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Building union power in broader Europe

Over 80 delegates from across Europe came to Brussels, Belgium on 15 May 2019 for a productive comprehensive discussion at the Statutory European Regional Conference of IndustriALL Global Union, organized in cooperation with IndustriAll Europe, on how existing challenges are dealt with in different European and neighbouring countries and whether positive approaches could be replicated elsewhere.

All the discussions at the conference were focused around three main pillars: trade union rights and freedoms; building union power, organizing and retaining membership; and the necessity of building stronger union solidarity throughout and broader Europe.

On a broader scale, IndustriALL has organized similar discussions through its regional conferences in Latin America, Asia Pacific and MENA and the plan is now to follow up in the rest of the regions and give an update on progress in implementing IndustriALL’s Action Plan and strategic goals stemming from it.

Valter Sanches, IndustriALL Global Union general secretary opens the conference

Addressing the meeting, Valter Sanches, IndustriALL general secretary, reiterated the importance of cooperation between IndustriALL Global Union and IndustriAll Europe and the use of the strong features of both organizations to achieve important synergies in advancing trade union rights.

Luc Triangle, industriAll Europe general secretary addressing delegates of the conference

According to Kemal Özkan, IndustriALL assistant general secretary, European countries are not excluded from violations of fundamental trade union rights – on the contrary, in Eastern Europe they have alarmingly increased, although not to the same extent as in other parts of the world. Some 58 per cent of countries violated collective bargaining rights at least once, while three quarters of European countries violated the right to strike.

Kemal Ozkan, IndustriALL assistant general secretary, speaks about violations of fundamental trade union rights in Europe

ITUC PERC executive secretary, Anton Leppik presented the situation on trade union rights in the European region on the basis of the ITUC Global Rights Index. His report was complemented by IndustriALL regional secretary for CIS countries, Vadim Borisov, who paid special attention to an alarming trend that started in Belarus last year and now being used in other countries of the region, namely the attempt to criminalize trade union work through administrative and criminal procedures. He also underlined other serious attempts of government interreference in trade union internal affairs in Kazakhstan and attempts at legal restrictions on trade unions in Kyrgyzstan and Georgia. Challenges faced by unions doing organizing in Hungary and Turkey were also presented at the conference.

The delegates also discussed concrete examples of effective ways to build union power. In this regard Luc Triangle, IndustriAll Europe general secretary presented their project of “Building Trade Union Power – Our way forward”. Within the framework of this initiative IndustriAll Europe supports affiliates’ strategy to build up strong organizations, with better involvement of women, youth, white collars, and migrants and organizing new groups of workers, especially in countries and regions of Europe where trade unions are under-represented.

International solidarity in union organizing projects is extremely important. Delegates were informed of organizing projects in Russia, Ukraine and the UK. Special attention was given to two joint organizing projects of German trade union IG Metall and Hungarian union VASAS. The projects are ongoing, but have already brought positive results.

The last section of the conference focused on trade union solidarity in the face of such challenges as global trade and climate change.

Kemal Özkan introduced a new idea for leverage in international labour relations, the notion of ‘due diligence’ used by companies to show their respect to trade union, labour and human rights. IndustriALL increasingly uses it in international social and labour relations to promote and sustain cross-border social dialogue and prevent harm across all business operations and supply chains.

Luc Triangle paid attention to a growing inequality of wealth distribution between and inside the EU members states, the future of Europe questioned by different extreme right populist parties, a strong industrial policy strengthening European industry in conditions of fair trade and competition, energy policy, climate change and decarbonization and finally collective bargaining system under pressure.

Delegates of the conference

After global and European perspectives, affiliates presented their work and challenges including digitalization, climate and environmental issues and consecutive changes in industry faced in Sweden, Italy, Russia and Ukraine. Clearly, organizing and increasing the legitimacy of unions to represent their members remains the most appropriate answer to most of them, but cooperation and coordination between trade unions must be an important part in light of shrinking resources.

Delegats of the conference

Upon conclusion of the conference, Kemal Özkan, said

“Exchange of information is important and will feed our future actions. We will continue regional and country programmes in European and neighbouring countries in close cooperation with industriAll Europe at different levels on a number of issues like climate change, sustainable industry, due diligence, trade union rights and others.”

Valter Sanches said

“I congratulate all participants of this conference, which allowed us to have a very profound exchange of opinions and views among trade unions at European level. The conference allowed us to take another step to a better cooperation with industriAll Europe, confirming and setting new directions for our future mutual work.”

Photos from the conference are available on Flickr.

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