1st May 2009
I would like to take this opportunity to send my warmest greetings to all European trade unionists on this International Workers’ Day. For me, the 1st of May has always meant a celebration of all that is best about the workers’ movement: solidarity, equality and cooperation. I remember very well May Days as a teenager in my home town, Esbjerg, in the 1950s, an age of strong trade unions, when the Danish welfare state was emerging. But that’s also when I learnt about the harsh realities of unemployment and the impact it can have on ordinary families like my own when I was growing up.
This year, International Workers’ Day comes at the start of the European elections campaign, and in the worst recession since the 1930s. Economic forecasts are being downgraded from week to week: we risk seeing 27 million unemployed by early 2010 if nothing more is done to stop the downward spiral.
Last Friday I was in Toulouse, where I met with workers from Airbus and Molex, who are currently threatened by job losses and wage cuts, with all the misery and uncertainty which that implies. Across Europe, millions of workers find themselves in this situation, workers who are in no way responsible for this crisis but are the ones paying the price. The conservatives – like Chancellor Merkel, President Sarkozy or Prime Minister Juncker - say that they have done enough. But I say that there are 27 million reasons to do more. We need a strong, new European economic recovery plan to safeguard employment and prevent mass unemployment hitting working families across Europe.
For the past five years the right has had a majority in Europe – in all EU institutions and most member states. It has presided over a period of repeated and serious attacks on workers’ rights and public services. The Barroso Commission has failed to stop freedom of movement of workers from being exploited to undermine social standards. The European Court of Justice has passed a series of questionable judgements (Laval, Viking, Rüffert, Luxemburg) on the Posting of Workers Directive, calling into question the principles of equal pay and collective bargaining and the right to strike action. In the Laval case, a Latvian company building a school in Sweden refused to respect local rules on pay and conditions and in doing so was supported by the Court due to ambiguities in the directive. The Party of European Socialists firmly believes that this ‘race to the bottom’ in social standards is unacceptable. Yet the Commission has repeatedly refused to close the loopholes.
We will also strive to create a new respect for decent work and workplaces. For far too long, financial market actors such as private equity funds have treated our workplaces like a bundle for assets you can buy and sell at will, with no thought for the impact on workers. They load healthy companies with debt for short-term profit, leading to job losses, worse working conditions and weakened pensions for employees. Regulation in this area is, clearly, woefully inadequate. My report on private equity was passed by the Parliament in September, yet the European Commission has ignored our demands. This week they finally published their draft proposal for regulation of private equity, which is so full of loopholes and gaps it is totally ineffective.
This is the problem we face on Workers Day, and on every working day, with a conservative-dominated European Union.
My party, the Party of European Socialists, has a clear and concrete plan for change. We have presented seven political demands to fight the crisis, which we want implemented within the first 100 days after the European elections:
1. A new, strong recovery plan for Europe
2. A European Employment Pact
3. A new Women’s rights Charter
4. A Social Progress Pact
5. Effective regulation and supervision of the financial markets
6. New mutual solidarity across EU Member States
7. A European roadmap for a global new deal
Our manifesto for the election outlines 71 specific proposals for taking Europe in a new direction over the next five years. As I said at a discussion organised by the European Trade Union Confederation on Tuesday, it is a manifesto that very much coincides with the ETUC manifesto demands, with real commitments to fighting the recession with a stronger European recovery plan, a review the Posting of Workers Directive, a European framework for cross-border collective bargaining and collective agreements, strengthened workers’ rights to information and consultation, a European pact on wages, a European framework for public services and regulation to cover all financial players. Trade unions should have a real say in decision-making in future.
So I urge you all to get the vote out on 4th – 7th June. This election finds Europe at a crossroads, faced with two very different political visions. I look forward to working together in close cooperation to make sure that working people across the EU get the new direction for Europe that they deserve.
Poul Nyrup Rasmussen
President, Party of European Socialists