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5 June 2008 Edition

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'Freedom' of internal market undermines workers' rights, says Dutch MEP

  • This news feature is funded by the European United Left/Nordic Green Left (GUE/NGL)

By Erik Meijer (Dutch Socialist Party MEP) and René Roovers (Advisor, Employment and Social Affairs, Dutch Socialist Party)
TRADE UNIONS and social democrats had hoped that they had defeated the Bolkestein Directive. But the neo-liberal attack on workers’ rights in the EU goes on.
We were supposed to remain in charge of our social system. Now we know better now that the European Court of Justice has handed down three judgments – in the Viking, Laval and Rüffert cases – which show that the laws of the market take precedence over workers’ rights.
The right to take collective action, the right to conclude collective agreements, and the right to a legal minimum wage: these, for us, are all ‘normal’ rights, acquired by trade unions. But they are being systematically dismantled through the Court of Justice.
It is time for us to unite in resisting this trend. Or should we reconcile ourselves to ‘big money’ calling the shots?
Internal market rules were supposed to determine our social standards. The three Court of Justice rulings are not about free and fair competition at all – they are about dismantling the European social model.
We regard the statement made by the Dutch Social Democrats in the European Parliament on 10 April as weak and ambiguous. They think they can counter the threat of social dumping by the consistent application of the Social Charter. But this strategy seems mainly to be aimed at not endangering the ‘European Constitution’.
Even the Social Democrat Commissioner Margot Wallström admits: ‘The Social Charter in the new Treaty of Lisbon will not affect the judgments of the European Court of Justice.’
If we really want to do something about the dismantling of working conditions and pay, we must first admit that something has gone fundamentally wrong. The EU does not appear to have been able to do anything about unemployment and poverty. There are 17 million to 20 million people unemployed, 70 million Europeans are living in poverty, a third of workers are in jobs which pay poverty wages. The differences between rich and poor are getting bigger, not smaller. That is the result of the constant pressure on public services – which are played off against each other by the ‘free’ movement of workers – and of the desire to ‘modernise’ social security.
The new ‘Lisbon Strategy’ talks about ‘flexicurity’, which is just another term for ‘greater risk of dismissal’.
A former Dutch MP recently highlighted the risk of the disappearance of a stable middle and working class. However, this reality is not getting through to the European Parliament’s political elite here in Brussels.
This is a parliament which has allowed itself to be deprived once again of the few teeth it had: in drafting the employment directives, which are the basis for discussion of the right of dismissal, and where we could have really made a difference in pushing for a social agenda even democratic decision-making has been abandoned. In March, the European Council decided to leave everything as it is. In May, Parliament will be too late to change this decision.
We must unite in resistance and show our solidarity. We want the Treaty of Lisbon to be strengthened by a Social Progress Clause, a provision going further than the current Social Charter.
We want a rule which stipulates clearly that the freedoms of the internal market are subordinate to fundamental social rights, and not vice-versa. To attain this goal, the ratification of the Lisbon Treaty must be postponed.
If this does not happen, then maybe the Irish will vote against the EU Constitution in their referendum on 12 June. In that case, we are behind the Irish!


An Phoblacht Magazine


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