Scottish TUC Annual Congress

Dundee, 18/04/2005

To be checked against delivery

I bring there greetings from the European TUC to the Scottish TUC.

Very understandably the emphasis here is on the General Election on May 5. Those of us who lived and worked for the Movement through the dark days of the 80s and 90s will know how important this election - any general election - is for the trade unionism.

With that memory burning so deep, with those wounds still red raw, we can never join those who have the luxury of saying there is not much difference between the parties, or another one I heard recently, it's time to punish the Government for the stand on Iraq. I tell you, apathy is not an option for us.

Just look at the time since 1997 - and compare it with what went before. Not much difference? Of course we want a bigger difference and we have our disappointments. But on any trade union test - I give you four - employment, public services, labour law, help for the poorest - the differences from the Tory years are immense.

I have looked at the Tory programme - no Warwick agreement with new rights there. Just a desire to restore the old conservative opt-out from the European Social Chapter - the Social Chapter which has provided a solid raft of employment rights for British and Scottish workers rights like pro-rata rights for part-time and temporary workers, a minimum four weeks paid holiday, new information and consultation rights, European Works Councils and others. The conservatives want us out from all that.

I visited the Michelin European Works Council just last week - a works council of a company which plays a very important part in the life of Dundee, Teeside and Scotland. The Social Chapter has given unions extra rights in huge world companies like Michelin - and we need all the rights we can get.

And yet Europe has rarely been less popular in the UK. If the Government called referenda on either the euro or the new constitutional treaty in the near future, the polls indicate that it would lose. I am heavily engaged on behalf of the ETUC in the referendum in France - and I sense that even there in the country of the main originators of the European idea, the mood is surprisingly hostile.

Apart from the nationalist right and the racists, there is a mood of eurosceptism there too which echoes the views of some of the left here - a feeling that Europe is going right-wing, becoming neo-liberal rather than social democratic; that it is facilitating jobs emigrating to cheap locations and also people from cheap locations immigrating; that Europe lacks democratic legitimacy.

These points all surfaced at a TUC conference on the new EU constitutional treaty two weeks ago. And given that there will be a British referendum on the constitutional treaty within 12 months of the General Election, I want to address some key points now.

Of course the Common Market, founded 1957, was essentially just that. It was why many trade unionists did not like it.

Yet its motivation was never pure and simple capitalism. It was believed by the founding fathers - they were all men - that free trade would merge and intermingle the economies of France and Germany so that these two ancient foes, who had been at the heart of the two world wars of the 20th century, could never fight again.

And unlike the North American Free Trade Area - which remains free trade only - the Common Market, the European Community and now the European Union - soon developed a social dimension; trying to balance the common market with social rules. In that system, unions became an honoured and respected social partner. That was an attractive position in Thatcher's Britain and in 1988, the TUC changed from negative to positive on the EU.

In 1992 in the Maastricht Treaty, unions achieved the right to negotiate agreements with employers on behalf of all the workers in Europe and the agreements would become European law. The achievements have been many. I mentioned some of them earlier.

There would have been other achievements but our Labour Government, in the name of the flexible labour market and worries about unemployment levels in France, Germany and Italy where social standards are higher than here and trade union freedoms are more extensive, is resisting measures such as:
- removing the individual opt out from the working time directive, and
- introducing proper protection for temporary agency workers.
That's another debate for another day.

But Europe is not a neo-liberal construction. Social Europe is alive. The ETUC/French defeat of the Bolkestein Directive a month ago shows that.

Now we have this constitutional Treaty for Europe, drawn up by a convention of which the ETUC was a member.

Why was there a need for one?

Well first there are many people, including many on the European Left, who want to transform Europe into an effective counterweight to the Americans, less aggressive, less military but using its economic power - for peace, for a more just world development system, for a better environment, for spreading trade unionism. I certainly take that view myself. We want a Europe which can deal with the US on an equal footing, not as a subordinate.

But it's not just America. To be able to handle the rise and rise of China, India, Russia and perhaps Indonesia and Brazil - the new superpowers- we need this region to act together.

We don't want to become Americanised. We want Europe different from the States - characterised, as now, by welfare states, public services and collective bargaining; and we want this to be the development model for the world, not the neo-liberal one that the Americans, IMF, World Bank etc - press on Africa and the rest of the developing world.

Some European countries take a different position. They regard Europe as an economic zone, a single free market in which the nation state must be paramount, the relationship with the US of prime importance, and there should be less Europe on social matters. I am not being unfair to Labour with this analysis when I say that they share this view.

The next question is who initiated the constitution. That's easy. It was the federalists who wanted a constitution. It was the free marketers who have sought to prevent it becoming a federal one.

The result inevitably is a compromise. It is not easy to answer the question is it more Europe or less. In some areas, foreign policy, it's a bit more. In others, it is a bit less - the power of the Commission is reduced. On voting rights, it will be much easier to run a Union of 25 states.

On our areas, it is more with rights and protections for workers and unions. That surely is good in a time of great danger and challenge, a time of uneasiness about globalisation and Europe.

Never forget the EU has been a marvellous vehicle for solidarity. The whole experience of new members is that they close the gap on the rich states. Look at Ireland and now Spain.

Yet the basic message of the world business community is “Americanise Europe, more and easier hire and fire, work till you drop, longer working hours, worse pensions, cheaper welfare states, less public services, and weaker collective bargaining”.

It is a dagger at the heart of every European trade union and worker.

It is trade unions who stand between Europe and a neo-liberal future. Not alone, we have allies - democracy and the new constitution - but we carry the central responsibility, and we must act together. And a majority of Europe's trade unions - and the ETUC - are saying yes to this constitution.

The proposed EU Constitution is complex and easy to mis-represent.

It's wrong to say for example that “Bolkestein, délocalisations, constitution” are the same thing, as some on the French left are arguing.

The fact is that separately we have secured a victory over Bolkestein. After an ETUC demonstration of 75,000 trade unionists a month back that proposal is being fundamentally reconsidered. We can't be complacent. Our opponents might come back at us but Bolkestein today looks less like Frankenstein and more like Mickey Mouse.

Next, the constitution is not, repeat not, a neo-liberal tract.

The truth is that the constitution will be the best arrangement in the European Union that we have ever had, a big increase on the Nice and previous treaties.

There are welcome commitments on full employment, services of general interest (ie. Public services) and on social dialogue.

There is the inclusion of the European Charter of Fundamental Rights in full in the Constitution. The UK Government has sought to limit its impact but few independent legal experts think that they have.

In the Charter there are guarantees about the rights to organise and to strike. These principles will underpin rights in the older member states and, more importantly, compel their inclusion in any new member states, for example Turkey. This is a massive blow in favour of democracy and trade unionism in Europe. Europe underpinned democracy in Spain, Portugal and Greece; now its doing it in Easter Europe.

We campaigned for the inclusion of the Charter in the Nice Treaty. We did not succeed. We have now been successful.

The vote in the referendum is really do we prefer the Nice Treaty to the new Constitution. Of course, we don't. We would have liked some more Social Europe in the Constitution but there is more in it than in Nice.

It is not a Constitution for a federal Europe or a socialist Europe but neither is it a Constitution for untamed capitalism.

One other thing - if the Constitution is voted down, there is no alternative strategy for the EU. It will be paralysed while 25 countries scratch their heads about what to do next.

All social policy will stop. All environmental policy will come to a halt. What will strengthen is nationalism with one nation state blaming the country next door.

But what won't stop is the workings of the market, délocalisation, restructuring and privatisation. International capitalism has never needed a Constitution. It fares very well in without democracy in the Middle East and China. We do need a constitution - and the present text is not just the best on offer, it is the only one on offer now and in the foreseeable future.

Britain must never turn its back on these battles for Europe, any more than it could turn its back on the great wars of the 20th century in which Scotland paid a particularly heavy price for the tribal conflicts of Europe. Our motivation is never again.

Securing a good European future, too, is vital for the future of trade unionism here, in Europe, and everywhere. If unions lose in Europe - the world's strongest base by far for trade unions - we lose everywhere. Win here and we can export our model of welfare, public services and strong unions to the poor and dispossessed in the developing world.

Every Scottish TUC used to have a passionate debate about our place in relation to Europe. Well that is about to start again and today I make the ETUC's contribution.

Thanks for your attention, thanks for your commitment to Labour in power in Westminster and thanks for your interest in the affairs of our continent. The Scots have always been great internationalists and great exporters of effective and respected trade unionism. Long may these traditions flourish.