Greek General Confederation of Labour (GSEE) - 33rd Congress

Athens, 17/03/2007

President, friends,

I'd like to thank the previous speakers for the warm-up or the windup. It is with great pleasure that I come to the 33rd Congress of the GSEE to bring greetings from the ETUC, to express our appreciation of the support from, and the work of, the GSEE and to pledge to work together in the future. As your slogan says - Trade Unions- Our Strength.

In a few days the European Union will celebrate its 50th birthday - 50 years since the Treaty of Rome. And to mark the anniversary, the ETUC Executive Committee is holding its meeting in Rome on Tuesday and Wednesday next week.

Anniversaries are a good point to assess where you are - to look backwards at the journey you have travelled - and to look forward at where you want to go. And I have been doing that about the EU.

It's original purpose was to end war in Europe after the 2 major wars of the first half of the 20th century which caused so much suffering and hardship to nearly every European country.

On that, it has been successful although as the events in the Balkans, your neighbours, have reminded us, you can never take European peace for granted.

The EU's next purpose has been to spread democracy and the EU has helped the establishment on restoration of liberty and the freedom to vote in three former right wing dictatorships, including Greece, and in 10 former countries of the Soviet bloc.

You cannot join the EU unless you are democratic and that has proved a powerful pressure for democracy - and I believe is doing the same now in the troubled Balkans.

The EU's third purpose was to spread prosperity. And in that too, it can report success. The single market, the agricultural support, the transfer of funds have prompted impressive economic growth.

And while its spread has been uneven, the general trend has been for the poorer countries to catch up with the rich. Ireland and Spain are spectacular recent examples, and I hope that Greece and Portugal will soon be just as successful and also the 12 new member states which have joined the EU since 2004.

For trade unions too, our judgment of the 50 years should be positive. Many of us were worried that the EU would just be a single market and a single market currency, a business Europe, good for the rich and bad for everyone else. Some trade unionists are still not convinced this is the case. And there are plenty of business lobbyists and some politicians who would like to make it so.

But the EU has been strongly influenced by the European trade unions, operating through the ETUC. Social Europe is a hotly debated question, but look at the record - a solid base of legislation on health and safety, equal opportunities, and information and consultation and European Works Councils. We need more on a European wide right to strike for instance - but the achievements have been real.

Indeed the European Union is first in the world when it comes to welfare states, public services and collective bargaining and trade unionism.

But we are under pressure. You have experienced moves to liberalise, privatise, and de-regulate. Your experience is shared by many others. High unemployment and low growth in recent years has put the trade union movement on the defensive with the result that in most countries, wages' share of GDP, relative to profits, is the lowest in the post war era.

There has been the sense that we have been on the defensive, pushed back by a resurgent capitalism, afraid of no-one, especially since the collapse of the Soviet Union around 17 years ago.

Well, we are not afraid of anyone either. And at the ETUC Congress in two months time to go on the offensive on a Europe wide basis.

We will go on the offensive

for more members - more young people, women, and migrant workers.

We will go on the offensive

for a properly regulated European labour market with gender equality, with proper protections for migrants against racism, for transnational trade union rights.

We will go on the offensive

for more social dialogue and collective bargaining, stronger European Works Councils, and more cross border co-operation.

We will take the offensive

for a more sustainable Europe, doing more to combat global warming and the damage to the environment

We are on the offensive for strong public services. Currently, we are running a mass petition. We want 1 million signatures to petition the European Parliament and Commission for strong protection for public services, currently threatened by privatisation and the single market.

I want you to sign the petition. I want you to organise others to sign it, anyone - and there are millions - who value public services, who don't want to see more and more subject to the profit motive, and so vulnerable to the casino capitalists - the private equity companies, the hedge funds and the like who are asset stripping their way round the world.

So sign the petition - it's at the ETUC website and is available in Greek. It's easy. Let's get those signatures.

We are on the offensive too against precarious work - the growing army of workers without contracts, right or security. We are on guard against the nearly fashionable term of flexicurity which if some get their way would mean worse employment protection legislation and restricted unemployment benefit. Where flexicurity works well and it does in the Nordic countries, it is based on strong union densities - 60-80% - and on collective agreements. The second we can support but worse rights for workers- never.

So join the ETUC on the offensive. Good luck for the future.