Trade unionism and politics

Trade unionism and politics

Agora #91
9 - 11

Following the Ispra Declaration, the Union des Syndicats acts in solidarity with the world of work and is led to take political positions.

what position for Union Syndicale?

Europe in crisis

In 1974, Europe was facing a major historical and political crisis that had a profound impact on the region. First of all, this period was marked by major political transitions in several European countries. In April 1974, the Carnation Revolution in Portugal put an end to almost 50 years of authoritarian rule, paving the way for a dawning democracy. At the same time, Spain was still under the grip of the dictatorial regime of Francisco Franco, whose death in November 1975 led to significant political upheaval. Greece also found itself at the heart of a historic and political crisis of considerable proportions, with the fall of the military junta that had been in power since 1967.

There was also an economic crisis in Europe, exacerbated by the oil shocks of 1973. These crises led to unprecedented economic instability, causing high levels of inflation, unemployment and a deterioration in living conditions for many families. These economic pressures exacerbated social and political tensions, giving rise to discontent and demands among the population.

At the same time, the Cold War continued to divide the continent, with Eastern Europe under the influence of the Soviet Union and Western Europe generally aligned with the United States and NATO. Ideological rivalries and geopolitical threats also helped to shape the political context of the time, creating additional challenges for cooperation and stability in Europe.

Against this backdrop of political upheaval, economic crises and international tensions, Europe was at a critical crossroads in its history. Reflecting on the challenges and opportunities related to the place of trade unionism in European politics in 1974 became essential in trying to find solutions to the socio-economic and political problems and in shaping the future of the continent in this period of tumultuous transition.

A widespread social movement

The years 1973 and 1974 were marked by a boom in social movements across Europe. The global economic crisis triggered by the 1973 oil shocks had a profound impact on the region, leading to a deterioration in living conditions for many citizens. Faced with rising unemployment, inflation and social inequality, workers and the general public mobilised en masse to express their discontent and defend their rights.

Trade unions were still powerful

Trade unions played a central role in these social movements. Building on their tradition of fighting for workers’ rights, they organised strikes, demonstrations and rallies to put pressure on governments and employers. Their demands often focused on issues such as higher wages, shorter working hours and better working conditions.

The emergence of new coherent set of demands

Alongside the labour movements, other social groups also voiced their discontent and sought to influence the course of events. Students, feminists, environmentalists and civil rights activists actively demanded social, political and environmental change.


No trade union organisation can be politically neutral. Trade union action refers, explicitly or implicitly, to a model of society or conception of social relations which is by its very nature a political option.

From this perspective, at a time when various trade union organisations from European and international institutions are grouping together federally (SIC), the Union des Syndicats must clarify how it conceives this problem.

  1. Each international civil servant, by undertaking to serve either of the institutions, has, in principle, thereby subscribed to the political ideal which was at the origin of the said institutions.
  2. It is clear that civil servants are not mercenaries and that it is difficult to establish an abrupt separation between the strictly technical aspects of professional life and the “ideological” prerequisite defined in paragraph 1 above.
  3. It is no less obvious that when civil servants come together in trade union organisations, it is not only for the purpose of defending material or even corporate interests. Nowadays, the defence of professional interests is also the defence of a certain quality of life, which implies a value judgement on the ideological motivations behind the professional commitment.
  4. It follows that, among other tasks, trade union organisations have a duty to pass judgement on the original political options and their evolution in the light of external circumstances.
  5. As such, they play an important role in the protection of workers’ rights and participate in the achievement of political, economic and social objectives in collaboration with the competent decision-making bodies.

Conclusion :

Following the Ispra Declaration, the Union des Syndicats acts in solidarity with the world of work and is therefore led to take positions that are political in nature. This does not mean pledging allegiance to one or more national political parties.

Recommendation: Union des Syndicats recommends that the Federal Committee take an unambiguous stance against any form of deficiency from:

  • our institutions ;
  • State governments
  • the real wielders of economic power in our society,

to pursue a policy of real cooperation.

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.