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International employers initiative launches
Yesterday saw the merger in Brussels of three organisations to form Europe's largest trade union federation. But Robin Chater, Secretary-General of the Federation of European Employers (FedEE), warns that such mergers "only serve to give a bigger power base to militant activists who now form the core of most unions in Europe. That is why employers also need to achieve 'solidarity' - starting with a new initiative to be launched later this month. FedEE reports."
"The age of beauty pageants is far from over, at least in the corridors of Congress House, London head office for the UK's Trade Union Congress. Ever since the TUC General-Secretary, Brendan Barber, announced that he was stepping down at the end of the year, an increasing number of would-be successors have donned their best suit and found an excuse to be seen saving the world down in Great Russell Street.
Unions have come a long way from their cloth cap days and the time when a majority of industrial and public sector workers were union members. In the UK trade unionism peaked at the end of the 1970s, and although there was a brief Indian summer in the first years of the present century it proved shortlived. By 2007 even the two major UK unions, TGWU and Amicus, were forced to merge in order to cut costs.
On the European Continent mergers have also been taking place such as the creation of Verdi - Germany's largest trade union. However, in France and Spain unions have long operated under the closed wing of union confederations such as the CGT and CC-OO, which have, in turn, survived by largely dissociating themselves from their communist origins. But even with the resources of major confederations at their disposal, individual federations in Spain are finding it hard to survive and 18 CC-OO members are currently in merger talks.
This week the largest trade union Federation in Europe will be formed following the merger of the European Metalworkers Federation (EMF), the European Mine, Chemical & Energy Workers Federation (EMCEF) and the European Trade Union Federation for Textiles, Clothing & Leather (ETUF:TCL). The new European Trade Union Federation (ETUF) will become the main union body for industrial workers in Europe. It will have its head office in the same building as the ETUC in Brussels and its aim will be to target multinational companies from its improved power base to "fight for decent working conditions and secure employment."
These developments are clearly timed to exploit the vulnerability of major employers struggling to steer their way through a double dip recession. That is why a new initiative is being launched this week to provide employers across Europe with the information, approaches, strategic support and 'solidarity' they need to face up to the coming wave of industrial action. The current focus for union activism is the public sector - in response to government austerity programmes - but ideologically the natural target for trade union militancy is the multinational company.
The Standing Conference on Employment Relations, is being established by the FedEE. Membership will be open to all bone fide employers and meetings will be held on a national basis all over Europe - starting in France, the Netherlands and the UK.
Announcing the formation of SCER yesterday, Robin Chater, Secretary-General of the FedEE, warned that "as unions have lost members over the last 25 years they have increasingly fallen under the influence of their most militant activists. But the spate of union mergers in the last five years to achieve economies of scale has left many of the bigger, more powerful entities with political extremists in control. Europe is becoming the platform for employment relations and even major employers cannot hope to operate effectively alone."
17th May 2012