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The Commission bears a political responsibility for the Lindsey strikes
The recent social unrest and wildcat strikes at the Lindsey Oil Refinery reveal the fragility of the European social model in the wake of the recent European Court of Justice (ECJ) case-law in the Viking, Laval, Rüffert and Luxembourg cases. Indeed, the Court has clearly suggested substituting the fundamental principle of EU law of equal pay for equal work with an anti-social principle of minimum level of pay for equal work, curbing the right to strike, and exposing trade unions to legal challenges and damages when defending the interests of their members.

We have rarely witnessed a more tone-deaf political response to this development, fuelling a social crisis in addition to the current financial and economic crisis in Europe.

Indeed, the Czech Presidency has reacted by convening an EU summit dedicated to protectionism. Mikolaj Dowgielewicz, Poland’s Minister for Europe, recently poured gasoline on the fire, claiming that the forthcoming European Council meeting should be about opening up labour markets and that we should not now “weaken EU rules when it comes to the posting of workers”. Lord Mandelson, for his part, suggested that striking workers at Lindsey were displaying the “politics of xenophobia”. According to Vladimir Spidla, the European Commissioner for Employment and Social Affairs, the judgments of the ECJ do not call into question workers’ rights and EU law recognises the variety of industrial relations in the Member States.

We do not intend to respond to these politics of fear, where legitimate social claims of equality of treatment and of equal pay for equal work are consistently being smeared and branded as xenophobic and protectionist. Instead, we would invite our political leadership to go back to basics and study some of the founding principles of European integration and welfare creation. Someone has to step forward and take the political responsibility for the growing social unrest in the Member States of the European Union. In our view, the European Commission can no longer hide from its political responsibility or from the fact that it, to a large extent, has contributed to and supported the employers’ union-busting litigation before the European Courts.

Indeed, the ECJ largely followed the Commission’s submissions in the Laval Case, i.e. that any industrial action taken by trade unions to ensure equal pay for equal work would be disproportionate, in so far as it goes beyond minimum levels of pay and the hard core of the Posting of Workers’ Directive. Moreover, in Commission v. Luxembourg on social public policy provisions, the reasoning of the Court is a rather embarrassing blueprint of the Commission’s 2004 report on posting of workers.

Finally, the Commission recently slammed the door on the European Parliament’s suggestion in its Resolution of 22 October 2008 on challenges to collective agreements in the EU – adopted by a crushing majority of 474 to 106, and 93 abstentions – that the Commission should not exclude a partial review of the Posting of Workers Directive when examining the impact of the internal market on labour rights and collective bargaining.

As representatives of European Trade Union movements, we intend to hold the Commission and our elected politicians, both at national and the European level, accountable on this issue in the forthcoming elections. We believe that a strong European executive must have the political support of the Peoples of Europe. We believe in the very foundational cornerstones on which the social dimension of the European Union is built – the Spaak and the Ohlin reports from 1956 – namely that structural competition on wages should be excluded, either by national legislation, or by industrial action taken by trade unions. We believe that government and judicial interference with the freedom of collective bargaining, if it is necessary at all, should be kept to a minimum. We believe that in Europe, we compete with our skills, not with lower wages!

What the European Commission and the Heads of State of the European Union obviously fail to realise and acknowledge, is that the fragile equilibrium of the European social contract has been shattered by case-law of the ECJ.

Therefore, we are pressing all Commissioners, the President of the Commission and candidates to the European Parliament to favour the principles of equal pay for equal work and the autonomy of trade unions and of collective bargaining – including the fundamental right to strike – as the cornerstones of a Social Europe. We want candidates to elected office at the European Parliament or to the Commission to favour the reversal of the case-law of the ECJ through the revision of the Posting of Workers Directive and the inclusion of a Social Progress Protocol as an annex to the EU Treaties.

The time has come to introduce the principles of Parliamentarianism and of Representative Democracy in the European Union, when appointing the next Commission. The time has come to stand up for the principles of Social Europe. The time has come for a change in the direction of European policy, putting principles of equal treatment, as well as employment and welfare creation, in the forefront when fighting the effects of the financial, economic and social crisis.

John Monks, General Secretary of the European Trade Union Confederation
Sam Hägglund, General Secretary of the European Federation of Building and Woodworkers
Peter Scherrer, General Secretary of the European Metalworkers’ Federation
Reinhard Reibsch, General Secretary of the European Mine, Chemical and Energy Workers’ Federation
Eduardo Chagas, General Secretary of the European Transport Workers’ Federation
Patrick Itschert, General Secretary of the European Trade Union Federation: Textiles, Clothing and Leather
Harald Wiedenhofer, General Secretary of the European Federation of Food, Agriculture and Tourism Trade Unions

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