Social History of Union Syndicale Fédérale

Social History of Union Syndicale Fédérale

Agora #91
23 - 27

In the background, there is the repeated affirmation by the trade union organizations present of the need to re-establish a federal structure.

Political Principles of the Ispra Declaration

At the end of 1973, European civil service unions had succeeded in their first attempt to create an inter-institutional trade union in Brussels (creation of the USB, see our Agora 89). At the same time, they were discussing the creation of a federation of unions that would enable them to extend their union base to other sites, as well as to mobilize within international organizations based in several European countries (ILO, OECD, EPO, CoE).

The pre-federal session at Agimont (November 17-18, 1973)

The creation of the new federation took place in several stages, against the backdrop of the 3rd round of the revision of the Staff Regulations. For the unions, it was vital to move forward united and with a common position democratically adopted at the same time as the negotiating mandate.

A working group has been set up to analyze the Commission’s draft proposal and, at the same time, to consider how best to structure the trade union response. This working group, known as the “Agimont Group”, met on November 17 and 18, 1973 at the Manoir d’Agimont in the Belgian Ardennes. The group then submitted its conclusions to the unions.

First of all, it was noted that the European Commission’s project had not yet been the subject of technical consultation with trade unions and professional organizations. It was characterized by an imbalance between the proposed regulation of the right to strike, described in detail, and the other proposals designed to push it through (announcement of a reversionary pension, unification of personal files, etc.).

The work of the Groupe d’Agimont thus constituted the federation’s first platform of claims ??? (plateforme revendicative), which was built up in parallel and should see the light of day the following spring of 1974. This platform of demands ??? focused on improving the participation procedure: the unions had already proposed a whole series of measures during the 1st set of revisions to the 1968/1972 Staff Regulations. These included the creation of a Higher Council of the European Civil Service, but also, at institutional level, the creation of joint promotion committees, consultative complaints committees, occupational health and medical committees, joint management committees, etc.

The platform includes a Continuing Professional Training component, as well as a thorough review of the career system, which was deemed incapable of resolving several practical problems at the time, notably the transition from one category to another. On this precise point, the Group proposed 3 options: (a) the abolition of categories, (b) the establishment of a continuous career system with the retention of categories and frameworks but a modification of the grid or, in the event of failure of (a) and (b), the introduction of a new article organizing “the passage from one category to another in such a way as to avoid the disadvantages of the current article 46 designed for promotion from grade to grade in a system where changing category is only an exception”.

Last but not least, the Social Policy section contains 5 demands.

– The first deals with working conditions, with a return to the 40-hour working week, compensation for night shifts, the possibility of part-time work, and so on.

– Then there are measures concerning the protection of civil servants from medical inspection services,

– revised pension rates, survivor’s pension for surviving spouses, partial disability pension, etc;

– provisions for female civil servants with children under 3 years of age;

– and a review of the conditions for granting expatriation allowance.

Political Principles of the Ispra Declaration

It is important first to recall the ideological principles that led to the “Ispra Declaration”. In the background, there is the repeated affirmation by the trade union organizations present of the need to re-establish a federal structure. A first attempt at federal organization was made in the 60s.

The social and political context has prompted Public Services International (PSI) and the European Public Services Federation (EPSU) of the fledgling European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) to build synergies to combat trade union fragmentation. This new federation of European and international civil servants would be the forum for developing common positions on all general issues concerning the trade union organizations that represent it. There is also a desire to move away from Community structures and turn resolutely towards other international organizations.

This new federation would be involved in defining a certain conception of the European civil service and would seek to link itself directly to European and international problems by asserting a political vocation in the countries in which these institutions are called upon to work.

Structuring principle: a federation

What the founders are looking for in this new federation is a structure that is as flexible as possible. They have two ways of achieving this: either through a single union structure made up of different sections, or by organizing a federal system bringing together different union organizations. The latter structure is the starting point for the federation: a certain degree of union autonomy is thus preserved within the different organizations, and the Federation can accept affiliation from any other staff organization of international bodies based in Europe and belonging to the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU).

Operating principles: a committee, an executive committee and finances

At the Ispra federal session, the founders considered the Federation’s operating principles and decision-making procedures. The Comité Fédéral is the decision-making body, while the Bureau Fédéral is responsible for implementing the decisions taken. Ideally, the issues to be debated at the Comité Fédéral are prepared in advance within each organization. It would then seem possible for the Comité Fédéral to take federal positions.

The Federation is also equipped with a decision-making system and procedures based on a jointly established weighting system, enabling majorities to be reached. Decisions are taken by all the organizations concerned. Finally, the Federation obtains its own financial resources, derived from member organization contributions.

The Birth of the Union des syndicats

At the founding congress held in Brussels on November 16-17, 1974, the Federation’s Articles of Association and several general guidelines were unanimously approved. In an April 1975 article published in the magazine “Le fonctionnaire européen” (the forerunner of Agora), Roger Van Campenhout, one of the founders of Union Syndicale-Bruxelles in 1973, sums up the situation as follows:

– As relatively privileged officials belonging to organizations or institutions with widely varying objectives and generally small staffs (from a few hundred to a few thousand), the civil servants concerned were also relatively uninvolved in the problems of the countries in which they lived.

– Nevertheless, these staff gradually became aware of the paternalistic nature of the organizations or institutions they served, and on numerous occasions noted the inadequacies of their status, which were sometimes even in contradiction with the political options on which these organizations or institutions had been founded.

– This realization has, in some cases, only recently led to The emergence of a trade union movement in just about every institution or organization in Europe, designed to make the voice of staff effectively heard, and in particular to place them on an equal footing with statutory authorities in negotiating material and moral working conditions.

– Despite the importance of this objective, many union leaders soon realized its inadequacy and found it impossible to confine themselves to purely “corporatist” action. (SIC).

– This is why they decided, with the agreement and mandate of all members, to broaden the action. This broadening includes defining ourselves concerning a world in crisis, and especially in relation to and within the world of work.

– Following this founding congress, it is clear that we can no longer remain silent on the deterioration in the spirit of international cooperation that threatens the very existence, or at any rate the raison d’être, of our institutions and organizations, on the delays made, during a world turmoil that should have accelerated it, and on the consequences of the current crisis for the most disadvantaged, whether they belong to our countries or to other so-called “Third World” continents, consequences which will be exacerbated by the weakening of European or international institutions or organizations.

– We will therefore strengthen coordination between all unions of European and international bodies adhering to the principles of Public Services International (PSI), the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU) and our “Ispra Declaration”, and collaboration with national and international trade union bodies. We will strive, while leaving to each of our member unions the responsibilities that concern them, to speak with one voice on questions concerning the international and European public service, but also and above all on questions that concern the development of cooperation and the solution of the current crisis.

The first Federal Bureau

Chairman: Jean Nemo (US-Brussels – Eurocontrol)

Vice-Chairmen: Daniel Lemercier, SUEPO – The Hague; Mélina Babocsay, SACE – Strasbourg; Bernard Cassaignau, SGPOE – Eurocontrol Luxembourg; Rodolfo Veneroni, US-Ispra; Bernard Degand, US-Petten

Secretary: Irène Gubin, US-Brussels – Eurocontrol

Treasurer: Keith Melkor, US-Brussels – Conseil

Emmanuel Wietzel

About The Author

Teacher, trade union trainer at the french Confédération Générale du Travail and Euro. Trainer of the ToT network of the European Trade Union Institute (ETUI), former head of the Asia-Pacific sector of the UGICT-CGT international team, great supporter of public service and social dialogue, passionate about European construction and the history of the international trade union movement. Managing Director of Union Syndicale since 2017.