Friday, April 27, 2012


ETUC protesters, Brussels February 2010

How should the economic crisis in Europe be addressed? The classical or conservative road is taken by German prime  minister Merkel.  She insists on a rigorous governmental financial policy with a strict budget control. The budget should not have a deficit bigger than 3%. Government debt should be limited to 60% of the GNP. These strict rules are signed by all EU Governments and laid down in EU legislation. Until now this policy has been fully supported by the Frech president Sakozy and countries like the Netherlands, Finland and Austria. Ireland, Portugal, Spain and Italy are working on it.

But there are also many opponents of this policy, mainly trade unions and leftist political parties. They believe that such a strict budget control destroys the economy resulting in massive unemployment and poverty. The European Trade Union Confederation repeatedly has stressed this point of view. The French socialist and presidential candidate Hollande supports this position of ETUC (the second round between the actual president Sarkozy and Hollande will be on May 6). If Hollande will be elected tensions on future European policy will increase again.

In the meantime the European Commission responded to this criticism  with the publication of a report called “Towards a job-rich recovery”. The report says that “Job creation is one of the EU’s most pressing concerns as it struggles to emerge from the economic crisis. Unemployment has risen to record highs – about 24.5 million people are unemployed, over 10% of the workforce.”

ETUC protesters, Brussels February 2012
The recommendations aim to provide jobseekers with more training and more job opportunities. Those in work would get help acquiring the skills they need to stay up-to-date with changing job requirements. Employers creating new jobs would also receive support. General recommendations include:
-   1. Encouraging job creation through support for businesses, entrepreneurs and self-employed persons, including decent and sustainable wages.
-   2. Targeting key industries where jobs are being generated: the green economy, health and social care sector, digital economy, etc.
-   3. Using existing EU programmes to fund job creation.
-   4. Reforming labour markets to meet future demand
-   5. Developing programmes to encourage lifelong learning and providing young people with training to advance their careers.
-   6. Investing in skills training, anticipating future job requirements removing obstacles to finding a job in another EU country.
-   7. Fine-tuning schemes – including the EURES jobs database – that match jobseekers with jobs across Europe.
-   8. Improving coordination of employment policies across Europe.
-   9. Increasing the involvement of employers' and workers' groups in employment policy making.

However, the ETUC stays very sceptical on these proposals as we can read in the press release of April 18The Commission’s proposals will do nothing to help create quality jobs, if the European Union and its member states continue to implement rigid fiscal austerity rules. On the contrary, cutting deficits in the midst of a recession will produce a deeper recession and even higher unemployment rates. Labour market policies cannot compensate for failing macro-economic policies. “

The ETUC believes even less in the proposals for labor market reforms like for example “flexicurity” : “Whilst the model has worked in some Nordic countries, in other parts of Europe it has resulted in increased insecurity for workers.” The ETUC asks for more positive proposals: “strengthening the involvement of social partners in the elaboration of macroeconomic and labour market policy, the role of decent wages in securing job quality and domestic demand, increasing minimum wages to help prevent growing in-work poverty, action to support youth employment and to tackle undeclared work. To replace the ‘governance of austerity’ with the ‘governance of growth and good jobs’, the ETUC urges all European policy makers to advance on these proposals.”

Friday, April 20, 2012


Left Profesor Milan Katuninec who gave an overview of the Social Dialogue in central and eastern European countries like Hungary and Slowakia. He explained why in these former communist countries the Social Dialogue is still 'under construction'.
In the centre of the photograph Günther Trausnitz, vice president of the WOW, president of the European Organization of WOW (EO/WOW) and Executive Secretary of the Austrian Union GPA-djp for Christian fraction. His organization hosted the seminar. Günther also introduced to the seminar audiance the so-called "Magic Triangle" of the Social Dialogue in Austria as one of the pillars of the welfare state Austria.
On the right Reinhardt Schiller, member of the EO/WOW and former president of the German CGM.

European Social Christian oriented unions held an EZA sponsored two-day seminar in Vienna about the Social Dialogue in Europe (April 18-19). Trade union representatives of 17 European countries listened and debated with 12 speakers and discussed matters in working groups. The seminar was organized by WOW together with its member-organisation from Austria, the Christian Fraction of the trade union GPA-djp.

In the middle of the photograph Jonathan Stabenow, Executive Secretary of the European Christian Democratic Workers Group (EUCDW). Jonathan started the seminar with an introduction of the activities and aims of the EUCDW. He invited WOW members to stay in contact with EUCDW about its opinions and ideas.
Right in front you see Rolf Weber from the Danish KRIFA and treasurer of WOW. He presented together with Sören Fibiger Olesen, president of  KRIFA, and Jesper Wengel, Administrative Director of KRIFA, the story of KRIFA in Denmark, about the succesful new aproach of KRIFA to grow and the failure of the Danish Government to recognize trade union pluralism in the Social Dialogue.
Left you see Ana Kostovska from the Macedonian Trade Union of Finances. Behind Ana sits Freek Ruijs from the Dutch Dienstenbond CNV.

In working groups they discussed on such questions as if they consider the Social Dialogue in their country as a success, if not why not, what the role is of the trade unions in the Social Dialogue, if employers and governments respect the trade unions as their social partners, what should be the future of Social Dialogue, what is the position of trade unions in the society (trade unions in Europe are losing members) etc? 

The Spanish speaking working group together with members of the trade union ASIPA (Zaragoza), FEC-CAT (Barcelona), FCG/GPA and the Dienstenbond CNV.
Behind you see one of the English speaking groups at work with members of the Slowakian trade union NKOS and the Maltese trade union UHM.

Speakers from countries that have a long-term experience with Social Dialogue like for example Austria, Denmark and the Netherlands agreed that the Social Dialogue has brought stability and welfare for all people in their countries. But they also concluded that because of the globalisation, the fast technological developments, the demographic developments (people become older), the financial crisis of 2008, the European crisis today, etc. it is necessary to revaluate the Christian social values and based on this revaluation to come to a redefinition of the employment conditions and functioning of the labor market.

EZA president Bartho Pronk and former member of the European Parliament told that he was glad to be present at an seminar of its member organization WOW. He also introduced the activities of EZA for the next year. EZA is very eager to assist its members to find answers on the contemporean problems of the trade unions from the social Christian point of view.
Left on the photograph Günther Trausnitz who has been already introduced. Right on the photograph Wolfgang Pischinger,  President of FCG/GPA and member of the EO/WOW board.

However, in other countries the Social Dialogue is still ‘under construction’ because governments and or employers do not respect the trade unions, don’t want to enter in a dialogue or use the dialogue just for their own political agenda. In some countries like for example Serbia, employers don’t even accept the existence of a trade union in their company. Trade unions have still to struggle to become recognised as a valuable partner for democracy, socio-economic progress and social justice.

CNV President Jaap Smit explained the need to find new answers based on the classical social Christian values. In his words; trade unions should redecorate their homes and change old furniture for new furniture. Social Dialogue has proved its value for the Dutch society but today it is at stake because of dramatic demographic changes, new technologies, on-going globalization, the arrival of a new generation with new poriorities etc.

The participants agreed that trade unions should have the courage to look with fresh eyes to the labor world of today and based on a revaluation of Christian social values should reformulate how “redecorate the labor world with new wallpaper and new furniture”.

Before closing the seminar a panel discussion on the role of the social partners took place. Moderator was Mara Erdelj, member of the EO/WOW board and President of the Serbian Trade Union Bofos. Panel members were  (from left to right) Valère Jung, also board member of EO/WOW and secretray general of the French CFTC Metal, Jelena Soms from the Lithuanian LDF and Demetris Patsalos of the trade union POAS in Cyprus.
During the evening FCG/GPA offered the participants a dinner at an typical Austrian restaurant. Here a view of the Serbian BOFOS delegation with President Mara Erdelj (right in front of the photograph) and the delegation of the Croation trade union SING. Behind you see the Maltese UHM  delegates Secretary General  Josef Vella (left) and President Jesmond Bonello.

Friday, April 13, 2012


Workers in a sugarfactory in the Dominican Republic (1980)

This is the second part of an interview with the Dutch sociologist Jelle Visser. He is an expert in the field of labor relations. From 2000 to 2010 he was the scientific director of the Amsterdam Institute for Advanced Labour Studies, a part of the University of Amsterdam. Visser is the founder of the institute. His views on labor relations today are a little bit provocative but nonetheless interesting for trade unionists.

Why vanishes the middle of the labor market?
 Many routine work is automated or outsourced because it can be done  cheaper elsewhere, such as low-wage countries. For example call centers. In the industry there are many such jobs: men with a secondary education who routinely operate machinery. The characteristic of high and low paid jobs is that they are not routine. You can not outsource them.

Is this bad?
We risk that our Dutch labor market will become like the Spanish labor market. There’s one third of them flex workers. If we don’t do nothing to change our heavy laws on dismissal the group of flex workers will grow and because of the erosion of the middle this is not so desirable. All major social conflicts of the past fifteen years are about the same issue: the motivation and compensation of employees during the second half of their career. The disagreement was about the early retirement, law on dismissal and retirement age and payment. The trade unions should put these items on the agenda. How can we improve the position of older workers and at the same time reduce the protection of this group? As long as we continue to avoid those questions, the  generation gap will grow.

Can governments still regulate the labor market?
Governments have only very limited control. It can establish a minimum wage and prohibit that work is being done below the minimum wage. But the government can not do much to control Eastern European self-employed who work for a few euros per hour. The market has become more elusive though it was only because of the cheap workers in Eastern Europe and China. The joke is that the government has resigned since the eighties but at the same time started to regulate more. Take for example parental leave or working part time or what employers may ask during interviews.
You say that the euro-crisis has been caused also by the labor market?
Indeed, the labor market relations play an important role in the euro-crisis. Without reforming the labor market South-Europe can not become competitive: less rules, less protection against dismissal. The differences between European countries in competitiveness started when Germany in 2003 made its labor market more flexible. The German trade unions exchanged more work for lower wages. IG Metal, the biggest trade union of Europe, borrowed that trick from the Dutch trade unions. These reforms reduced the cost per unit product in a way no other country could keep up with. While ten years ago Germany was still the sick man of Europe: high unemployment and hardly innovative. The question now is if prime minister Mario Monti can make such kind of deals with the Italian employers and trade unions? He must cut privileges of for example lawyers and notaries who have too much power.

The first part of the interview you will find in my previous blog

The interview with Jelle Visser has been published in the Dutch paper NRC Handelsblad, 22-11-2011

Friday, April 6, 2012



Below you find an interview with the sociologist Jelle Visser. His favorite research topics are the relations between employers and employees. From 2000 to 2010 he was scientific director of the Amsterdam Institute for Advanced Labour Studies, a part of the University of Amsterdam. Visser is the founder of the institute.I believe it is interesting to know how scientists today are looking to trade unions.

Have the trade unions a future?
I am convinced that there will always remain a countervailing power. But that will be another countervailing power than the unions we have inherited from the nineteenth century. The labor movement will consist of moments of protest organized through internet and twitter. Of course a party that negotiates with the employers on a collective labor agreement will always be needed. But that need not to be the union. It can also be done by the workers’ councils or other bodies elected by employees.

Are collective agreements not outdated given the large number of freelancers with no collective agreement at all?
No, in Europe 8 out of 10 employees fall under a collective agreement. Employers prefer not to negotiate with individual employees on their benefits. A collective agreement is more convenient. In the future collective agreements will contain less, they get a minimum character with plenty of choices. For example it will be possible for an employee to change wage for more free time. By the way, we should not exaggerate the amount of freelancers. On a population of 8,5 million workers in the Netherlands there are 1,2 million freelancers. The rest just works for a boss.

Why trade unions do not have a future?
A movement needs a great story and unions do not have this. They have become clubs that protect existing interests, especially of older workers. Historically the trade unions were agents of change in the welfare state and the labor law. Now they prevent change. Across Europe, the unions have become more conservative over the last decade. The great leaders who were open to change and for Europe, have disappeared. Since the euro crisis the unions have withdraw themselves into their own country. Solidarity with workers in countries such as Italy and Spain is virtually eliminated.

Become trade unions more powerful during a crisis?
No. If unemployment grows, like now is the case in Europe, trade unions immediately become less powerful. They loose members. They become weak against employers and governments who say: now it is not the time for wage increase. Trade unions will only become more conservative. All attention goes to the negotiations for social plans during mass layoffs. The future is not important anymore. More young people will quit.

So all power to the employers?
It is doubtful whether the power of employers increases as the power of unions decreases. For example in France only 8% of the employees are member of a trade union. But the trade union members in France are working in strategic important sectors like for example in the public transport sector in Paris. Those trade unions paralyze the city as soon as they don’t like a government proposal. If Sarkozy wants to raise the retirement age, so he must still get the unions behind him.
Highly skilled workers have less need for the unions. Even alone they are strong enough to confront employers. However, the power of flexible, unskilled labor has fallen. Trade unions are trying to affiliate them but they are not very good at. Traditionally trade unions are there for the large middle group of employees. These are the secondary educated people working in routine jobs. That kind of jobs are rapidly disappearing. We sociologists call this the vanishing middle of the labor market.

(original interview published in NRC Handelsblad 22 november 2011)

Sunday, April 1, 2012


Luuk van Middelaar (sitting) spoke on a lunch conference organized by the Flemish-Dutch Association for International Relations-Different VIRA on "How to handle as a Union in a globalized world?" Standing is Willy Stevens, president of VIRA.

 If you get the chance to go to a lunch conference where Luuk van Middelaar will speak then you grab that chance too. Not only because he is an advisor and speech writer for Mr.. Van Rompuy, the President of the European Council of heads of government and therefore a bit president of the EU, but also because he looks in an original way to developments in the EU.

The EU is Mr.van Middelaar primarily a political project and so much more than the sum of profits and losses. It is a sustainable response to the history of the continent and the world around her. It is the only way to get Europe to survive in the world of the new powers.

The current European crisis is the right test case for this view. If the EU is nothing more than the sum of financial and economic interests, then this crisis is an opportunity for members of the EU to quit. There are of course political leaders who feel this way but most political leaders and peoples do not. For example a Czech woman spoke recently about the disgust in her country of Europe. When I asked her what the result would be a referendum on whether or not the Czech Republic had to remain a member of the EU, she had to admit that a majority would say yes.

The current leaders of the EU with the two leading European powers represented by Merkel and Sarkozy, clearly believe that too. More than ever they convince their inhabitants, that the EU is a political project that must go on despite all the problems. The European and world history, forcing European countries to continue. The former world power England is not so far yet. England still clings to its glorious past, but on the same time the country does not dare to leave the EU.

Because it is a unique project in history, for many citizens and political leaders it is difficult to understand how the project proceeds. Not unity by military power as in the past has been tried so often but by democratic cooperation with mutual respect for the independence of each country. That makes it a complex project that requires time and again to improvise.

Dutch, Germans and Austrians do not like to improvise. They prefer to rely on rules and laws, legal frameworks, detailed arrangements and transparent decision making. See for instance how Finance Minister Jan Kees de Jager operates as a Dutch treasurer rather than as a politician. But no rules or legislation can provide a crisis. French, Italians and Belgians are more able to handle this. Van Middelaar correctly notes that for example the French diplomacy sees possibilities in a crisis to highlight the traditional French long-term geopolitical aims.

At the end of his speech Mr.Van Middelaar compared the EU with a convoy of ships. Such a convoy consisting of ships of various sizes, with different features and capabilities remains together, despite all these differences because they realize that there is no alternative. Van Middelaar rightly notes that this European crisis has deepened the understanding among the European population of the need for the EU. Thanks to the crisis the European consciousness in Europe is now much larger than before.