Yesterday I attended a meeting of the TUC’s European Network. This body is made up of representatives from various UK unions and is chaired by Owen Tutor head of the TUC’s European Union and International Relations department. I go as one of the NUJ reps and we meet around six times a year at the TUC. We receive reports on European issues and the information you can pick up is quite valuable and often ties in with my work on the European Federation of Journalist steering committee. For instance in the ‘State of Play on EU legislation’ report prepared by the TUC office in Brussels, was a section called ‘European Economic Governance’ which potentially blows apart what’s left of the concept of a social Europe and see us the workers as the one who are to pay for the economic crisis.
The report stated that on 11 January 2011, the European Commission published its Annual Growth Survey (AGS) which Member States will use as the basis for co-ordinating their economic and budgetary policies. The AGS is published as part of the new “European Semester” – a new EU vehicle for economic governance and policy coordination – which came into operation at the beginning of the year. According to the Commission, “the first Annual Growth Survey sets out clear economic priorities for the European Union in three main areas: macro-economic area, structural reforms and growth enhancing measures”. It is nothing short of a clear attack on working people making us pay for their crisis. In essence, the Commission wants Member States to: strengthen indirect taxation (well, vat has already gone up to 20% in the UK); incentivise longer working hours; increase the retirement age and further privatise pension schemes; weaken employment protection legislation; reduce direct unemployment benefits; and further liberalise the public sector.
We were told that European TUC General Secretary John Monks (he was formerly the TUC’s gen sec for taking the job years ago) wrote to the Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, saying that the document amounted to “an attack on Social Europe and was in marked contrast to the relaxed, non-interfering view on rapidly increasing levels of top pay, including bank bonuses”. The AGS is yet another aspect of the Commission’s and the EU Finance ministers’ strategy to ‘reform’ European economic governance, which is causing serious concern regarding the negative impact it will have on working conditions, trade union autonomy and the right to collective and wage bargaining.
The Commission presented its package of six legislative proposals on the new EU economic governance in September 2010. Whilst, ostensibly dealing with fiscal issues (including the reform of the Stability and Growth Pact) and emerging macroeconomic imbalances within the EU and the euro area, the proposals link macro economic imbalance with competitiveness and unit wage costs and would essentially make workers pay for the entire cost of the crisis. Additionally, they give EU Finance Ministers and the Commission’s own DG ECFIN (European Commission Economic and Financial Affairs) the ability to intervene in areas where they have no competence, including collective bargaining, labour market institutions and public services.
The European Parliament has started its consideration of this appalling package. In EU jargon, the parliament’s ECON committee (Economic and Monetary Affairs) will lead in preparing the draft reports with opinions from the EMPL committee (Employment and Social Affairs).
The European TUC wrote to both committees in December expressing trade union concerns and will closely follow progress and lobby MEPs. Meanwhile UK unions will be sent briefing papers about this further attempt to drive down job security, pay and conditions, with, I hope, a plan of action. But one thing you can do now is contact your MEP, protesting against these measures and making it clear that we will not pay for the economic crisis and that we have not forgotten the role of the banks in causing the near collapse of capatalism – nor who has bailed them out!