Thursday, January 29, 2015


Part of the front of the seminar brochure

Changes on the labour-market: is there light at the end of the tunnel” was the title of another 2 days seminar organized by WOW, the Austrian affiliate FCG/GPA-djp, the Danish affiliate KRIFA and of course EZA, the European centre for Workers education subsidized by the European Commission. Some 45 trade union leaders and activists from 18 European countries and a delegation of the Turkish Bank and Insurance Employees Union BASS listened to 6 high level experts from different European countries, they discussed in working groups the main problems and they debated with a panel of 3 trade union leaders from 3 different European countries.

Before the official opening of the seminar we see from left to right: EZA President Bartho Pronk, EO/WOW President Guenther Trausznitz, Gertrud Wiesinger of the FCG/GPA-djp, member of Austrian Parliament August Wöginger and FCG/GPA-djp President Wolfgang Pischinger.

The seminar was opened by EZA President Bartho Pronk who comforted us with the fact that history proves that the kind of crisis we are experiencing today, normally takes ten to eleven years. So indeed probably within one or two years we are approaching the end of the tunnel. The question is what kind of light will there be? One thing is certain, the labour market will be never the same again. So the question is, what kind of labour market we will have? We expect the invited experts to provide us with the necessary data,  analysis and ideas for answers on these questions.

Coffeebreak. In the background from left to right EZA President Bartho Pronk talking with WOW President Roel Rotshuizen and Gerard van Linden of the Dutch CNV Dienstenbond. In the foreground left Portuguese SINERGIA President Alfonso Almeida Cardoso and his colleague.

Mr. August Wöginger, member of the Austrian Parliament , trade union member and secretary general of the ÖAAB (The Austrian Union of Workers is the workers organization of the Austrian People's Party ÖVP ) told us about “Changes on the labour market as political task of the employee-representatives”. While Austria, compared to other European countries, is not doing bad on the labour market, unemployment among young people and workers older than 50 years is too high. The reasons for this are: too much unqualified workers and too little low qualified jobs, too little high qualified jobs, too few apprenticeships and too much early retirement schemes. What must be done? More and better education and training (compulsory until 18), more women working, working longer (part-time work for older employees combined with part-time retirement), tax reform (less tax paid on labour).

From left to right: Danish professor Henrik Schärfe, EO/WOW President Guenther Trausznitz and Alfred Gajdosik of the European Economic and Social Committee.

The presentation of the Danish professor Henrik Schärfe of the Danish Aalborg University, on “the role of technology and the boundaries between humans and machines and what may be the effects for the future labour market” was not only spectacular but also surprising. He gave us an idea what the future will bring: more robots and even androids (robots that look like human beings) that will take over many jobs (pilots, cleaners, car drivers and so on). He himself has build an android that looks like him and who probably made the first android selfie ever, that had traveled by airplane and that was a teacher on the university. His presentation on the future of robots and androids was on one side frightening because robots may take over many jobs which means a drastic change at the labour market. On the other side, androids will help us to make life more comfortable and easy. But there are also urgent questions. For example will this new technology not widen the gap between rich and poor, between high and low educated workers? Questions which need to be answered in the near future.

Member of the EO/WOW Board and FCG/GPA-djp President Wolfgang Pischinger (left) and Alfred Gajdosik of the European Economic and Social Committee.

Alfred Gajdosik (Austrian member of the European Economic and Social Committee) gave “an overview on the implications of a flexible labour-market” and “what the effects are of the growing job insecurity.” The flexible labour-market is a reality in most European countries: part-time working, zero hour contracts, outsourcing to autonomous workers or other countries, short-term contracts etc. It seems that the life time contracts are becoming more and more a minority on the labour market. This of course has consequences for pension systems, social security like unemployment insurance, health care insurance and other social implications like family life and social life in general. Trade unions must look for answers on these challenges on the labour market and decide what is the individual responsibility and what should be arranged by the state and what should be done by private enterprises?

The Dutch Labour economist Ronald Dekker (left) and CGM President and member of the EO/WOW Board Adalbert Ewen.

The Dutch labour economist Ronald Dekker of the Tilburg university wondered about “what the effects are of changing labour relations for both the employee as well the employer?” He made the remarkable observation that “flexibilisation on an inherently imperfect labour market does NOT (by default) lead to better outcomes." At the same time “labour markets are generally becoming more flexible in the sense that a larger share of the workforce is not directly employed on open ended contracts”. This is not all good. It provokes unequal pay for equal work, the evading of minimum workers rights and precariousness. Trade Unions must therefore empower “the flexible worker”. It should be stressed that “what's good for business is NOT by default good for society: more labour market flexibility does NOT result in more jobs and flexible workers (including own account workers) are NOT the direct 'enemies' of permanent workers.

Meeting of the working group of participants coming from Serbia, Republica Srpska-BiH, Croatia, Montenegro and Macedonia.

What is the price of flexible work? The Dutch Profesor Agnes Akkerman of the Amsterdam university investigated this question through a survey of 500 employees, comparing flexible workers with standard workers and teleworkers with not-teleworkers. The survey gave the following conclusions: overall flex workers are not less happy at work, they have a different relationship with their colleagues (more affective than functional), different ways to seek help, different responses to discontent (less willingness for collective actions like for example strikes) and a higher level of undesirable behavior (probably caused by the lack of functional contacts on the workplace).

From left to right: WOW Treasurer Rolf Weber from KRIFA Denmark moderating the panel consisting of Gerard van Linden (CNV Dienstenbond, Netherlands), Savvas Pelentrides (POAS, Cyprus) and Soren Fibiger Olesen (KRIFA, Denmark)

It appeared at the working groups and later during the panel debates that every country has its own experiences with the growing flexible labour market, flexible working times and places, the outsourcing of labour, displacement of labour etc. It is clear that each trade union must look for its own solutions in its own country. An overall European solution does not exist. It was agreed that indeed we are approaching the end of the tunnel but also that there will be an other light than before. There are indeed major challenges for the trade unions to deal with in the coming years.

Thursday, January 22, 2015


A happy reunion at breakfast.

International trade union seminars are serious, tiring and sometimes boring. A whole day of sitting, listening and debating is never easy, but for trade unionists it is very difficult. Nevertheless, there is laughter, jokes made and celebration of friendship and collegiality. This can be seen in the pictures of the international trade union seminar of the Latin American Coordinadora consisting of three trade union sector Federations ( banks and insurances, journalists, commerce and informal economy), all member of the International World Organization of Workers WOW. The seminar took place in the Chilean capital Santiago.

Besides the professional training, seminars strengthen the links between the trade union leaders who live and work scattered throughout the huge continent of Latin America and the Caribbean. Maybe this function of strengthening mutual bonds between trade union leaders is as important as the training function of such seminars. Contrary to Europe, trade union work in Latin America and the Caribbean is still difficult, arduous, not recognized by Governemnets or Employers and sometimes even dangerous.

Picture with instructions

In many countries you have to dare because sometimes trade union work can be very dangerous work. Not so much life threatening, which unfortunately occurs too often, but mostly because authorities and / or employers threaten you, intimidate or create other ways to make your work difficult or even impossible. In such difficult times it is good to have not only colleagues in your own country but also abroad. You know that like you, they are going on with their work in spite all these problems.

Such international seminars therefore works encouraging and motivating. You know you are not alone. There are others, friends and colleagues who support you. In case of emergency, they are also willing to set up international support actions. The latter makes international trade union activities very important.

A selfie made by someone else 

Despite or perhaps because of the severity of the meetings and seminars, there is also time for friendship and fun. Relaxing not only from the daily trade union work, but also from the seminar itself. Because on such seminars one talks about uncomfortable topics such as unemployment, the impact of the global economic crisis, the growing informalisation of the economy, the breakdown of social services, the uneven distribution of incomes, the poor social dialogue with employers and government etc. etc. It is for the participants important to learn about what solutions trade unions from other countries have or what experts can teach you about the problems. All this together are valuable experiences and information that you can use in your own country.

It is not always exciting what you hear.

Such seminars are of course expensive. Just only the flight tickets are already expensive in such a vast continent as Latin America. Then there are the accommodation costs and expenses for the seminar itself. Especially translation systems and translators make a seminar extra expensive. In Latin America, where Spanish and Portuguese speakers usually understand each other without a translator so you do not need translation systems. That is why costs are lower than for example for a European seminar. Even the trade unionists from Curacao and Aruba speak fluent Spanish.

A hug (abrazo) among qualified eyes during graduation

In Europe, the European Commission gives grants for the high translation costs, as well as payment of travel and subsistence expenses and the hiring of experts. In Africa, Latin America and Asia, such arrangements do not exist at all. So there the participating unions themselves have to pay the costs or appeal to the international trade union movement.

A hug for everybody

Usually it is a combination of both: self-financing and financial support from the international organization. For example, the participating unions pay the travel expenses of their representatives to the place of the seminar. The local trade union, which does not have travel expenses, pays all or part of the hotel costs. The international trade union adds to this budget what is still needed. The international trade union therefore is the axis around which operates the international trade union network which makes possible international seminars and other activities. The international trade union movement is a practical form of international solidarity

Wednesday, January 14, 2015


"Dance to the Euro", a digital adaptation of "Dance to the Golden Calf," etching by Pieter van der Borcht (1582/1585), Museum Boijmans van Beuningen, Netherlands. Made by Petrus Nelissen.

As a normal person, you believe inflation is not so good. Because of inflation you have to work more hours to earn the same as before the inflation period. For example, firts you had to work one hour for a sausage, with continued inflation you need over time to work two hours work for the same sausage. As a result of inflation your work is getting cheaper. So you should avoid as much as possible inflation. 

The funny thing is that many economists think about it very differently. They believe that inflation is a good thing. For example the European Central Bank's task is to keep inflation around 2%. That means that after five years of inflation, 100 Euros will actually be worth only 90 Euros. After thirty years, those 100 Euro have only worth about half.

As long as salaries increase annually by 2% and the tax bill remains the same, nothing goes wrong. You will continue to work just the same amount of time for the same amount of money. You will not become richer nor poorer. This also applies to pensions and other social benefits. As long as these are increased by 2% annually, there is nothing wrong. If this is not the case, those who receive social benefits are getting poorer. Social benefits are determined by politics, therefore a raise of social benefits will always be a matter of government and consequently part of a political struggle. Payment of social benefits politicizes the society, either left or right.

If the political decision is taken that the social benefits will no longer be adjusted for inflation, those who receive social benefits will impoverish. Because of the economic crisis, through which the state has less revenues,  the political pressure will grow to adjust not anymore the social benefits and public sector wages to the inflation rates. The costs of the economic crisis then are transferred to those who receive social benefits and to all those other workers whose wages will no longer be adjusted to inflation.

Macron also called on the European Central Bank (ECB) to quickly come up with measures to push inflation towards the target level of just under 2 percent. "This is the time to give in gas, "he said. The next meeting of the ECB's monetary policy on 22 January. (The French Minister of Economic Affairs in the Times Online yesterday evening)

But why economists still believe - limited - inflation is a positive economic phenomenon? The reason is that  in the long run, inflation erodes Government debts. Inflation gives Governments lower valued money which makes it easier to pay off the debts. It looks like debts are in the long run converting into smoke. A 100 Euro debt after 5 years  of a 2% inflation will be be only 90 euros worth.

In times of inflation nobody wants to lend money anymore, therefore the interest rate will be increased. A good example was the recent collapse of the Russian ruble. Each day the ruble lost value against the dollar. That meant a rise in the prices of import goods (more rubles for the same amount of goods) while inland also prices are going to rise. To attract foreign money and new investments the Russian Central Bank raised interest rates to 17%. That helped a little bit but not enough to restore economic growth.
In such a case the economy collapses due to the excessively high interest rates. So high that a Government can not borrow money anymore. This for example was the case with Greece and some other European countries a few years ago. Inflated money destroys the economy because investors lose confidence and try to get their money out of the country. Also citizens lose confidence in their national currency and try to export their savings or to change it in another currency. This of course leads to impoverishment of the country and its citizens.

Despite the economic crisis, and the perils of the debt countries Greece, Ireland, Spain and Portugal, Europe has averted such a downward spiral of inflation. But on the other hand, Europe has a lot of difficulties to get out of its economic crisis. It continues struggling with the economic growth and the high unemployment. To stimulate the economy, many economists preach right up to the European Central Bank, to promote inflation by throwing cheap money into the market. Their reasoning is that with cheap money, people will again consume more and companies will start to invest. Inflation is the lubricant that will get back to work the economy. If the engine is running once again investments will follow faster and  the unemployment rate will drop.

At the end, inflation economists are thus eminently the prophets of the consumer society and they are not alone. There are more prophets of the consumer society such as politicians, trade unions and employers. With the help of inflation politicians hope to avoid to make tough policy choices and economic reforms. With inflation going on they can continue to hand out money. In their words "money for new policies"  which is more of the same so they will again draw voters. The unions believe that reforms can be avoided despite the graying population, technological innovations that changes the whole industrial complex, and globalization that continues to increase. Employers believe inflation will help them to stay on the market without to much reforms in their enterprise. 

Sunday, January 4, 2015

THE DOWNFALL OF THE WCL 44 ( about Leo Tindemans)

From left to right: Leo Tindemans (Minister President of Belgium and President of the Christian Democratic People's Part EPP), Heiner Geissler (Secretary general of the German Christian democratic Party CDU) and Helmut Kohl (President of the CDU) during the first Congress of the EPP in Brussels in 1978.

Leo Tindemans recently deceased on December 26 at the age of 92. He has been twice Belgian prime minister (1974-1978). In the European elections of 1979 he received the highest number of preferential votes ever reached in the history of Belgium. From 1976 to 1986 he was chairman of the Christian Democratic European People's Party EPP. For ten years he was also a member of the European Parliament (1989 -1999).

What the Belgian and European Christian democratic politician Leo Tindemans has to do with the history of the WCL? Nothing really, but that's precisely the problem. Before the WCL Congress in Mauritius (1993), I contacted Tindemans - as requested by WCL General Secretary Carlos Custer- to ask him if he wanted to held a speech on the WCL seminar prior to the WCL Congress about the role and significance of the European Union for European workers and for the World in general. Also, the question was whether he wanted to support the WCL in obtaining European funds for the seminar in order to reduce the cost of the Congress.

State Funeral of the Belgian Politician Leo Tindemans on January 3, 2015 in Edegem, a village not far from the city of Antwerp.

I was surprised how easy it was to make an appointment with Tindemans. We had a pleasant conversation which showed that he wanted to cooperate with the WCL. I was glad with this result. This could be the start of the kind of work that by many people of the WCL was expected I would do after I was appointed as Confederal Secretary of WCL, namely to organize political and financial support for the WCL on European level. But when ACV / CSC chairman Willy Peirens, also WCL president, heard about these plans, to my surprise, he wanted to know nothing of further contacts with Tindemans. According to his staff (Peirens himself never talked with me about this) because in the past the ACV/CSC had several conflicts with him.

I believe this was an irrelevant argument because I did not speak Tindemans as a Belgian politician but as a very important European politician of a country that at that time also had the presidency of the European Union. Moreover, since when unions do not want to meet politicians with whom they have conflicts? Such an attitude destroys all possibilities of a social dialogue.

Apparently my arguments did not convince him. The ACV/CSC wanted no more contacts with Belgian politicians who played a role on European level. When later on also cooperation between WCL and EZA (Europäisch Zentrum Arbeitnehmer - European Center for Workers), which offers European subsidies for European seminars for workers, was blocked by the WCL President, it became clear to me that the WCL was cut off from every kind of political and financial support of the European Union. About why I had no idea. In the case of EZA this was very special and certainly remarkable because at that time CNV former General Secretary Arie Hordijk, a staunch ally of the WCL, was elected chairman of the EZA. Moreover, the ACW (the general Christian workers association of which ACV / CSC is the main organization) was a member of EZA and as such represented in the Executive Committee of EZA.

Why then this blockade? Had it something to do with my position at the WCL? Indeed, the ACV/ CSC had voted against my appointment to WCL Confederal Secretary on the WCL Executive Committee meeting in Gdansk, Poland (1991). Or was it possible that the ACV had made (secret) agreements about EZA and Europe with the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC)? It was well known that the ETUC opposed strongly the EZA, because in their view EZA received European subsidies that belonged to the ETUC. Or was it a political conflict because EZA was founded by Christian Democrats and as such was supported by the European Christian Democratic Party (EPP of which Leo Tindemans was an important member) while the ETUC majority was socialist oriented?Or was it possible that the ACV / CSC was blackmailed by ETUC that once the WCL would dare to interfere in European politics, Willy Peirens would lose his position as one of the directors of the ETUC?

Even more remarkable is that with the arrival of Willy Thys as Secretary General of the WCL, suddenly collaboration with the EZA was possible. Why this radical change in policy? That question was never answered. Maybe that once will be written also this chapter of the WCL history.