EU trade union chief: Dialogue needed to prevent chaos, rise of far right

EU trade union chief: Dialogue needed to prevent chaos, rise of far right |

Without more dialogue between institutions, trade unions, and civil society, Europe will see chaos and the rise of the far-right, European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) president Laurent Berger told EURACTIV France in an exclusive interview. 

Read the original French interview here. 

The results of the Italian general elections raised concerns in Brussels as the right-wing bloc, led by far-right Fratelli d’Italia party leader Giorgia Meloni, won a record 26% of the vote. According to Berger, Meloni represents “everything the European trade unionism stands against”.

“European and international trade unionism was built on solidarity and progressivism. But the far right is the antithesis of these values,” he said, adding that he feared Europe could turn in on itself.

“Take Hungary, Poland, Italy, or even Sweden. The far-right comes out on top every time in elections,” Berger explained, stressing that Europe has never enjoyed freedom, equality and fraternity in extremist regimes.

“It is not in the interest of European workers to close the borders – which is what the far right is calling for. Given the globalised economy in which we find ourselves, Europe is seen as a zone of protection of social rights.”

In the face of this challenge, Berger highlighted the necessity for European trade unions to defend their European values.

“As president of the ETUC, I insist above all on the fact that all European trade unions must remain faithful to their European values,” Berger said. Trade unionism, he said, is there to prove that there is “another way than the far right”.

“We must offer concrete solutions to the major changes at work, or in our production system in the face of climate change. We can accompany workers in their daily lives,” he argued, emphasising the need for trade unions to base their policies on the real concern of European workers – unemployment.

EU trade union chief: Dialogue needed to prevent chaos, rise of far right |

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Speaking on the progress the ETUC achieved at the European level since he became its president, Berger highlighted the EU’s new minimum wage directive, adopted by an overwhelming majority in the European Parliament in mid-September.

“We fought for a European minimum wage to protect the workers and we won,” he said.

“Today we are working on the Platform Workers Directive, to adapt the legislation to our new reality and facilitate the requalification of platform workers when necessary,” he continued, adding that the trade unions had also been essential in setting up the mechanisms of solidarity and support for workers during the COVID-19 pandemic.

But in spite of these achievements, Berger still sees a distance between European trade unionism and European workers. According to him, there is an urgent necessity to “build compromises at the European level” to foster more social dialogue, particularly with the employers’ organisations.

Berger was critical of BusinessEurope, the European employers’ association, which to him is more akin to a lobbying group than a trade union organisation.

He refused, however, to brand today’s EU “ultra-liberal”, arguing instead that it is a social-liberal union.

EU trade union chief: Dialogue needed to prevent chaos, rise of far right |

EU institutions, Macron consider ‘social issues secondary’, says leading French trade unionist

Trade union leader Philippe Martinez calls for a European campaign for higher wages because for President Emmanuel Macron and the EU, it is “the market that comes first” and “social issues are secondary.”

In an exclusive interview with EURACTIV, the secretary …

French turmoils 

Berger also holds the role of secretary general of the French Democratic Confederation of Labour (CFDT). The organisation has been vocal about the way the French government wanted to implement a much-debated pension reform, which would raise the legal retirement age from 62 to 64 by 2027, and to 65 by 2031.

According to Berger, changing the retirement age is not a solution.

“We must first allow workers to complete their careers and take into account the intensification of work,” he said, advocating for a “gradual retirement” where working hours could be reduced in the last years of a career, according to the wishes of the individual.

However, he deplored the “divisions” of French trade unionism, which has more trade union organisations than most EU countries, and called on French trade unions to reorganise in order to be more impactful.

“Italy, Spain, Belgium, and Sweden have no more than three trade union organisations. In France, we have eight!”

He cautioned, however, against the “unattainable and undesirable” formation of a single confederation, as is the case in Germany, arguing that dialogue between trade unions and institutions was paramount.

Following French President Emmanuel Macron’s promise to dissolve the National Assembly if opposition parties approved a vote of no confidence in response to his reform, Berger told EURACTIV he feared that Macron was becoming caught up by old demons.

“After his re-election, he [Macron] announced that he wanted to promote a dynamic of dialogue,” he said.

“We can, however, already see that the president is returning to his initial religion, which is to believe that with a few people in an office, everything can be arranged.”

[Edited by Nathalie Weatherald/Zoran Radosavljevic]


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