these workers to be welcomed and to receive equal pay and conditions for work of equal value, to be covered by collective agreements and by labour laws. Too often they are treated as a second class workforce.
Unscrupulous agencies must be stopped. Stopped from organising a cheap labour market. Stopped from supplying labour to employers where there is a strike, as they did recently to the Royal Mail. And stopped – in the worst cases – from being people traffickers.
Congress, the British Government is part of a blockage to European wide measures to regulate agencies properly. And I appeal to you and to them - help us clear that blockage and give all agency workers first class status throughout Europe.
ETUC has supported the EU’s Charter of Fundamental Rights as part of the new Reform Treaty. This gives the right to organise, to negotiate and to strike. We secured its inclusion in the Treaty against the wishes of some countries.
I regret that there is, what is called, and I quote, “a UK specific protocol” which limits the Charter’s effect in the UK. In Swedish, we call it an “opt-out”. If the Treaty goes through, as I hope, we will all need to work to end that opt-out, as we ended the earlier UK opt-out from the Social Chapter.
The alternative, by the way, to the Treaty being adopted would be a period of chaos in Europe, no binding Charter of Fundamental Rights in any country, not just the UK, and a free field for the locust capitalists. Some would welcome that. But we wouldn’t. To throw out the Treaty because of the attitude of the UK Government to the Charter would be a set back for all the workers of Europe especially those in the new Member States.
The Charter might not make much difference in Sweden. But the Charter, and the Treaty, is essential to embedding democracy and trade union rights in countries like Romania, Bulgaria, Poland and the other new members. I hope that you will reflect on this need for solidarity as you handle the difficult situation in the UK.
Maintaining competitiveness is the great challenge facing Europe. I hope that we in the trade union movement can be a progressive force in the transition prevailing in the labour market. Saying “No” to structural change does not make us capable of competing with Asia or India. It is not new technology that we should be afraid of – it is the old one.
However, for us to become the progressive driving force that we want to be – we need security, not just flexibility. Security that means that if I lose my job, there is an unemployment insurance that will provide me with security of income. And security that means that I receive training which helps me to acquire the skills needed for a new job. It’s about the opportunity for lifelong learning – for all.
Only wage-earners who feel secure can play a part in structural change. The ETUC should be the strongest driving force for security in change. Congress, these are some of the key points in my mind and the mind of John Monks, our General Secretary and your old colleague. We both want to take the ETUC and European trade unionism from the defensive to the offensive. We want European trade unions to use our strength – relatively high membership, real collective bargaining and political power, and strong public support. We want a ‘can do’ attitude to organising, also the young and migrants, to improving productivity and pay, to introducing the best technology and innovation.
Our most important task to be able to be really “good” is to make sure that more and more people join the trade union. The trade union is nothing without its members.
We must have members from all wage earner groups. It is equally important that we unionise well educated people and those who are well established on the labour market. The trade union concept must cover everyone, as we support and unionise young workers and others in insecure employment.
Our aim must be that a majority of the wage earners of Europe shall be unionised. We also want Europe to lead the world on environmental questions, as it does now on social issues. We want its economy to be strong so that we can be generous at home and abroad, and afford public as well as private prosperity.
We want the European Social Model to be the model of world development. The challenge to us is to take the offensive and to build trade union membership, trade union influence, and, yes, trade union power.
Thank you for your support for the ETUC. I can guarantee that we will return that support and solidarity in full. On behalf of the ETUC and the LO-Sweden, best wishes to you all and good luck for the future.
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