Friday, December 21, 2012


The European Centre for Workers'Questions EZA with the financial support of the European Commission has just published an interesting booklet with the promising title “Europe 2020 – How to meet the 75% employment rate target in a decent way?” (Contributions to Social dialogue 14). Not an easy subject but the three authors Tom Vandenbrande, Michael Schwarz & Hubert Cosey have succeeded in presenting the results of this research project from both EZA and the Higher Institute for Labour ofthe Catholic University of Leuven (Belgium) in a clear and straightforward manner.

The authors analyze the 'Europe 2020' policy regarding the target 75% of the 20-64 years-old to be employed in 2020. Today a very topical issue in the EU where unemployment rates are rising fast because of the economic crisis that followed after the financial crisis in the Eurozone countries. To find out what will be the employment rates in the EU in the year 2020 the researchers used the rather simple forecasting methodology assuming that the participation patterns of European citizens will show the same patterns as in the decade before ( the EU Lisbon agreement 2000 – 2010). Based on this methodology it is expected that “the employment rate will rise very moderately between 2010 and 2020 to achieve an employment rate close to 70% in 2020.”

The authors expect “that two elements are in favor of the employment target set by the European Commission for the next decade.” First of all, our forecast is encouraging for European policymakers, as the number of countries within target would increase from 5 to 6 countries and 8 other countries come close to the target in exercise. The number of countries with an employment rate of more than 10% below target would be reduced from eleven to six countries. Secondly, the opportunity given by the European Commission to translate the 75% target into national targets has been inspiring and possibly motivating individual Member States to work out a feasible national strategy with regard to employment rate progress.” (page 16 – 18)

The most important issue however is how to reach this employment rate of 75%? On this point the authors make some critical observations on the recipes offered by the European Commission. The European policy makers suggest 3 paths in the quest for more employment:
1. Reducing the cost of labour by reducing social security contributions, flexibility in entry wage setting, a wider use of in-work benefits..
2.Attract inactive people to the labour market: enhance greater internal flexibility, flex-time, extend day-care facilities, link unemployment benefits to training/job search etc...
3. Education and training: responsiveness of training to the labour market, support targeted training...

Regarding the number one proposal, that is to reduce labour costs, the authors come to a remarkable conclusion after analyzing EU labour statistics: there is no strong relation between reducing the labour cost and a positive evolution of the employment rate in European Member States.” (page 21) This means that the idea of the European policymakers that work will become attractive for employers by reducing labour costs does not work so well. Therefore the authors propose an alternative way which is to make work more attractive for workers by ensuring decent jobs. “As workers have the prospect of a high-quality job, the reward of working time is bigger than the reward of free time, and more people will be motivated to invest their time in a job. So, raising the job quality will be positively linked to more workers and a higher employment rate.” (page 23)

This positive relationship between job quality and employment rate should be supported firstly by raising the human capital of workers. “Investment in training and learning opportunities increases individual productivity, but also the productivity of co-workers through spill-over effects. Secondly, workers' security induces economic growth. Elements such as job protection, safe working conditions, fair wages, and access to social protection may also increase productivity and participation, and therefore favor growth and labour supply. In addition, many security mechanisms work as automatic stabilizers, which are particularly helpful during economic downturns. “ (page 23-24)

Following these conclusions the authors look for ways how to make work attractive as an alternative way for creating more employment. The result is a list of elements that define work quality: work autonomy, work intensity, physical risk exposure, psychological risk exposure, level of team autonomy, meaningfulness of work, wages and social benefits, suitable working times, job security, skills development, career opportunities, voice.

Because of the foregoing it is not a surprise that the authors propose the development of a 'decent employment rate' that in the future will accompany the employment rate that is “calculated by dividing the number of people working in decent employment by the total population.” (page 49)
They call the unions “to promote actively the economic and social advantages for employers and employees that emerge through the introduction of good work quality policies... Workers' organizations should also insist that good practice examples from European countries are, where applicable, considered, promoted and possibly adopted by other Member States.” (page 50)

Friday, December 14, 2012


In the night of 21 on 13 December, after fourteen hours of meeting of the European Council of the Ministers of Finance of the 27 European Union members, a compromise was reached on a European banking supervisor. Such a supervisor is needed because since 2008 many banks have been rescued by their governments. One of the main lessons of the credit crisis is that dozens of banks are to big to fail. The financial obligations of these banks are so significant that a bankruptcy threatens the entire financial system. If such a 'banking system' threatens to capsize, the government always must help. In recent years a number of governments (Spain and Ireland) have pumped so much money in their banks that they themselves have entered in payment problems. The European debt crisis was born.That is why the European governments now want to create a system for an orderly and timely remediation of unhealthy banks. This should prevent governments te be faced again with emergency situations in which they have no other choice than to put money into a bank. As a first step in June the European Government leaders decided that the European Central Bank (ECB) will be the European banking supervisor.

The principle agreement is that in the European Banking Union, the 200 European Banks with more than € 30 billion on their balance sheets (the so called 'systemic banks' that are to big to fail) and the banks receiving financial support from the state will be supervised by the European Central Bank ECB (Frankfurt, Germany). De non-euro countries Great Britain with London as a financial world centre, Sweden and the Czech Republic decided not to participate. All other non-euro countries are expected to participate in the EBC supervising system. All the involved banks together will guarantee each others savings and there will be a common procedure in case a bank is going to fall. The ultimate goal is that the taxpayers don't pay anymore for the rescue of a bank.

The € 30 billion limit is the result of a compromise between Germany and France. The latter wanted together with the European Parliament and the European Commission that all 6000 European banks would be controlled by the ECB. However, Germany did not want to put at risk the financial reserves of the about 1600 local and regional Landes- and Volksbanken. These smaller banks with their many financial reserves are influenced by local and regional authorities. It would be difficult for Federal Chancellor Agela Merkel to confront on gthis matter these local and regional politicians before elections in september 2013.

The main supervisor is thus the European Central Bank. This requires, however, the Convention for the ECB to be adjusted to make sure separation between the 'prudential supervision' on the health of the banks, and the "monetary control 'on the financial stability of the eurozone economy. The ECB in Frankfurt should hire a lot of new employees in order to perform the monitoring.

Another important measure is that at the moment the ECB indicates that the supervising system is working the so called European emergency fund EMS (European Stability Mechanism) can be authorised to give loans to banks without influencing the public debt of the country.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel called the agreement invaluable. "We will have a clear separation between the responsibilities for monetary policy and banking supervision." However, some critics are concerned that the political independence of the monitoring of the banks is not sufficiently guaranteed. They point to the need for proper procedures for this to ensure. The Cypriot Minister of Finance Vassos Shiarly Shiarly spoke of the agreement as a Christmas present for all of Europe. "According to him, the overall objective of the Bank agrees to restore confidence in the sector, he added.

Monday, December 3, 2012


For my international trade union work I have visited Bangladesh, which once included also a visit to various jute factories. These were state-owned enterprises in decline because  demand for jute was becoming lower and lower as a result of the growing use of for example plastic shopping bags.De working conditions were terrible, especially compared to those common in Europe. The local unions did their best but even in these state enterprises they could not change much. Women and children sat working on the oil contaminated floor. There were no decent bathrooms so workers -women and men alike – pooped and peed in the gutters along the outdoor walls of the factories. No pleasant sight.

These days once again there was a huge fire in a textile factory in which 122 people were killed. That were so many deaths that the disaster reached the international press and TV news worldwide. A trade union colleague in Bangladesh has send me some newspaper clippings with photographs. As you can read on the frontpage of the Daily Star since 1990 there have been no less than 33 major fires with a total of 500 deaths. You can read also that the day after the big fire in the Ashulia textile factory there was another fire in another factory, but fortunately without casualties. (See the clipping at the end of the article).

The lack of fire extinguishers, sprinklers and emergency exits on all floors caused so many deaths.  Of course, the management of the company is responsible for safety measures but apparently they are not interested to adhere to safety measures. Their goal is to produce as much as possible at the lowest possible costs. Obviously, the government should monitor compliance with safety measures but that seems not to function either. There is always the risk of corruption and bribery. Trade Unions can do little because who wants to take the risk to lose his or her job? Besides, the only unions admitted by the management are those that work together with the employer. These union leaders get privileges while the profits are not affected.

What should be done?  First of all (Western) companies should be put under pressure to make contracts with factories with decent labor conditions but at the end it is the local government that has to take severe measures to guarantee safety for the workers and to force employers to respect these measures. International assistance and support to the local unions in such countries are also important. Only in this way they can fight for decent work and wages without union members immediately having to fear dismissal or worse like losing their lives.

Saturday, December 1, 2012


The euro area (EA17) seasonally-adjusted unemployment rate was 11.7% in October 2012, up from 11.6% in September. The EU27 unemployment rate was 10.7% in October 2012, up from 10.6% in September. In both zones, rates have risen markedly compared with October 2011, when they were 10.4% and 9.9% respectively. These figures are published by Eurostat, the statistical office of the European Union.

Eurostat estimates that 25.913 million men and women in the EU27, of whom 18.703 million were in the euro area, were unemployed in October 2012. Compared with September 2012, the number of persons unemployed increased by 204 000 in the EU27 and by 173 000 in the euro area. Compared with October 2011, unemployment rose by 2.160 million in the EU27 and by 2.174 million in the euro area.
Among the Member States, the lowest unemployment rates were recorded in Austria (4.3%), Luxembourg (5.1%), Germany (5.4%) and the Netherlands (5.5%), and the highest in Spain (26.2%) and Greece (25.4% in August 2012). 

Today in Europe unemployment is becoming a very serious problem not only in debt ridden countries as Greece, Spain, Portugal and Ireland but also in the other EU countries. Unemployment is a consequence of non- or negative economic growth and that is what happens today in most of the EU countries. Even Germany, having the strongest economy in the EU, is running the risk to enter in the dangerous area of non – economic growth. The question now is how to restore economic growth in the Eurozone?

What is most needed for economic growth is money or to say it more professional capital. Capital to invest in an economic activity that will generate jobs like a textile mill or a TV set factory. But what to do when there is no capital available to invest in one or another economic activity because money is needed for the payment of debts of many Eurozone countries? Besides, because of these debts many private investors dare not to invest in those countries. How to escape from this vicious circle of debts and frightened investors?

After a lot of European political quarreling special emergency funds were created to help over indebted countries like Greece, Ireland and Portugal with extra money because the markets are closed to them because of to high interests. Private investors don't want to take the risk to loose their money in a country that is over indebted. But this emergency money only serves to keep the government going on, it is not creating jobs and production. It is dead money.

Another way out could be the devaluation of the Euro to make products on the international market cheaper which will probably give a boost to the sales of these products and so production together with jobs will go up. But in the case of the Eurozone most exports go between the Euro countries themselves so benefits from devaluation will be low. The countries that export more to the global market like Germany are at the same time the strongest economies. They don't need a lower priced Euro. May be France and Italy will benefit somewhat from a lower priced Euro but the question is how much, especially when they don' t reform the labor market like Germany.

Another possibility is that the European Central bank starts to print money. In fact this is to a certain extent already happening by buying bonds from indebted countries through the European Central Bank. But this measure is meant to maintain international confidence in the Euro not to restart the economy. For that purpose much more money should be printed with the great risk of a sky-high inflation in the near future. Some economists belief this is the only option left for the Eurozone but because of its pre Second World War experiences Germany is absolutely against it. On the other side inflation is in fact a by the state organized way of social theft hurting most the weakest people in society like the unemployed and the retired people. They are the real victims of money with lower purchasing power.

The European Trade Union Confederation beliefs that the best way for the Eurozone to get economies growing again with the aim to create employment is major steps towards a more united Europe. They propose the creation of Eurobonds guaranteed by the European Central Bank. These bonds will provide fresh money to invest in the so-called green economy (electric cars, windmills, solar energy etc.) with the aim to create new jobs. However, there are some questions to answer. Are those Eurobonds trustworthy while they are also guaranteed by some countries with still a lot of debts? Are governments capable to invest money efficient and productive in these areas or will a lot of money be lost in inefficient bureaucratic control systems or even worse go to projects which at the end have no real economic future? In that case the Eurozone has only created a new debt burden.

Another policy proposed by the European Commission and supported by for example Germany are social and economic reforms on the labor market and the social security system. This kind of reforms does not activate economies and create jobs immediately. The big issue however is that these reforms are affecting long ago acquired social rights and that is what trade unions don't like. They insist that these reforms (working longer, more flexibility on the labor market, lower and shorter unemployment payment etc.) do not work and on the contrary will create new poverty. It will also affect the internal consumer market which means another setback for the economy. On the other side without these reforms together with education, technical innovation etc. Europe will lose competitiveness on the global market and without a global market Europe will loose part of its wealth.

While the trade unions look for solutions without losing the acquired social rights and stimulating the economic growth with public money to create new jobs, the European Commission and the Nordic European countries are looking for strong reforms on the labor market combined with lowering the debt burden by increasing the retirement age, making the labor market more flexible which means lower salaries and lowering unemployment benefits in time and amount. The next months will make clear who will win the game or will there be no winners at all?

Friday, November 23, 2012


November is a true European crisis month. It started on November 14 with a day of action of the ETUC. In different capitals in the European Union strikes were held, demonstrations and manifestations against the austerity measures. For the occasion, the ETUC has issued a statement:

The European trade union movement has for years been denouncing austerity measures. They are dragging Europe into economic stagnation and even recession. The result is that growth has stalled and unemployment continues to rise. Wages and social protection cuts are attacks against the European social model and increase inequality and social injustice. The International Monetary Fund (IMF)’s «miscalculations» have had an unbearable impact on the daily life of European workers and citizens. It brings into question the whole basis of austerity policy. The IMF must apologize. The Troika must revise its demands. Europe has a social debt, not just a monetary debt. The promised recovery has not happened. Twenty-five million
Europeans are out of jobs. In some countries, the unemployment rate for young people is over 50 per cent. The sense of injustice is widespread and social discontent is growing. We want action for sustainable growth and jobs. Not just words. The social situation is urgent.”

The ETUC proposes:
* Economic governance at the service of sustainable growth and quality jobs,
* Economic and social justice through redistribution policies, taxation
and social protection,
* Employment guarantees for young people,
* An ambitious European industrial policy steered towards a green,
low-carbon economy and forward-looking sectors with employment
opportunities and growth,
* A more intense fight against social and wage dumping,
* Pooling of debt through Euro-bonds,
* Effective implementation of a financial transaction tax to tackle
speculation and enable investment policies,
* Harmonisation of the tax base with a minimum rate for companies
across Europe,
* A determined effort to fight tax evasion and fraud,
* Respect for collective bargaining and social dialogue,
* Respect for fundamental social and trade union rights.

However, these proposals are still far away to be accepted. The Nordic European countries are resolutely opposed to the pooling of debt through Eurobonds. Great Britain rejects the idea of financial transaction tax as an intent to destroy London city as world financial centre. London city accounts for about 9% of the British gross national product.

The three important players in the European crisis. Left Mr. Europe the Belgian Herman van Rompuy, President of the European Council of European leaders. Next to him the French Cristine Lagarde, Director General of the IMF. On the left the Portuguese José Manuel Barroso, President of the European Commission.

In the meantime the so-called Greek debts crisis continues its own story. This month Greece needs another credit of  € 44 billion to keep its national economy going on. However, IMF and the EU don’t agree about the next steps. One agrees that the given time is too short for the reduction of the Greek debt to 120% of GDP. Therefore Europe is prepared to give Greece more time but this means extra money.  Who has to pay this? The IMF wants no more delays and calls for further debt cancellation. The European politicians find this unacceptable because, as they say, their voters do not want to spend a penny more on Greece.

The story continued Thursday 22 November with a strike of several thousand European officials. They don’t agree with the impending cuts in the EU budget 2014-2020. The officials are worried that the result will be a severe reduction of their wages. The unions point out that the cost of  Europe for its citizens amounts to only  67 cents per day while only 3% of the EU budget goes to salaries. According to the unions there has been savings since 2004 for an amount of  € 3 billion. Another 5% will be saved from now until 2020. The public has difficulties to take serious the strike of the European officials because they earn a lot compared to the officials in most European countries, while at the same time they pay only about 12% tax.

This week, European leaders negotiate the aforementioned European multiannual budget. Until now one could not agree on the budget increase to about €1000 billion. Net fee payers to Europe such as England, Denmark and the Netherlands are opposed. England and Denmark have already threatened a veto. The countries that receive more from Europe than they pay as fee want a budget increase. One wonders what will be the outcome.

If the budget does not increase, Europe will not be able to stimulate economic growth. As we know now this means another defeat for the ETUC that wants Europe to stimulate economic growth more than before.

Friday, November 16, 2012


Since 2010, the ECLAC proposes to the Latin American governments equality as a guiding principle and strategic long-term goal of their policy. In 2012, during a meeting in El Salvador ECLAC's executive secretary Alicia Barcena reaffirmed this proposal with the report “Structural Change for Equality: An Integrated Approach to Development” ( July 2012, 307 pages ).

So far, Latin America failed to link social equality to economic growth. On the one hand there is Cuba, with its high degree of social equality which due to lack of economic growth in practice amounts to an equal distribution of poverty. On the other hand, there are countries with a neo-liberal model that have economic growth but that is very unevenly distributed. The vast majority of people have to live of an income coming from the informal economy or from precarious jobs.

With its report on 'Structural Change for Equality " the ECLAC takes the challenge to find a way between the two extremes, between state capitalism and market capitalism and of course with the complete preservation of democratic values​​. It is the way that Europe attempts to continue to this day despite the debt crisis. The heart of this model is politically supported by political parties with different colors like social democrats, Christian democrats, social liberals and nowadays even with the support of green parties.

According to the ECLAC the road between neo-liberalism and socialism runs along structural change. A broad term that describes ECLAC as “putting qualitative changes in the production structure at the centre of the growth dynamic.” (page 16 preface). These qualitative changes in the production structure according to ECLAC are also needed to respond to the challenges of globalization: “Improved global insertion and virtuous growth in domestic productivity and employment call for greater participation by knowledge-intensive sectors in overall production. This fosters the building of capacities, knowledge and learning in coordination with production and investment across the economy and the social fabric. In this scenario, environmental sustainability will be achieved only if there is structural change entailing a profound and inclusive technological transformation.” (Preface page 16)

Not an easy task when one considers that even traditionally well organized European states like for example Germany and France are struggling to achieve some of the proposed elements of the ECLAC proposal like for example more technological innovation in the production process. ECLAC points out, however, that the macro-economic conditions in many Latin American countries are now better than in Europe because of their small size of the national debt and increased international reserves.

According to ECLAC, the structural changes lead to a more knowledge intensive production structure with higher labor standards and employment. Employment is considered as the instrument to achieve a greater equality in Latin American society: “Employment with full rights holds the master key to equality; and that must come with social policies to tackle the risks on the road to structural change. Industrial policy is a long-term venture; along the way, sector adjustment pressures arising from productivity leaps call for social policies to ensure a well-being threshold for those who cannot, in the early stages, attain wellbeing through quality employment with rights.” (Preface page 17).

The ECLAC therefore advocates a greater role for the state: “ This obviously involves political will, because the State has a key role to play in advancing policies in this sphere. It is worth remembering that during the past two decades, talking about active industrial policy conducted by the State was a virtual anathema in the development lexicon that prevailed under the Washington Consensus. Talking about equality was, too. Underlying that “veto “ was the assumption that the market, supported by the right signals, would take care of optimizing factor allocation in a way that would in the end lead to productivity leaps. Experience has clearly shown that this is not the case, especially when looking at the poor productivity trends for Latin America and the Caribbean over the past 30 years.” (Preface page 17)

As already noted, no small task for states that are still looking for the development model that best suits them and gives the best guarantees for more welfare. What should be the task of the unions in this process is obviously not the ECLAC to determine. The Latin American unions themselves have the task to establish a proper policy and strategy. Perhaps this is an appropriate topic for a Latin American seminar in the near future.

Friday, November 9, 2012


Participants at the KGZE Conference 2012 with on the second row on the right EO/WOW President Guenther Trausnitz.

From June 21-24 the KGZE Conference on trade union cooperation in Europe was held in the city of Brünn, Czech Republic. The theme of the conference was "Europe and the debt crisis". 58 participants from 15 countries discussed the implications of the state debts for the social system and the labour market. The debt crisis has become a crucial test for the EU. The economic performance of individual European countries has diminished significantly and the number of unemployed rises fast (10,6% or about 25 million persons). In particular young people are facing a lack of jobs and therefore future prospects. Despite the fact that young people are educated and willing to work, some states struggle with youth unemployment of 50% or more.

Austerity programs lead to massive impoverishment of broad sections of the population. With confidence in politics decreasing, purchasing power declining and fewer investments, Europe seems to slide deeper and deeper into crisis.

By bursting the economic bubble the European Monetary Union was plunged into a structural crisis. With the European fiscal pact or officially called the Treaty on Stability, Coordination and Governance in the Economic - and Monetary Union, the EU wants to counterattack the crisis. The aim is a common budget, a common fiscal policy, a common guarantee for the debt of the countries of the EU. Together with the European Economic - and Monetary Union the fiscal pact would complete the European Economic Area.

It's not enough to provide permanently money for an ailing area without measures to initiate recovery. The financial and banking sector must be reformed with clear and transparent rules so that speculative excesses and dubious practices will be stopped. How appropriate the bailout of the Banks may have been, downsizing the financial and banking sector is essential.

1.    A strict separation between commercial and investment banking must be made. The risk must be clearly visible and if necessary restricted.
2.    Accounting rules should be more transparent and rigorous.
3.    A meaningful insolvency law for banks must be introduced. It must be ensured that banks can be "handled" without putting states under financial stress.
4.    In the long term, the financial sector should pay back the money that has been spent by the State in order to overcome the crisis.
5.    If banks are supported, the state or the international community should exercise relevant owner rights.
6.    Total assets should not exceed certain limits related to the GDP.

These are the main requirements for a new regulatory framework, which brings back the financial and banking system to its original function as savings and loan system.

Source: INITIATIVE, 37 JHG, NR. 165. 
             Informationsblatt der Fraktion Christlicher GewerkschafterInnen in der Gewerkschaft der 
             Privatangestellten, Druck, Journalismus, Papier. Austria

Saturday, November 3, 2012


Workers at Ford Genk after having received the message that the plant will be closed.

Once again, a car plant in Belgium will be closed. This time it's the Ford plant in Genk, where 4500 workers will lose their jobs. Most probably, the same amount of jobs will be lost at the suppliers. In total, approximately ten thousand people are threatened with unemployment. Since 1997 it is the fourth major car brand that closes its plant in Belgium. In that year, workers, trade unions and politicians were surprised by the closure of the Renault Factory. More than 3000 workers lost their jobs. The decision to shut down was taken in France. Belgium had no other options than to accept it.

The result of this abrupt closure was the creation of ‘the Renault law’ that tightened the rules on collective redundancies. The Work’s Council should be informed extensively on plans to close the factory. Thereafter, the Work’s Council can forward questions and only after this the company can submit a plan for collective redundancies. The law did not prevent the closure of the Renault factory and will have no impact on the proposed closure of the Ford plants, it only helps unions and workers to get a more or less fair financial compensation for the loss of jobs.

In 2006, in Germany the decision was made that the Volkswagen plant in Brussels would be heavily restructured. Of the more than 5000 workers about 4000 lost their jobs while as many jobs were lost in subcontracting. The production of the Volkswagen Golf was moved to Germany. Thanks to the German car manufacturer Audi 1000 jobs could be saved by the production of a small car in the same plant. According to the newspapers the paid compensation for dismissal was "historically high".  Approximately 900 workers received early retirement payment with help of the government. AUDI demanded a 20% saving on the costs of production for which the remaining workers primarily had to accept a longer working week (38 hours instead of 35).

In 2010, the Opel plant of General Motors in Antwerp was closed. This meant a loss of 2600 jobs plus probably as many jobs at suppliers. According to the GM management sales of cars had dropped since the start of the credit crisis in 2008. Only the GM plant in Belgium was closed, not the ones in Germany, England, Poland and Spain. It is supposed that to maintain employment the governments of these countries had given financial support to GM. According to the unions, the crisis was also used to transfer production capacity to a lower wage country like South Korea.

The argument of overcapacity in car production and to high wages is now also being used by the management of Ford for the closure of the plant in Genk. Specialists confirm that there exists indeed a structural overcapacity in the production of cars in Europe but Ford itself is not suffering from this problem. The company suffers nowadays from cyclical overcapacity in Europe caused by the credit crisis. Car sales have been fallen by one quarter. But Ford as a multinational is still making profit in the US because it has been restructuring on time and unlike other car manufacturers such as Renault, has made flexible the production of many car components by way of outsourcing to suppliers.

Ford has announced that part of its car production will move to Valencia, Spain where wages are lower than in Belgium. The strong unions in Belgium are preparing for hard bargaining on the coming collective redundancies in 2014. A maximum compensation of 77,000 euros per worker, depending on the number of years that he or she has worked, has been mentioned. However, the compensation payment will not compensate the loss of thousands of jobs, especially not if we take in consideration the loss of jobs at suppliers.

The Belgium experience shows that unions (including European and international unions), national politics and even the European Union are rather helpless when they are confronted with the closure of a plant belonging to a multinational with the size like Ford. Besides the closure of plants of Renault (France)  and Volkswagen (Germany) in the heart of Belgium has made clear that the country of origin supports the opportunistic move of the multinational to save jobs in their own country.

In general one can conclude that large multinationals operate on a global market and that there is no national government or in this case the  European Union that can change decisions taken at the board of such a multinational. Besides, international unions are confronted with different loyalties of their member unions. Which union would support the closing of a plant in its own country because of solidarity with workers of a plant in another country especially when unemployment is on a high level?

The last 15 years the Flemish part of Belgium has lost tens of thousands jobs in the automotive industry. The country has to design a new industrial policy. In which sectors new jobs can be created, who wants to invest money in such sectors, what level of education is needed etc.?  These are long-term issues that politicians, employers and trade unions have to prepare for today or was it yesterday?

Thursday, October 25, 2012


Lima, casual street portraits, 2011 (Petrus)

Beginning of the month of October  trade union leaders of Europe, Colombia and Peru reaffirmed their opposition to the draft EU-Colombia-Peru Free Trade Agreement (FTA) in meetings with key Members of the European Parliament and officials of the European Commission.

“The international trade union movement is united in this call for a vote against the FTA. To do otherwise would disregard the appalling human rights record in Colombia and continued labour violations in Peru and would damage the EU’s reputation as a leading force in the promotion of human rights and basic freedoms”, states a joint letter sent to MEPs ahead of the EP’s decision on the FTA.
The EP is set to vote on the ratification of the FTA before Christmas.”

Loma, casual street portraits, 2011 (Petrus)

Dear Members of the European Parliament,

In the forthcoming weeks, you will have the opportunity to vote on the EU Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with Colombia and Peru. We, the workers and trade unions of the European Union and Latin America, reiterate our opposition to this FTA.

Furthermore, we call on the members of the EP’s international trade committee to ensure that the EP’s strong  demand for a binding action plan on human rights, labour law and environmental protection is respected, as agreed in June 2012.  To date, neither the EU nor the governments of Colombia and Peru have put forward a plan, let alone one that satisfies
the benchmarks clearly established in the resolution.

Lima, casual street portraits 2011 (Petrus)

The violation of fundamental rights remains a fact of life for many Colombian workers.  The adoption of the US-Colombia Labour Action Plan, linked to the US-Colombia FTA, required some important legal and administrative changes, but unfortunately did not require proof of
progress  in practice  before the  implementation of the agreement. Thus,  the reality on the ground for Colombian workers remains  wholly  unacceptable. Union leaders  and activists continue to be assassinated, threatened, and intimidated, and perpetrators  continue to  enjoy almost complete impunity despite the widespread and intense international attention. Labour
laws continue to be violated. Many workers throughout the economy still find themselves working under sham employment relationships, from cooperatives to newly-created schemes, despite changes in legislation and a promise to make this a priority area for labour inspection. Similarly, workers find themselves labouring under employer imposed pacts meant to weaken
or eliminate the union. As a result, workers face a major obstacle to the exercise of freedom of association.

Lima, casual street portraits 2011 (Petrus)

This, together with the continued violence, has led to a continued decline in
unionization in Colombia. 

We note too that trade unionists in Peru also face hurdles in law and in practice to the free exercise of their rights.  Anti-union dismissals, the disregard for collective agreements and bargaining rights, and union busting in the private sector continued to be common practices. Workers in agribusiness, who are most frequently subcontracted and temporary workers, are among the worst treated.

This reality shows the importance of legally binding commitments to improve labour and human rights. However, these are absent from the FTA and its Sustainable Development Chapter, which is not subject to a meaningful dispute settlement procedure, as provided for
the commercial provisions of the FTA.

The international trade union movement is united in this call for a vote against the FTA. To do otherwise would disregard the appalling human rights record in Colombia and continued labour violations in Peru  and would damage the EU’s reputation as a leading force in the promotion of human rights and basic freedoms.

Yours sincerely,

Bernadette Segol, General Secretary ETUC
Sharan Burrow, General Secretary ITUC
Victor Baez Mosquera, Secretario General CSA/TUCA
Meter Waldorff, General Secretary of Public Services Internacional and
                            Chair of the Council of Global Unions

Source: ETUC (

Friday, October 19, 2012


During my holidays in Cuba (2008) I stayed a few days in Vinales. We decided to try to visit the community of Los Acuaticos. One of the basic rules of this religious community is not to involve in any state institution. Because of repression by the state in 1943 gthey fled into the Sierra del Infierno not far from Vinales. The community is very small. We found a guide who wanted us to bring to one of these families. We were very surprised to learn to know a young Colombian couple hihg up in the mountains staying with a poor farmer's family. They explained that they had come from Bogota because the mother of the women once had nice holidays in the same area. I must say that it became inmediately to my mind that they have something to do with FARC or some other Colombian revolutionary group like for example ELN, but of course I did not mention this. In stead I asked them if it was permitted to take a photograph.

Do the state of Colombia and the FARC really want peace? For the State of Colombia that depends above all from the army that is winning the war against the FARC and at the same time is gaining a lot. I believe that the Colombian army is the best-trained and best-armed army of Latin America. Thanks to the USA. They always have supported the Colombian army with know how, special training and weapons especially when the FARC developed into a narco-terrorist brigade.

A few years ago the Venezuelan president Chavez tried to use the FARC for its own political purpose: to show his anti-americanism and solidarity with a leftist struggle, to become a peacemaker and to put Colombia under attack. The USA inmediately expanded their military bases in Colombia. After having sought advice from his generals, president Chavez had to back down. The Colombian army is too strong for the Venezuelan army.

Has the Colombian Government control over their military? I do not know, but you can say that the Americans have. If they want peace in Colombia they will force the Colombian military to follow that path. We can expect from US president Obama that he wants peace. If presidential candidate Romney also wants peace in Colombia is more difficult to say. Maybe he prefers to go on with the war, with the advantage that the Colombian army remains alert and the Venezuelan president Chavez can be kept in check.

Does the FARC want peace? It is generally assumed that they want so because they have become military weak and lost a lot of their leaders. However, there is still plenty of jungle in Colombia to continue guerrilla warfare. Indeed, it will be difficult for FARC to get new weapons but even with fewer weapons you can continue to control the peasants, the coca production and the marketing of coca and at the same time make life difficult for the Colombian army. But the FARC is internationally more isolated than ever. Its closest friend Cuba is now too poor to do anything of importance. On the contrary Cuba needs Venezuelan oil to survive so it is not in favour of political and/or military adventures.

Maybe the goal of these peace negotiations for FARC is to break through their international isolation? What we have seen so far from the FARC is a lot of show. Suddenly the FARC is talking about social justice for peasants while for years they forced peasants to produce drugs, forced their sons to enter in the FARC and massacred villagers who did not wish to cooperate with them.  According to the FARC peace will come when the Colombian government will distribute land to the peasants. As if that will be a solution to rural poverty. How do these poor farmers get the necessary agricultural knowledge, good seeds, financial credits, agricultural techniques, fertilizers and other necessary products, transport and marketing of their crops, etc.? Such projects require decades and FARC knows. Why else they themselves did never start such reforms in their controlled areas? But with the peace negotiations, they get the chance polishing their image of drugs gang into revolutionaries with a noble causes like social justice for poor farmers. 

Friday, October 12, 2012


The WOW World Congress was held in Vancouver, Canada from 11 to 14 September.

Since the fall of the wall in Berlin that came together with the failure of communism, capitalism reigns worldwide. US President Reagan (1981 – 1989) and British Prime Minister Thatcher (1979 – 1990) supported  the development by a policy of liberalization of labor and capital. The new capitalistic game resulted in more shareholder value and less workers value. Since those days it was all talking about ‘shareholder value’ which meant that shareholders should get as much as possible money out of their investments in companies even at the expense of the workers in those companies.

Roel Rotshuizen (left) was releceted as President of WOW. Maria Eminenti (right) representing the Asian Brotherhood of Workers ABCW, presides one of the sessions of the Congress.

Globalisation pushed workers even further to the edge. Capital moved to all corners of the world looking for more money value. Companies moved to low wage countries. Workers had to accept lower wages or else would loose their jobs.

Koffi Chrysanthe Zounnadjala, President of the Fédération Panafricaine des Employés FPE, speaks to the Congress. He was reelected as vice-president for Africa. At his right executive secretary Bjorn van Heusden.

The emergence of China as world’s greatest factory with its nearly unlimited labor reserves undermined the positions of worker’s worldwide even further. Chinese workers are organized in unions controlled by the communist government. Because of lack of freedom they have no other option than to accept labor conditions as established by their government: low wages and poor working conditions. But on a day Chinese workers will start to fight for their social rights. Nobody knows when, but someday it will happen.

Guenther Trausnitz, president of the WOW European Organization WOW/EO, was reelected as WOW Vice President.

It is clear that the world of labor has been pushed onto the defensive. What should be the answer of the free trade unions? Fight back, but how? We cannot go back to the past. We as unions have the task to develop a new vision for the future. What should be the basis of this new vision?

Roberto Mejia (to the right), President of the Latin American Federation of the Employees in the Communication and Cultural sectors FELATRACCS, informs the Congress on he activities of FELATRACCS. he was also reelected as Vice-President of WOW. To te left executive secretary Bjorn van Heusden.
We in WOW believe that our values as established in the past, can be of use today if we have the courage to reconsider them and to analyse reality with an open mind. That is what we did on the WOW World Congress held in Vancouver Canada, from 11 until 14th of September. We went back to our roots for the sake of the future of our unions.

Erwin Koenze(on the left) representing the Latin American Federation of  Employees in the Comercial sector FETRALCOS speaks about the activities of FETRALCOS in the last 4 years. On the right, behind the table, Miguel Duche representing the Latin American Federation of Employees in the Banking and Insurance sector FELATRABS. Miguel was elected as Vice President of WOW. In the middle executive secretary Bjorn van Heusden.

One of the results of the Congress was the adoption of the ‘Resolution on Workers’ Values’

1.    The World Congress of the WOW gathered in Vancouver, Canada from September 12 to 14 concluded that “Workers’ Values” should be the guiding principle of economic and social affairs in the world.
2.    Workers’ Values are based on the principle that the economy should benefit mankind and that all human-beings deserve to be treated with dignity and respect regardless of their religion, race or sex.
3.    Workers’ Values stand for ways to solve problems and conflict in the workplace, in the company or elsewhere by way of dialogue and cooperation bases on mutual respect and interest.
4.    Workers’ Values mean that every worker has the right to work and live with dignity and take his/her responsibilities on all levels of his/her life, be it in the workplace, his/her family as well as social life in the broad sense of the word.
5.    Workers’ Values should be the guiding principle to all collective agreements and their stakeholders.
6.    Workers’ Values include fairness, social justice, solidarity and transparency at every level of the society, from workplace to company, from community to nation-state and as well as on the international levels.
7.    Workers’ Values demand for transparent, open and democratic leadership on all levels of the society.

Dick Heinen, Executive Director of the Canadian CLAC was our host. He was elected as Vice President of WOW and as such he became a member of the WOW Worldboard.

Our task as unions is to make these ‘utopian values’ reality by developing an international, regional, national of local trade union strategy. Therefore we have to develop strong democratic unions as instruments to create the human world we want. Not easy but a honorable task.