Socialist Worker

Connecting the activists across European unions

by Jane Loftus, CWU national executive committee (personal capacity)
Issue No. 1924

THE DISCUSSIONS at the European Social Forum (ESF) in London on building workplace resistance showed significant progress compared with last year’s forum in Paris.

While it would have been better to give over more time for rank and file trade unionists to contribute, real advances were made in taking steps to coordinate action across Europe.

Postal workers, for example, began to develop real links. Activists from my union, the CWU, were able to forge connections beyond those we have traditionally made.

So at a meeting on the new left in the unions there was a serious proposal to hold a Europe-wide conference of postal workers before the demonstration against neo-liberalism and privatisation in Brussels on 19 March next year called by the European TUC.

The Swedish postal service has already been liberalised. The government here plans to do the same in January 2006.

How the fight develops in Europe will depend on how successful we are in resisting privatisation.

There are also connections being made in other industries. The Unison public sector union here launched a memorandum of understanding with its counterpart in Germany, Verdi.

Such initiatives are very welcome. At the same time there was a feeling among activists at the ESF that we need to go beyond just issuing joint declarations from the top of unions.

Far-reaching coordination means we have to make links at every level of the union movement, from the rank and file upwards.

That was the sentiment not only among postal worker delegates, but among workers in the civil service and other areas too.

The offensive against civil service workers in Britain is mirrored in Europe. Other issues crying out for a coordinated response are pensions and job losses.

The day the ESF started saw a strike across public transport in Holland.

This Thursday was to see effectively a one-day general strike in the public sector in Greece.

There is an important battle at the Opel car company in Germany. The return of serious workplace confrontation is taking place whether the government is Tory or Labour.

In several sessions people described how this has major political implications. The other big theme was the need for trade unions to be fully involved in the anti-war and anti-capitalist movements.

Across Europe the idea that unions can be built and maintained by offering financial and other services to their members has been discredited.

Leaders of some unions, as well as activists, are realising it is necessary to address the political questions that have mobilised people, often young workers.

It is showing the relevance of unions to this new generation of activists that will encourage them to connect their concerns to workplace organisation.


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Sat 23 Oct 2004, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1924
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