SAK Congress (Central Organisation of Finnish Trade Unions - Finland)

Helsinki, 05/06/2006

To be checked against delivery

President, delegates, fellow guests.
As Lauri knows, my Finnish is excellent but my English is better. If you believe all that, you will believe anything! So with some regret, I proceed in my mother tongue of English and must leave the language of Sami Hyypia to you.

I have long admired this trade union federation and its affiliates. The Nordic model, and its Finnish variant, is the most successful trade union model anywhere in the world.

One of my central tasks is to help other trade unions see the world in the same way

- that we cannot, should not, preserve every status quo
- that change, negotiated change, can be an ally of workers and is the best route to prosperous and generous societies
- that economic success in an essential condition of a strong, social state and social Europe.

At present, change seems bewildering and dangerous to many. The sense that the European Union is now a cutting edge of globalisation is very strong; that Europe is an agent causing jobs to emigrate to cheap locations and people to immigrate from cheap locations; that it threatens welfare states and public services and collective bargaining.

As you will know, this last worry is at the heart of the Viking case, currently before the European Court of Justice. Employers in this case, and others, are seeking to use the labour conditions of poor countries to undermine the conditions in richer ones.

We want to raise the labour conditions in the poorer countries - to see Estonia and Latvia and the others become ‘shooting star' economies like Ireland and Spain. I applaud the generous decision of the Finnish Parliament to end transitional obstacles to the free movement of labour from the new member states.

But, at the same time, we will never accept that the country of origin principle can be used to undercut terms and conditions of employment in advanced states. Our principle is “when in Rome, do at least as well as the Romans do”. Or to put it in a Finnish context, “when in Helsinki, do as well as the Finns do”.

We have won our battle against a crude country of origin principle as it was originally expressed in the Bolkestien Directive. The new Services Directive is much better - providing for no discrimination against overseas companies but not giving them a licence to undercut national collective agreements and other crucial standards. Our executive will consider the new text tomorrow but I think that they will be broadly satisfied with it.

But if the ETUC knows what it is against - and European trade unions have had some successes recently in saying “no” - we have to contribute towards Europe's success. In other words, we have to find ways of saying “yes” sometimes to necessary and beneficial change. We are not conservatives; we are not protectionists; we stand for the better life, for progress and for enlightenment.

This is one reason why the ETUC has volunteered to be the base for a new Pan-European Council of the new world trade union body. We want to develop our relations with the countries to the East of the EU - just as you have always had to do - and we will value your knowledge and experience of our neighbours in Russia, Ukraine and elsewhere.

Finally, Europe is the only region in the world that is more than just a free trade zone. It is - despite evident deficits - a positive reference in the globalisation context. Globalisation needs regulation. This can be started on regional level and in a decentralised way.

The ETUC is an alliance of trade unions, uniting all historical tendencies, acting together and respecting pluralism and diversities. We must preserve it and develop it further.

There is no national response to global problems. There is a European one and - with the founding of the new united international trade union confederation by November this year - a global one. As I said earlier, the ETUC will contribute to this process in the best possible way.

To be able to do that, we need the strong commitment of the SAK and its member organisations and all Finnish trade unions.

We have your support and I thank you for that. Of course, I would not object if we could get more.

Let us work together for a more united Europe, a Europe with a human face, a strong economic dimension and social progress, with a new European constitution reflecting these objectives.

That proposal has been endorsed by the Finnish Parliament. It needs endorsement from all 25 member states. Endorsement would be a step towards a worker's Europe and away from a business Europe, afflicted by rampant casino capitalism. All this is the ETUC's great mission and we value the Finnish trade union movement at the heart of that mission.

Good luck.

John Monks
General Secretary