British unions reject EU constitution

... but will Ireland's unions follow their UK counterparts

(The following artcles are based on reports in the Morning Star newspaper and material supplied by the National Platform EU Research and Information Centre, Dublin)

BRITISH TRADE unionists gathered in Brighton for the recent 2005 TUC Congress overwhelmingly rejected the "elitist, militarist, corporate and anti-democratic" EU constitution and reaffirmed their opposition to the planned Bolkesteinn directive on services.

The vote marks a significant shift towards a more critical position on the EU by the UK trade union movement.

The TUC motion (see below for full text.) was proposed by the RMT (Rail,Maritime and Transport workers) and seconded by UNISON. It was supported by the UK's "big four" unions, including the Transport and General, AMICUS and the General and Municipal Workers.

Proposing the motion, RMT general secretary Bob Crow said that a revival of the EU constitution, which has been rejected by French and Dutch voters, "would create a European superstate that backs big business efforts to privatise public services."

He said that the majority of people did not want public services to be operated by the private sector and that their future should not be controlled by "an unaccountable EU central bank".

Delegates also opposed the planned EU Bolkestein services directive, which would enable migrant workers to be paid at the poverty wage rates prevailing in their countries of origin. It was mainly the services directive that led the French left to vote against the EU constitution in May last.

The services directive would allow companies to pay workers from eastern Europe in line with average wages in their own countries, far less than the British minimum wage. Unions fear that this will trigger a "race to the bottom" for pay and conditions.

Bob Crow warned that, despite the massive rejection of the EU constitution by the people of France and Holland, parts of the unratified document are still being imposed and he rejected arguments that it championed the "European social model."

He pointed out that, while the constitution contained reference to the right to strike, this was "subject to national laws". He said: "The No votes stood up for the real social Europe."

"Every directive from the EU is a privatising directive. This is not what the people of Britain want," said Mr Crow. "They want efficient services, but they want those services under public control."

The RMT leader also condemned EU directives enforcing the "liberalisation" of essential services such as rail and the lifeline Calmac ferries in Scotland, which was recently waved through by the Scottish executive in the face of massive protests. Noting that even the Scottish Tories had called for Calmac to stay under public control, he said: "That's New Labour for you."

UNISON delegate Bob Oram told the TUC that the huge French and Dutch No votes last summer had been due to an upsurge of anger over privatisation and cuts to public services. "The EU directives are all about deregulation and liberalisation," he said.

The TUC rejected an amendment proposed by Community union secretary Michael Leahy, which sought to soften criticism of the EU and called for a period of "reflection" on the constitution rather than its rejection.

He also invoked the phantom menace of xenophobia, attempting to associate the No campaign with such right-wing parties as UKIP and the Conservatives.

The RMT leader strongly rejected these arguments, insisting: "I don't care if it's the Queen's head or the Queen's backside on my pound coins. I just want lots of them to spend." He stressed that the EU constitution is like any other document. "You look at it and ask if it takes working-class people forward. Then you decide Yes or No."

The vote denotes a marked shift towards Euroscepticism by Britain's unions, which have broadly supported all moves towards deeper EU integration since 1987, the year when former Brussels Commission president Jacques Delors wooed TUC leaders in Blackpool during Margaret Thatcher's premiership and persuaded them that laws from Brussels would improve workers' conditions.

Although some unions have had reservations about Europe in the past, they have been counterbalanced by pro-EU unions like Amicus. Even Amicus has now changed its tune and this year backed the motion to oppose any revival of the EU constitution.

Will Ireland's unions follow their UK counterparts

IN1987 after the British TUC meeting in Blackpool decided to back Commission president Jacques Delors, the Irish Congress of Trade Unions meeting in Malahide, Dublin, adopted a similar course. In 1992 the ICTU executive council decided to support the abolition of the Irish pound and the adoption of the euro without any discussion of the matter at an ICTU biennial conference or among trade union members. In 1993 the ICTU executive opposed the devaluation of the Irish pound, which ushered in the "Celtic Tiger" economy, and advocated sticking instead with the EU's Exchange Rate Mechanism. Leading SIPTU trade unionist Billy Attley said at the time that devaluing the Irish pound when it had reached the level of 110 pence sterling would be quite wrong and would usher in an era of high inflation in the Republic.

The Irish pound was subsequently devalued from 110 pence to 100 pence sterling and in subsequent years it floated down to 76 pence sterling. It had a similar massive devaluation against the dollar. This gave Irish exporters a highly competitive exchange rate in the UK and US markets with which Ireland does nearly two-thirds of its trade. The Republic growth rate doubled in the year of the 1993 devaluation and it averaged 7 per cent annually for the following eight years, the greatest boom in Ireland's economic history.

In 2001 senior officers of the ICTU told the National Forum on Europe in Dublin Castle that the ICTU executive supported an EU constitution. This was before the constitution had been adopted, while Giscard d'Estaing's convention was still drafting it, and before its final provisions were fully known. This occurred without any discussion of the constitution's contents by ICTU's affiliated unions or among Irish trade union members.

This summer's biennial ICTU conference in Belfast remitted for consideration to the ICTU executive a motion criticising the EU constitution which French and Dutch voters had recently rejected.


No. 75 EU Constitution Motion to Trades Union Congress 2005

Congress recognises the rejection of the EU Constitution by the peoples of France and the Netherlands. Congress therefore rejects the current proposed EU Constitution.

Congress is concerned that parts of the unratified EU Constitution are being imposed, including the development of an EU diplomatic service and the creation of a Defence Agency to militarise the EU further.

Congress believes that such illegal "cherry picking" of the discredited EU Constitution cannot continue without a mandate and the ratification process must be brought to an end.

Congress further rejects the increasingly neo-liberal policies emanating from Brussels. Such policies include EU directives that enforce the "liberalisation" of freight and passenger rail services across the European Union and lifeline ferry services such as Caledonian MacBrayne in Scotland.

Congress also reaffirms its opposition to the planned Directive on Services, which threatens to undermine decent public services, wages, conditions and social protection across the EU and beyond.

Congress rejects a European agenda which is elitist, militarist, corporate and anti-democratic.

Congress therefore resolves to campaign for a European and global workers' agenda which enshrines:

  1. an end to neo-liberal policies and the privatisation of public services;
  2. the democratic rights of states, democracy and freedom;
  3. the strengthening of trade union and workers rights; and
  4. international peace and solidarity, not militarism

(Proposed by the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers)

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This document was last modified by David Granville on 2005-10-05 10:53:06.
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