Congress of the European Metalworkers’ Federation (EMF)
Speech held by ETUC General Secretary Bernadette Ségol at the Congress of the European Metalworkers’ Federation (EMF) - Duisburg, 9 June 2011
President, Peter, delegates, friends,
I am delighted to be invited to address your Congress today. I bring you the warm and fraternal greetings of the European Trade Union Confederation. I was elected 3 weeks ago – with your support – I thank you for this support. It is of great value and significance to me. Indeed, you are meeting at a very critical time for Europe. Europe is in the midst of daunting financial, monetary, economic and social crises.
We know that these crises were caused by greed and the irresponsible behaviour of the banks. We also know that workers and their families, people who did nothing to cause the crisis, are being forced to pay, and pay dearly for it. Workers, but also public services and industry pay the price for the foolishness of banks, financial institutions that played the casino game. All of this with the support of deregulation policies that promoted speculation.
The real economy took the full hit of a collapse in the virtual financial economy and your sectors - automotive, steel, shipbuilding, white goods and machinery, were the first hit when the house cards collapsed in 2008, Your members were hit badly. Since then, there has been a knock on effect, with hardly any sectors escaping unaffected.
More than 23 million people are unemployed across the EU today – with levels of youth unemployment around 25% reaching over 40% in Greece and Spain. No wonder that young people are in the street. We got yesterday the national reform packages recommended by the Commission. They add up to the legislations under the Europlus pact that are being finalised now.
The recommendations and these legislations can be easily summarised: countries should cut wages, slash social protection, demolish their public sector, undermine sectoral level, collective agreements, and interfere in the autonomy of social partners.
These recommendations are not neutral medicine coming from friendly economic experts looking for the way towards recovery. These recommendations and draft legislations simply and blatently reflect a neo-liberal political programme. In opposing this multi-pronged programme, the ETUC is attacking the ennemies of our social model.
Friends, we must defend our social model: not only defend it – we must promote it. Social protection is not the ennemy of the economy.
In Germany social buffers helped to make recession more manageable. Workers participation and collective agreements proved how valuable they are.
Nordic countries give us the right example of competitive economies with strong unions and industrial relations.
Belgian unions through their strength maintained wage indexation and purchasing power.
Our model is an alternative because it works for people.
The model of the neo-liberals who have worked out the austerity plus liberalisation programme will kill growth and recovery, will destroy social cohesion and social achievements that million of workers in the world would like to have.
Their programme will exacerbate unemployment and insecurity. It will increase precarious jobs and inequality. Their model is totally foreign from our reference values. Their model will eliminate solidarity from our value system – solidarity could become a word ignored by our dictionaries.
This is why have said, we are saying and we will continue to say NO to governance through austerity. It is unfair. It is dangerous and It is wrong. It is unfair to ask workers to pay for the irresponsible cheating of some governments who manipulated accounts. It is unfair to rescue the banks with billions in bailouts and force workers to pick up the bill (congratulations to TUC video). It is dangerous: because it challenges the value of the European project. It is dangerous because it triggers nationalistic, protectionist, xenophobic reactions, It is wrong: it does not work. Look at Greece! Have the cuts worked in this county? No. You could say that they have managed to make things worse!
Let us be clear: Wages are not the enemy of growth but their engine. They are essential to promote growth and jobs.
We are convinced that we are not getting the economic and social governance we need. The aim of the EU governance must be to oppose social and wage dumping. Governance must help set up a European framework to allow the Member States get out of debt. It must reduce unemployment, and contribute to job security . We need Eurobonds and we need them to help restore growth through realistic interest rates and for sustainable investments. Fairness, investments, solidarity now in Europe, your slogan, this is what we need and what we want. To get this, we need to stand united, ETUC and its members, national confederations and European Trade Union Federations alike. The ETUC and its members are a recognised force. We have a voice and we must ensure that we are heard – especially as the European Parliament votes on Economic governance on the 22 June. On the eve of the European Parliament vote, on 21st June, we are organising European and National Action Days where our message will once more be carried very clearly to our leaders. I appeal to the European metal workers federation: join in. Join us in Luxembourg, Inform your members about what is at stake, Call your members of parliament, Move, intervene, be noisy, use your language, use your culture, use your skills, use all your means and make our message clear and loud. President, this is our top priority, but we have many other challenges ahead.
We need fair and sustainable production. We need to move from a society that guzzles energy and raw materials towards a more thrifty society, based on energy efficiency, renewable energy, product sustainability, systematic recycling of materials and new manufacturing processes and procedures. We need a European just transition to a sustainable low carbon society. A transition through a proactive industrial policy agenda, research and innovation in new technologies and energy efficiency, investment in skills and raising private sector investment to modernise our infrastructure, and social measures to protect the most vulnerable. It will mean ensuring worker participation and social dialogue at all levels.
We must have the courage to push for ambitious climate and energy goals to stimulate this transition and define our demands. Another key area for us, and one where EMF have been leaders and with some great results, is collective bargaining. As I said at the outset, it is also an area which is coming under sustained attempted attacks in this new era of austerity. It is an area that we will fight tooth and nail to preserve and indeed further strengthen and develop. EMF have led the way in terms of co-ordinating collective bargaining. It is of even greater importance now, if we are to remain credible as trade union organisations. We have to engage and organise ourselves.
We must ensure worker participation and involvement. Your achievement with EWC is, in this respect, a model for all of us – EWC are important – trade unions must use this tool that we fought hard to get.
Delegates, I have set out some of the challenges as I see them for the ETUC and its members in the coming years. More than ever EMF and the ETUC demand a better deal for workers. We are sharing the same aims. We are in FOR a Europe which cares, FOR a Europe which cares for people, FOR a Europe which cares for workers.
President, Before I finish, I would like to address a few words to my dear friend and colleague and your General Secretary Peter. Peter, as you head on to a new stage in your life, I would like to take this opportunity to wholeheartedly thank you for years of hard work and strong cooperation inside the European trade union movement. From trade union youth activities to high trade union politics you have maintained a strong understanding of grassroots members and their concerns. Your active work in south-east Europe in the 1990s showed the depth of your commitment to our joint values of conflict resolution and economic and social justice. In the process of building a new organisation for industrial workers in Europe, you have shown vision about the common concerns of industrial workers, in order to deliver a strong and united industrial voice within the European trade union movement. You were General Secretary of the EMF - a key European trade union federation. I was, until a few weeks ago, the secretary of UNI Europa covering private services. I have deeply appreciated the fair, direct and constructive relationship between us. When something had to be discussed, it was discussed. When agreement had been reached over the phone, or over a drink, it was like a legally binding commitment. Between us there was the view that industry and services are two complementary and mutually dependant economic sectors. Between us, there was trust. Is there a better value between people? In all these ways, you have left a strong imprint on the European trade union movement. At the ETUC we are, I am, sorry to see you leave, but life is made of change, I know. I wish you well with your future work and hope that wherever it takes you, you will continue to fight for a strong social Europe. To Ulrich, your likely successor, a warm welcome. You can be sure I will invite you soon. We need to know each other, we need to work together. I wish the European Metal Workers well. I wish full success to your congress, Remember: we need your active support in the wider trade union movement.
Thank you very much.
Was this article interesting and relevant for you? Do you have any comments?
You can post a reply to this article here.