The four-yearly Congress, which takes place next week in Seville, Spain, is the moment for the entire movement across Europe to unite, to review the political situation, and to agree on its policies and strategies for the coming years.
Trade unions meet against the background of changes of leadership in two major EU Member States, UK and France, which will inevitably have an impact on the direction of policy. The EU is still struggling to find a way out of the crisis over the Constitutional Treaty, and although the economic outlook is stronger, workers themselves are experiencing growing job insecurity, factory closures and relocations as globalisation affects European industry and the labour market.
From now on the ETUC is going 'On the Offensive for more Social Europe, more Solidarity, more Sustainable Development'. “We intend to take a highly proactive approach in promoting workers' interests. Because of deregulation, neo-liberalism and high unemployment, unions generally have been pressed back onto the defensive in recent years. Now it is time to move onto the offensive,” explained ETUC General Secretary John Monks. “This Congress marks a new stage in the development of the European trade union movement, as it becomes stronger, more cohesive and more influential in guiding European policy to reflect the interests of workers and their families, in the EU and worldwide.”
Europe is unique in having a social model where economic growth is seen as a means of improving the living and working conditions of all citizens. But EU leaders need to do much more for full employment, good quality jobs, equal opportunities, social protection and fundamental rights, while recognising that worker consultation, social dialogue and strong collective bargaining mechanisms are vital to making European businesses more competitive. The ETUC deplores the current lack of progress on the social dimension of the EU internal market, with little if any new social legislation since 2001, and a failure to guarantee crucial services of general interest.
Solidarity and social cohesion are needed to counter poverty and discrimination and permit all EU citizens to live in dignity. The ETUC will step up its action to mobilise workers and boost their influence on major policy decisions, as it did so successfully in the campaign against the 'Bolkestein' Services Directive. Trade unions will press for EU solidarity also towards developing countries where citizens are struggling to improve their standard of living.
Finally, sustainable development is the only way to create a society combining care for the environment with human prosperity. The ETUC will be urging the EU to take tough action on issues like climate change and sustainable energy use, including investment in green technologies and big cuts in greenhouse gas emissions.
The Congress is a major event for the European trade union movement, with some 1,000 union delegates representing 81 organisations in 36 European countries, with a combined membership of more than 60 million workers.
It brings together the heads of all Europe's trade union organisations, as well as leaders from some EU Member States (e.g. Prime Minister José Zapatero of Spain and Vice Chancellor Franz Müntefering of Germany) and from the European institutions, including European Commission President José Manuel Barroso and Employment Commissioner Vladimír Špidla. The programme also offers a series of round-table debates on major policy questions featuring, among others, European Central Bank President Jean-Claude Trichet and Spanish Environment Minister Cristina Narbona Ruiz.
The Congress website is already online at http://sevilla.etuc.org/, where during the event you will be able to access live transmission of the proceedings in four different languages (English, French, Spanish and original version).