5th Congress of Slovenian Association of Free Trade Unions (ZSSS)

Ljubljana, 07/12/2007

To be checked against delivery

President, delegates, fellow guests. It is a pleasure to be with you on behalf of the ETUC today and to bring greetings from the trade unionists of Europe. It is a pleasure to see many of you again, having been here in 2005 for the May Day celebrations in Ljubljana and Maribor, and before that in Nuovo Goricia for May Day in 2004, the day of EU enlargement. I come directly from the Executive Committee of the ETUC where we have been discussing the problems of workers in the EU. So we examined the need for temporary agency workers to be protected properly; we discussed a proposed weakening of the Working Time Directive. We discussed trade negotiations, flexicurity, the climate change negotiations in Bali, casino capitalism and the current crisis in financial markets, together with immigration and migrant workers. We resolved to go on the offensive on pay to combat the falling share of wages and salaries in the GDP of many countries. We discussed the need to protect public services against the rules of the single market, and the progress on our petition, well supported by the ZSSS, for a new general directive to ensure that the market does not swamp the concept of public service.

I say all this to indicate the relevance of ETUC work to you here in Slovenia, to show that we all have common concerns, a common need to band together in Europe, and beyond Europe, that there is a European and international dimension to all our trade union work.

Of course, Slovenia is a great European success story. It has already overtaken 2 of the countries of EU-15 – old Europe - and is a real leader of the new member states as far as growth and economic development is concerned. It is about to assume the heavy responsibility of the Presidency of the EU – the first new member state to do so – and I am coming back in early January to see, with Dusan, your Prime Minister to discuss trade union issues. This Presidency, a big responsibility, is a recognition of the progress, the success and the professional competence of Slovenia. So you can all be proud of your Union movement which has made a profound contribution to the success of your country and to the rapid progress made in recent years.

But my purpose here today is not just to be generous with appreciation, justified and deserved though that is. I want also to ask you for your help. As a strong trade union on the edge of the troubled Balkans, your experience can be as valuable abroad as it is Slovenia itself and within the EU.

The ETUC has decided to help the new International TUC by setting up the Pan European Council which embraces the trade union movements of the Balkans and the countries to the east of the EU which used to be in the former Soviet Union.

I am the General Secretary of this to ensure coherence with the ETUC. Slovenia, as the star pupil among the new member states, has much to contribute and I hope that you, the ZSSS, will do as much within the PERC of the ITUC as you do in the ETUC. We need you in our Europe and we need you in the other Europe too, the Europe beyond the EU.

I go from here to Washington for the ITUC Executive to start drawing up a Europe wide plan on energy, on migration and on building up effective, independent unions in Europe as a whole, not just within the EU. I need your help and expertise.

But to return to the Slovenian Presidency, we want it to lead a revival of Social Europe – Social Europe, a Europe for all the people, is our Europe. What do I mean by Social Europe?

One of the great successes of the European Union is that all its member states have market economies for sure, but market economies balanced with welfare states, public services and collective bargaining.

But in recent years, as concern has risen about slow growth in key EU countries like Germany, France and Italy, the view of many employers and politicians is that Europe shoud become less social – that means less welfare, less public services, and weaker unions and collective bargaining. The impression being given is that a Europe should liberalise, privatise, de-regulate, reduce its costs to compete with the emergent Asian economies. In a word, Europe should Americanise.

We accept that Europe has been a wonderful vehicule for spreading prosperity and building up democratic states. But it must keep and develop its welfare states, public services and collective bargaining. Europe cannot be left to the casino capitalists, the private equity and hedge fund brigades. We cannot allow it to be governed by the short-termist, shareholder-orientated business community, the kind of people who were behind the Bolkestein Directive which brought so many ZSSS demonstrators to Brussels and Strasbourg.

We want the new rights for agency workers, expanded, stronger European Works Councils, an effective check on excessive working hours, new rights for working parents and checks on casino capitalism. These are among the points Dusan and I will be putting to your Prime Minister.

To finish, I wish you well with your campaigns in Slovenia. I wish us well with our campaigns in Europe.We work together for the workers, all the workers, in a good spirit of solidarity and mutual support. Thank you members of the ZSSS for your support.