“The day will come when social progress will be possible”

“The day will come when social progress will be possible”

Agora #91
17 - 19

Today, everyone thinks it's normal to apply this method, without realizing that thousands of colleagues went on strike for weeks to obtain it.

Interview with Dr. Bernd Loescher, President USF 2015 – 2019 by Liliane Banczyk

This interview was published in the 74th issue of AGORA Magazine in September 2015, when he had just been elected President of USF. Bernd Loescher, an eminent personality whose tenure as President from 2015 to 2019 has left an indelible mark on Union Syndicale Fédérale.

Bernd’s deep attachment to the principles of solidarity and his strong belief in social progress have not only influenced the trajectory of our union, but continue to resonate deeply in our collective culture.

Bernd Loescher’s commitment to the trade union movement was evident from his earliest involvement in the German trade union landscape. His tenure as a member of the regional executive committee of the unitary trade union for schools and universities illustrates his long-standing dedication to the values of labor rights and social justice. During his time with the institutions of the European Union, Bernd’s commitment remained unwavering as treasurer of the Council’s Staff Committee and member of the Health Insurance Management Committee.
His decisive role as Treasurer and Vice-Chairman of the Executive Committee of Union Syndicale Bruxelles laid the foundations for his presidency of Union Syndicale Fédérale (USF). During his presidency, Bernd Loescher demonstrated exemplary leadership, tackling complex challenges with integrity, vision and an unwavering commitment to the interests of staff. Under his leadership, our organization has experienced remarkable growth, demonstrated resilience and defended the rights and well-being of all employees of the European institutions.

In republishing this interview, we hope that Bernd’s profound contributions and insights will serve as a source of inspiration and guidance as we continue our collective journey towards a fairer, more equitable and more effective future for all our union members.

As the new President of Union Syndicale Fédérale (USF), how do you see your mission and the challenges ahead?

BL: There’s no shortage of challenges! In the coming years, we absolutely must redefine a negotiating framework in which employees can make their voices heard. That’s what was sorely lacking in 2013, and that’s why the outcome of the Statut reform was so catastrophic. The negotiating framework in which we used to discuss, namely the Commission de Concertation (COCO), is no longer operational since the EP is a co-legislator: such a framework needs to be reestablished.

Linked to this is an aggressive attitude on the part of our employers, who are trying to take advantage of the political climate to roll back social rights, and this is a tough battle we have to fight. A third challenge is access to justice. We need a justice system that works and delivers judgements quickly, which is threatened by the proposed reform of the Court of Justice, with the abolition of the Civil Service Tribunal. Civil service litigation will be transferred to the general court, and there will no longer be a judge specializing in labor or social law. As a result, we run the risk of much longer procedures, with less understanding of our disputes, which would give our employers even more leeway to make arbitrary decisions contrary to the Staff Regulations, because they know that it’s becoming more complicated to bring cases before judges and win their cases in court.

Recently, USF referred the matter to the European Parliament, and we asked MEPs not to accept the abolition of the Civil Service Tribunal. Access to justice is also a major problem for our colleagues working in other international Public Services, such as the Patent Office.

It’s not the sort of thing you hear about in the corridors!

BL: Indeed, we never imagined that one day we’ll need to go to court. At Union Syndicale, we help a good number of members contest contentious decisions. This can happen to anyone more quickly than they think, and of course, the union is there to help with its expertise and also by participating in the financing of these costly procedures. There really are a lot of cases involving health insurance, which imposes overly restrictive interpretations of the regulations in order to save money. The only option left for colleagues is to take their case to court.

As the new President, what would be your personal touch in this role?

BL: I didn’t start as a trade unionist when I arrived in Brussels: it’s been with me all my life. I think it’s quite a natural reflex for me to seek solidarity with colleagues and to make myself available to those who need help. The thing that’s closest to my heart is the cohesion between organizations and their members, which is the very essence of union activity. The trade union idea is solidarity between small and large organizations, between organizations that operate within the European institutions and those that operate outside them: the European Patent Office or the Council of Europe. It’s this federalist spirit that needs to be strengthened.

In a large organization like USF, with some twenty member organizations and thousands of members, it’s reassuring to know that you have the support of a large organization with ten thousand members; at the same time, it also means that each local leader has to be ready to give some of his or her energy and resources to the collective.

Here’s a concrete example: two years ago, at my suggestion, USF set up a strike fund to which all member organizations contribute. It’s a very good example of the solidarity that can come into play when you have thousands of members. Another thing that’s close to my heart is the fact that USF is the only major European civil service union affiliated with the European Federation of Public Service Unions. This anchoring in the real world, in the workers’ movement across Europe, is crucial to USF’s identity.

We bring our expertise in a particular field to the benefit of the trade union centres and, conversely, the support of these centres is often very important when we want to win a particular case. Let me take as an example our opposition to the Trade Service Agreement, which is of great concern to us, where the major European and world trade union centres are working energetically against the idea of privatization or deregulation of public services. It’s a battle that unites the entire labour and trade union movement: we’re very proud to be part of it.

What actions has Union Syndicale taken part in at the European level?

BL: USF was actively involved in the last major demonstration at the end of 2010, which took place in Brussels following a call from the Confédération des Syndicats, with over ten thousand demonstrators against austerity and for another Europe. It’s this kind of thing that sets us apart from other unions in the institutions, who have often limited their actions to their own little garden. To give another example, the Annual Method of wage adjustments to match inflation was achieved by two long strikes in 1981 and 1991, led by the US against the European institutions. Today, everyone thinks it’s normal to apply this method, without realizing that thousands of colleagues went on strike for weeks to obtain it.

It’s worth remembering… You have a lot of experience and a lot of energy to make things happen!

BL: I hope the energy will be enough to meet the various challenges and advance our cause. For the past five years, we’ve been in a very defensive position. We have to fight against the rollback of our rights, whether it’s the increase in the retirement age, the criminalization of union activities in certain international organizations, the increase in working hours or whatever, but I’m convinced that the day will come when social progress will be possible. I’m a realist: it’s not just the negative layer that’s most visible, but when you dig a little deeper, you also find encouraging developments.

An excellent final word!

Liliane Banczyk

About The Author

Communications officer at USB circa 2010 – 2019