Building a European trade union movement - taking small steps together to make the difference

Thursday, 4 October, 2018

On Friday 28 September, workers from several elderly care homes joined a protest in Berlin against the appalling anti-union attitude of Celenus, the German subsidiary of the French multinational company Orpea. Employees of Celenus have been on strike since May over pay and conditions and the company’s sacking of trade union activists. The EPSU President, Isolde Kunkel-Weber, and I were there to express our solidarity. A representative of the French union CGT joined us on the picket line and just days before German and Belgian unions had joined a protest in front of the Orpea head office in Paris.

Multinational companies cannot get away with this kind of unscrupulous behavior, riding roughshod over the rights of the predominantly female workforce delivering care, often for very low wages. Companies like Amazon, Ryanair and Orpea are becoming synonymous with a business model in which workers are exploited and our unions attacked as part of a strategy to deliver higher profits and pay out increased dividends to shareholders. And workers are not having it. On the same day there was a European strike of workers in Ryanair after years in which the company has refused to recognise the unions and to negotiate over pay and conditions, while cutting corners over its social obligations. Together we can make the difference.

And like the courageous women I met in Berlin standing up for workers and their union, workers are also keeping up the fight in Turkey despite the repression they face there. Several leaders of our affiliates in the public sector confederation KESK face another hearing over protests and actions they organized in 2012. They are accused of being terrorists. The next hearing will be on 23 January 2019. We will work with other unions to ensure a presence. EPSU/PSI sent a message of solidarity to health workers standing trial on 28 September because they sought to organise medical assistance for the besieged citizens of the Turkish city of Cizre in 2015. On 3 October in Izmir, municipal workers staged work stoppages to demand improved pay and conditions and reinstatement of dismissed workers.  The workers are not giving up their fight for a better world. We will shortly be renewing our call for contributions to the solidarity fund of the ITUC/ETUC for support for Turkish unions’ legal actions against the unfair dismissals following the failed coup attempt in 2016.

These are all small but concrete steps in building our European trade union movement. You will also read in this newsletter about how workers in all services involved in welcoming people arriving in Europe came together in Palermo and how we join forces to ask MEPs to vote on 22nd October to establish the human right to water in EU legislation.

A strong European trade union movement is needed to confront the nationalist and extreme-right. Through our work together and through our actions we can demonstrate that there is an Alternative. The European elections next year will be an important opportunity to get workers, our families and our communities behind our view for a more Social Europe.