EPSU Congress - young workers network takes center stage

Wednesday, 5 June, 2019

With many new faces the EPSU Youth network discussed the results of its youth survey in Dublin just before Congress. One conclusion is evident: unions should join young workers in their daily struggles for higher pay, improved working conditions and especially regular jobs. They bring this to the stage at Congress speaking during the first debates on how we shape the Future of Work and have an impact on the Future of Public Services.

It was a great honour for EPSU to welcome the President of Ireland who opened our Congress. It was a landmark speech.

The President said : “Let me say first that I see the role of public servants as being transformative in acting as champions for climate action, both in terms of mitigation and adaptation. Public servants have the capacity, given a real opportunity, to shape and implement policies in these spheres that will reduce the impact of climate change and enable society to adapt to the most destructive effects of a changing climate which we are already beginning to witness first hand – through, for instance, the increased severity and frequency of storms and extreme weather events”. 

European Parliament elections

Many of our debates reflect on the results of the European elections. They offer opportunities for progressive policies but the risks of nationalism and extreme right remain. Many will have woken up with mixed feelings after the results of the European Parliament elections came in. It will take time to analyse what has happened at country level and how it translates in the Parliament. While the extreme right won in Italy and Flanders, they lost in Denmark. The social democrats had good results in the Netherlands, Spain and Portugal but saw an overall decline and were wiped out in France. Green parties did well in Germany, France, Ireland, UK and in Brussels (its own constituency in Belgium) but made no headway in Central and Eastern Europe.

Some general comments:

  • For the first time in many years participation rates went up showing that for many people the direction of the EU was at stake. But some analysis indicates that many young people stayed home.
  • The two large parties of Christian Democrats and Social Democrats lost their absolute majority. A new alliance will need to be constructed most likely between these two parties and the Liberals and potentially  the Greens.
  • There is a fall out in several countries are governments and coalitions came under pressure and elections are announced.
  • The European Parliament’s majority of proEuropean Union parties is still there. A choice can be made for progressive or conservative programmes, but we’ve had the recent experience of several conservative parties getting into bed with the extreme-right and we could see this at EU level.
  • The extremeright (nationalists, fascists, ultra-conservatives…) increased their number of seats although by less than predicted. The question is whether they will be able to form a joint group as this will determine if they can have a voice in the Parliament. We do know that they will not support a Social Europe and will side with the employers’ agenda to weaken EU social policy.
  • There is also the question of how the new balance of power will determine who will take over as Commission President, Commissioners and Council President.

For us in the union movement, it is important for us to reflect on what this means for public service workers. How do we achieve our policies and our demands for a Social Europe, for public investment and public services. How do we get workers and the broader public to join us? And how do we deal with the attacks from employers that workers experience in their daily lives and the insecurities stemming from digitalisation and climate change? I believe the answer is to work together and with others more, and to be a European voice with more targeted actions who mobilises when necessary in order to get our message across.

These were questions addressed in the ETUC Congress on 21-24 May and they will be debated in our EPSU Congress this week. Newly elected  ETUC Deputy General Secretary Esther Lynch highlights ETUC’s programme for a Fairer Europe for Workers. It sets an agenda in support of democracy, trade union values and workers’ rights. Our EPSU Congress comes at a moment in which we have to take a critical look at our activities – and how in a changed setting we make progress.  One thing is clear - organising more workers in our unions will ensure that our voice will be heard. That must be our challenge for the future.