Monday, September 30, 2013


All participants in the seminar on the photo.

Is Trade Union pluralism just a dream or is it reality in the trade union world? Particpants from many different countries of Europe debated on this question based on analysis of the reality in their countries during the seminar “Trade Union pluralism, reality or a dream”, held last week in Berlin, Germany (25-26 September 2013). The seminar was organized by the Danish trade union confederation KRIFA and the European Centre for Workers' Questions EZA in cooperation with the European Organization of the World Organization of Workers (EO/WOW) and financially supported by the European Commission.

Guenther Trausnitz, EO/WOW President and FCG GPA secretary general, was one of the speakers at the opening of the seminar. The others were WOW board member Adelbert Ewen and Matthias Homey of EZA.

During the workshop the participants exchanged experiences on trade union pluralism in their country. You will be surprised to hear that in a country like Germany the trade union of metalworkers, the biggest, the richest and most powerfull union IGM uses courts to harass and make life difficult to the Christian Metal Workers trade union CGM. The result is that CGM had to use a big part of its membership contributions for paying the costs of these legal proceedings. The IGM accused the CGM not being a real trade union. In Gemany this is a legal question. Without being recognized as a real trade union one cannot sign collective agreements and without collective agreements a trade union risks to lose its reason to exist.

Ms.Isabella Biletta from EUROFOND started the seminar with a bird-eye view on " 'Trade Union Pluralism on European level".

More or less the same happened in Spain, another memberstate of the European Union. For 12 years it was impossible for the Spanish CIC (Confederacion Intersindical de Cajas) to sign collective agreements because the two big Confederations UGT (General Union of Workers) and CCOO (Workers Committees) did not accept the CIC as a partner, while the CIC had enough votes of the workers for being a legal negotiating partner. I was told that the presidency of the European Trade Union Confederation ETUC nowadays is in hands of a member of CCOO (you cannot find confirmation on the ETUC website).

Ms. Anne Kiesow from the Christian Metal Trade Union CGM spoke on "Trade Union Pluralism in Germany".

Even worse is the situation in Denmark. Some time ago about 200 workers of the dominant Confederation LO went on strike in a Carlsberg brewery as a collective protest against one of their collegues because he had chosen to be a member of the Danish Christian trade union confederation KRIFA. Carlsberg fired the worker because it did not want to have problems with LO. In trade union history this is called “deprivation of livelihood”. To make it impossible for trade unions to become active in their company, employers fired workers who were members of a trade union. So today there are unions who use the same weapon against workers who belong to an other union just because they are afraid losing their dominance instead of looking for ways to work together for the benefit of all employees in the company. This is not the only case. It's happened many times before. I wonder what these Carlsberg workers would do if in Denmark only one brand of beer – not Carlsberg – could be sold?

Mr. Wolfgang Pischinger, President of FCG GPA and WOW Board member, spoke about "Pluralism in the Austrian Trade Union work.

However, the worst cases we got from Ukraina from our friends of VOST. In Ukraina the transition to democracy and an open market economy has been slowed down by post-communist forces with the result that Government and employers - many times so-called oligarchs – cooperate together with the aim to create confusion. Employers create their own company unions (so called yellow unions) with our without the help of people from outside the company. The Government recognizes trade unions that exists only on paper. Workers have to become member of the union if they want to keep their job. This is the dark side of pluralism that should be attacked by all democratic forces in Ukraina.

Ms.Dragana Petkovic-Gajic, PhD Political Sciences and Project Manager Confederation of Autonomous Trade Unions of Serbia -CATUS, spoke about "What consequences does Trade Union Pluralism have? Positive and negative aspects of pluralism in South-Eastern Europe.

Another case is Serbia where Western European Banks are buying local banks but do not respect the trade union rights. President Marja Erdelj of the Serbian Union BOFOS informed that for example the French Bank Credit Agricole forced its employees to sign a letter in which they promise not to become a member of a trade union. She hopes to reestablish the rights of the employees during a meeting to which she has been invited by the Management.

Mr. Piet Hazenbosch, Adviser to the board of the Dutch confederation CNV, spoke about "The Dutch case of trade union pluralism".

Fortunately, there are also countries where trade union pluralism has been accepted by all trade unions and where it works reasonably well as for example in Austria, the Netherlands, Cyprus, Malta and post-communist Lithuania. Netherlands has an already long history of trade union pluralism consisting of a social-democratic, christian and liberal-conservative confederation and some national branch unions. Until World War II there was also a Catholic oriented confederation which merged with the social-democratic confederation in the seventies of the past century. All confederations participate in the national social dialogue and all unions are involved in collective agreements.

Mr.Mattheus Homey of EZA spoke on "The importance of Trade Union pluralism from the perspective of EZA".

In Austria, after World War II the Allied Forces together with the forces of Russia forced the trade unions to become one unified confederation called the Austrian Trade Union Confederation ÖGB. Within the ÖGB there are different fractions. The 2 most important fractions are the Socialist fraction FSG ÖGB and the Christian Fraction FCG ÖGB. This system of fractions exists also in the seven branche unions of the ÖGB. In most of these branche unions the Socialist fraction has the majority. In the Branch Trade Union for Private Employed and Print, Journalists and Paper GPA the Christian fraction is a significant minority. In the public services union GÖD, the Christian fraction has the majority.

Mr. Soren Fibiger Olesen, President of KRIFA Denmark, presented his topic " I have a dream that one day all unions can work together to promote the interest of the workers!" 

The seminar topic was introduced by Md. Isabella Biletta, Research Manager of EUROFOND, a tri-partite European Union Agency, that provides knowledge to assist in the development of social and work-related policies. One of the tasks of EUROFOND was to establish criteria for the selection of representative trade unions that could participate in the branch social dialogue commissions of the European Union. She presented also the results of a long term research project that shows that trade union membership continues declining with exceptions in some countries like for example Belgium. It seems that the trade unions don't have yet the right answers to this loss of members. Can it be that the trade unions have become more of an institution than of a social movement? 

The presentation of the results of the working groups. From left to right: Adalbert Ewen (President CMG Germany) as the president of the day, Jolien Dekker from CNV Dienstenbond, Henning Röders from DVV Germany and Jelena Soms from LWU Lithuania.

The participants agreed with the proposal to send a letter to the European Social Economic Committee EESC in which the right of trade union pluralism will be formulated as a fundamental workers right. Workers should have a choice between trade unions free of any discrimination to them as well the trade union to which they belong. In the letter also the cases of the violation of this right on trade union pluralism will be mentioned. The letter will therefore include the cases of violations of trade union pluralism as cited above.

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