(13 May 2015) I am listening to a new version of Curtis Mayfield's “People Get Ready, A Train Is Coming”. Singer Ciara Sidine has released it to support the referendum for marriage equality (or same sex marriage) in Ireland on 22 May. The song is full of aspiration and hope. And that is the defiant reaction of UK public service union leaders to the new Conservative government in the UK, a government which even includes an equalities minister which has been openly against same sex marriage. We have the aspiration to change and fight for another society.
That struggle for another society is also inspiring German childcare workers, overwhelmingly women, who began strike action last week to get recognition and decent pay for the qualifications they bring to the job. This is an example for many other workers across Europe who face a similar struggle. On behalf of EPSU I have expressed our support to their trade union, ver.di. We all want skilled workers to look after children. This work has long been undervalued and it is time to change this. In a similar way the undervaluing of this kind of work can also be seen in the way European leaders approach the European Commission’s investment plan – the European Funds for Strategic Investment (EFSI). For them it is more about the big infrastructure projects, than investment in child- and health care. EPSU has produced research to show that such investment will reduce the gender pay gap, address income inequality and create the decent jobs that Europe needs. The EFSI should support such investment. However, according to finance and economy Commissioner Pierre Moscovici, this is not “productive” investment. This is nothing less than a smack in the face for childcare workers.
Another such affront is the Better Regulation and Refit Agenda which we expect the Commission to publish next week. Various leaks have revealed how this Commission is thinking and how it is not different from the previous one. It remains the lapdog of corporate Europe. The Better Regulation and Refit Agenda is all about delivering for business. So far there is nothing about delivering better protection against occupation diseases, for example, from which firefighters and millions of other workers would benefit. There is a lot about small and medium sized enterprises and how they should be relieved of their obligations to respect health and safety, but not how to ensure workers in such companies get better information and consultation rights.
And the real killer: the Commission will set up a Regulatory Scrutiny Board to vet new legislation. This goes in the same direction as the Regulatory Cooperation that is foreseen in the TTIP trade agreement with the US. Under this agreement new legislation would have to be considered by both the US and the EU and of course the corporations on both sides of the Atlantic. Leaked proposals on how the regulatory cooperation should work showed that it also included proposals to ensure that non-central level rules and regulations can be vetted. And there is much of that at regional, municipal but also sectoral level where sometimes unions and employers set standards. Along with the Investor State Dispute Settlement System and the lack of a decent social chapter, regulatory cooperation and the way in which it will undermine democracy is another powerful reason to say NO to both TTIP and the CETA agreement between the EU and Canada. This will be a key message for EPSU action for 23 June, Global Public Services Day. Please encourage your shop stewards and activists to take a picture in front of their workplace, office etc. showing that they work in a public services and want to keep it that way.
And this brings me back to the UK. The majority achieved by the Tories, the UK's conservative party, will bring instability to the EU as the government wants to renegotiate the Treaty. I reckon that Cameron will seek an opt-out from the social chapter as Conservative prime minister John Major did in the 1990s, reducing the UK involvement with the EU to an internal market, something which has been the dream of Tories. Add to that an internal market with the US and Canada without social chapter, and we will see further pressure on workers' rights. We will have to unite and work with the UK affiliates to prevent the Tories from denying UK workers the rights regarded as normal for the rest of Europe.
Workers are under constant attack by their employers. Examples this week include: the operator of the Ignalina nuclear power plant in Lithuania whose decommissioning process is financed by EU funds. The company is outsourcing the decontamination work and so the workers, who are exposed to radiation, will be paid less. The company is outsourcing the risks. Together with the Lithuanian energy union we approached the Commission and Parliament to question how EU funds are used. I also wrote to the private sector company OCS in the UK. It runs the Royal Parks in London. Having won the contract by underbidding its competitors it is now cutting the pay of its workers who are balloting for industrial action. Action is also being taken by workers in libraries and other municipal services in Bromley in South London who are striking against the slashing of jobs and outsourcing of services. I sent a message of solidarity to the workers who took strike action on 7 May. Further actions are planned for next week. These are some of the signs that workers and people saying we need an alternative, of the vitality of our union and social movements - A Train Is Coming.
Jan Willem Goudriaan
EPSU General Secretary