By Taylor, Robert
New Statesman (1996) , Vol. 132, No. 4636
The antics of anti-globalisation protesters, rather than traditional labour movements celebrating workers in struggle, may capture the May Day headlines nowadays. But all is not quite as it may seem. Over the next few weeks in Europe, we are likely to see evidence that the unions are back in a militant mood after years of defeat and decline. In Germany, organised labour is mobilising against Chancellor Gerhard Schroder's economic reforms; Italian unions are the main resistance to Silvio Berlusconi's efforts to deregulate the labour market; in France and even in comfortable, consensual Austria, the unions are uniting against the governments' plans to scale back state pension commitments. But the most significant event in labour's calendar for May will be the tenth congress of the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) in Prague. Until now, the 30-year-old ETUC -- which represents 60 million workers in 34 countries -- has seemed to be lust a behind-the-scenes lobby haunting the corridors of the European Com mission in Brussels. But now it finds itself almost alone as an effective defender of the "European social model".
At Prague, John Monks of the British TUG will take over from the ebullient Italian Emilio Gabaglio as the next general secretary. Anew ETUC manifesto will be launched, calling for a European social and political union that goes beyond the single currency and single market. It endorses high welfare state spending, collective bargaining, more redistributive taxation, strong unions, and public services free from private control.
Many in the ETUC believe Tony Blair and new Labour want to write the unions out of the European modernisation agenda. Peter Hain, as the voice of the British government to the EU's constitutional commission, is required to try to water down any warm words about equality, social dialogue and partnership in the preamble to the EU draft constitution. In public, not even new Labour can argue openly against workers' rights and social justice. But with Roger Liddle from the Downing Street Policy Unit in close attendance, Ham has to watch his step.
To the chagrin of the British, the ETUC can rely on the European employer bodies to back social dialogue; even many rightwing parties are positive about the role of the unions. But despite their differences over Iraq, Blair got support from Schroder and the French president, Jacques Chirac, for his vision of a more employer-friendly Europe. …