Unions continue to stand up to austerity and do not support fiscal compact in EU legislation
On 14 December, Economic and Financial Affairs Commissioner Pierre Moscovici attended the ETUC Executive Committee to discuss the Commission’s package to deepen the Economic and Monetary Union. Union leaders recalled their rejection of the Fiscal Compact, one of the key elements of the package, that effectively creates a straight-jacket of austerity. The extent to which austerity has hurt workers was shown in Spain last week, when public service workers took to the streets of Madrid on 14 December, seeking better pay and conditions after years of freezes and outsourcing. They were joint by EPSU President Isolde Kunkel-Weber. EPSU sent solidarity greetings on the same day to our comrades of the Greek union centres ADEDY and GSEE. They organized a general strike against the Troika demands to weaken collective bargaining and the right to strike. For our colleagues of GENOP-DEH it was also the occasion to mobilise against the privatization of the Greek Public Power Company (PPC), another demand of the Troika.
On 19 December our Belgian affiliates joined in a national demonstration against the government’s changes to the pensions system. This is another manifestation of the same structural reform agenda: making us work longer for lower pensions. For our Slovenian colleagues the New Year will be full of action as they are preparing a public sector strike against the continued freezes of workers’ salaries. And the program of the new right-wing, nationalist government in Austria promises a battle against workers. With the ÖVP a member of the European EPP, and the right-wing nationalists of the FPÖ in power, we expect that their business-friendly agenda will influence European politics as well. Our Austrian colleagues warn against the fact that all public order and security ministries are in the hands of the FPÖ.
Yet another variant of that extremist agenda is the attack in the UK on the Working Time Directive. The same people who campaigned for Brexit are now arguing to scrap the directive depriving millions of workers in the UK of this important protection when the UK leaves the European Union. Workers are not criticizing the EU to see their rights being slashed. We criticize the Member States and the EU for not effectively tackling abuse like social dumping or tax avoidance.
Will the EU social pillar, proclaimed in Gothenburg a mere 3 weeks ago, offer workers protection of their rights and progress in the face of these onslaughts? The absence of the pillar from the EMU package mentioned earlier is not a good sign. The Commission could have linked economic integration with the social progress clause. And we are back to the beginning again: the rapid development of the European Union in the economic sphere with its social content neglected and no clear objectives for upwards social convergence. The ETUC Executive Committee has demanded that the social progress clause and the pillar are included in the EMU package. It also adopted an action plan on the social pillar which includes the expectation that the European Commission will forward the social partner agreement on information and consultation rights for nearly 10 million public service workers to the Council.
And so the year ends with tests for the Commission. It has announced that it will publish its proposals on the Written Statement Directive on 20 December. Will the Commission be bold and promote better rights and quality jobs? Will it deal with zero-hour contracts and ensure workers in the “gig-economy” and working on platforms see their rights strengthened in the fact of exploitative employers? And will there be a social package with information and consultation rights for 10 million civil servants as well as a social action plan on the pillar? These could be the New Year’s gifts many workers want.
And as we take a short break until our next newsletter in the New Year, we think of those public service workers who will continue to work over the coming days to care, to protect and provide the many public services our societies need and depend on. We continue our joint fight for public service workers and quality public services liberated from the shackles of austerity, for stronger rights and a powerful voice in our workplaces. EPSU staff wishes you all a very good New Year’s break, and we look forward to stand up together for each other in the new year.