2nd IndustriAll-Europe Congress - Speech by Luca Visentini

Industri-All Europe Congress

Speech by Luca Visentini, ETUC General Secretary, at 2nd IndustriAll-Europe Congress 

Madrid, 7-9 June 2016


Dear comrades and friends of IndustriAll Europe,

I’m very honoured to participate in your congress today, and to bring you greetings and solidarity from the European Trade Union Confederation.

Europe is facing a very challenging time.

After almost 8 years of economic crisis, we see very weak recovery, low to non-existent growth – unemployment is still unacceptably high – and youth unemployment is a scandal – over 40% in Spain and Greece. 

The biggest growth we see is in inequality, poverty and populism.  


European and national Governments seem unable to act.

Austerity marches on and structural reforms make workers and the poor pay the price of the crisis.

Wages and workers’ protections have been cut, social and trade union rights attacked.

Collective bargaining has been undermined, through decentralisation and deregulation. We see more precarious work – temporary contracts, bogus self-employment.   

Many workers see no hope for the future. That is why we see the growth of populist and xenophobic political parties.


In the industry sectors which you represent, the crisis has hit harder than ever.

After decades of globalisation, with wealth and investment moving from production to finance, and with dramatic restructuring and delocalisation processes going on everywhere – the crisis arrived, and made all this even worse.

Industry, which should be at the core of the economy, the backbone without which no prosperity is possible, has been dismantled in Europe.

And despite our insistence and struggle, and some timid attempts at relaunch coming from the European Commission, European industrial sectors are still losing ground in comparison to other economic systems in the world.


We think Europe needs a new industrial strategy, in order to meet three fundamental needs we have in front of us: revitalising the European economy – addressing climate change and just transition – facing the digitalisation of production and services and its consequences on the labour market.

All this requires a vision for Europe and its industry for the next decades. A vision that’s currently lacking, and that we have the responsibility to design.

Fair and just transition, quality job creation, reinforcing and extending labour and social protection: that’s what workers need, a sound and alternative macroeconomic strategy from trade unions.


The recently published OECD Economic Outlook shows how the persistent stagnation and lack of economic growth in Europe is linked to the collapse of investment and demand.

Budget constraints due to austerity have depressed public investment everywhere, while businesses have moved their profits to financial speculation and savings, instead of investing them in the economy.

Wages and workers’ purchasing power have been dramatically cut, in the ideological belief that only via reducing labour costs Europe could gain more competitiveness in the global economy.

Against the mainstream propaganda going on in Europe about the lack of productivity (which of course is workers’ fault – from business’ point of view), OECD figures show that wages have been lagging behind productivity developments in the last 10 years in all countries.

Actually, European growth was always investment- and wage-led, with little exceptions – so blind austerity simply created more recession, deflation, unemployment and increasing inequalities in wealth distribution.

These are the reasons why we, the European trade union movement, insist on relaunching investment, as well as wage increases, as the only way out of the crisis.


The ETUC has launched clear and strong initiatives on this.

We launched an ambitious investment plan, called ‘A New Path for Europe’.

We are going to implement it now, and also to frame it in a broader and more ambitious initiative.  In fact, we are discussing with the American trade unions the launch of a ‘Global New Deal’ on the same lines: boosting sustainable economic recovery through investment and internal demand.

In fact, there can be no sustainable growth and quality job creation without investment. Public investment is necessary, also to mobilise private investment.


The new European Commission has launched its own proposal for investment, the so-called ‘Juncker Plan’.

This is a positive signal, and it has been influenced by our proposals.

But it is not enough. It needs to be better funded by public resources, and better targeted on countries and sectors.

So we need to keep making the case for more and better investment.

We need to call for flexibility in the Stability and Growth Pact, allowing all EU member states to increase public spending to create economic recovery.

Again the OECD Economic Outlook shows that more public expenditure of 0.5% GDP a year, creates a 0.6% GDP increase and a 0.4% decrease in public debt stock.

Public investment doesn’t boost the debt burden, but on the contrary it’s the only tool to restore the economy and social cohesion, to create quality jobs and reduce unemployment.


To achieve all this, it’s clear that public investment has to go to the right goals.

Hard and soft infrastructures, industry policy, innovation and research, the green and digital economy, education and training, just transition with jobs and skills transformation: these are the elements that define sustainable growth.

This kind of public expenditure can also help companies to invest, to boost their competitiveness and to face the major challenges in the global economy.


But to achieve sustainable growth, investment is not enough.

70% of European products remain in Europe and go to European consumers.

If we want workers to buy those products, they need to have the money to do so.

Consumption has collapsed in Europe because of wage cuts and dismantling of collective bargaining, and we are stuck in a deflationary, jobless recovery.

That’s why the ETUC – has decided to launch a campaign “Europe needs a pay-rise”!

A pay rise is necessary for recovery, for social justice and to tackle inequality.

It is also an engine to drive growth: by boosting workers’ purchasing power, by supporting productivity and competitiveness.


It’s clear that the only tools we have in our hands to increase wages are collective bargaining, and minimum wage mechanisms where collective bargaining is still weak.

Collective bargaining has to be relaunched and strengthened in each country and at every level.

It has to be done first of all at national sectoral level. National collective agreements are the most robust tool trade unions have to support the economy, to protect workers, and to increase their membership.

Beside this, collective bargaining in companies is also fully relevant, to adapt wage dynamics and labour protection to the specific needs of local businesses.

And company level negotiations are of increasing importance in the cross border and transnational dimension too, to enable workers in multinational enterprises to enjoy similar and equal working conditions and rights everywhere.


You know how supportive we are at the ETUC of the extraordinary efforts you at IndustriAll have made in recent years to frame TCAs in a positive and progressive environment – and you know we are doing our best to accompany this process at EU level with appropriate rules.

We also need similar rules to reinforce collective bargaining where it has been attacked or dismantled – to establish collective bargaining institutions where they don’t exist – and to reinforce and increase minimum wages where our trade unions wish them.

We fully respect your autonomy in conducting industrial relations, and we don’t want to undermine or damage at all any well-functioning systems, like the Nordic ones.

On the contrary, we want to make sure that such systems become a benchmark for the whole of Europe, and that we can put in place European tools at the disposal of the trade unions, which can boost their capacity building for stronger industrial relations.

Our negotiating power is under attack, even in Nordic countries like Finland, and we have to act to defend it and to relaunch it – we have to imagine new ways to do it.


I concluded the ETUC Congress a few months ago in Paris by saying that our slogan must be: NEGOTIATION, NEGOTIATION, NEGOTIATION!

Negotiation to bargain higher wages and better working conditions.

Negotiation to influence economic policies, oppose austerity measures and stop unwanted reforms.

Negotiation to defend the European social model, and stop social protection systems from being dismantled and privatised.

As you perfectly know, collective bargaining is the core business of the trade unions.

And we have to fight together to defend it and spread it as much as possible in Europe.


In this context, we and our American trade union colleagues in the AFL-CIO are alarmed by the direction of the TTIP trade talks. We have consistently demanded that the agreement must not include a private justice system for foreign investors, or obstacles to regulation in the public interest. We have called for enforceable labour rights, and the protection of public services and the environment.

Trade unions on both sides of the Atlantic will step up their campaign for an agreement that benefits working people in the EU and US.

In the same spirit, the ETUC is strengthening its cooperation with trade unions in all the other areas of the world where the EU is negotiating trade agreements, to make sure that workers’ rights, industrial relations and jobs are protected. This includes Canada, Japan and Mercosur, but also multilateral negotiations like the one linked to TISA.

And the ETUC is also pressing the Commission not to grant market economy status to China, as this could put several million European jobs at risk.


Governments and the European Union must understand one thing – our European social model is not a burden to competitiveness and productivity.

Strong unions mean better industrial relations, better social dialogue and better economic performance.

Even international institutions like the IMF and the OECD, which are not considered to be so progressive and social-oriented, recognise this.

The ETUC recently launched a campaign to defend trade union rights in Europe, the right to strike, the right to freely join a union, the right to negotiate.

These rights are under attack across Europe.

They are enshrined in the European Charter of Fundamental Rights, in international law and in the Constitutions of the EU member states.

Nevertheless Europe, from being the best social benchmark in the world, has become the black hole for rights in the ILO context. Such attacks are taking place in several EU countries, like here in Spain, in Finland, the UK, Belgium, France, Italy and others.

We have to show European workers they are not alone.

We are gaining the support of European Parliamentarians who have signed pledges to defend trade union rights in Europe. Further steps will follow in this campaign.


But also social rights, alongside trade union rights, are at risk.

The European Commission announced a ‘new start for social dialogue’ more than one year ago, but it has had no impact.

On the contrary, the Commission refused to implement important social partner agreements (such as the hairdressers’ one, signed by UNI Europa) and also to sign the joint declaration for the relaunch of social dialogue, which cross-sectoral social partners have worked on for months, achieving major commitments and programmes for action.

Furthermore, the Commission is insisting on deregulating the EU legal framework in social fields, including health and safety, with the excuse of better regulation – which is not better at all.

Significant improvement has been achieved in the field of defining carcinogenic substances, through the revision of the related directive.

But nevertheless, we need to continue struggling together to achieve stronger social dialogue and effective social regulation for workers.


The President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker made a promise last October in Paris: he would introduce a set of minimum social rights and set fairer social standards for upward convergence, to ensure full equal treatment at work and fight against precariousness.

Already his proposal to make the posting of workers fairer has come under attack by Governments of the CEE countries that supply many of the posted workers, with the unwanted support of Denmark.

It is scandalous that these governments want to exploit their own workers to get a so-called competitive advantage by offering cheap labour.

We call on President Juncker and Commissioner Thyssen to continue with their proposal for a revision of the Posting of Workers Directive.

We call on you to join us in this appeal.


Together, we need to build more European solidarity.

What is happening with refugees, migrants, to free movement of workers and the Schengen Treaty, the awful agreement with the United Kingdom to avoid Brexit, all this is going in the opposite and wrong direction.

We all are ashamed of the agreement to pay Turkey to keep refugees out of Europe.

The ETUC has developed a series of actions in recent years to address the problems of refugees and migrants.

We lobby strongly for a decent, humane European agenda for migration and to address the refugee emergency.

Europe must work together to ensure integration, inclusion and equal treatment for migrants; to prevent exploitation and discrimination against migrants in the labour market and society; and ensure protection and decent public services for local communities, local workers and migrants together.

We have the responsibility to explain to politicians, to citizens, but also to our members, that migrants and refugees are not an enemy.

Their contribution to our economy, society and welfare systems is double what they get back in terms of benefits. And they help us in tackling the demographic challenge Europe is facing.

But all this can happen only if integration and full equal treatment are ensured.

The role of social partners, and particularly trade unions, in integration is fundamental. But we have also to invest in the pedagogic role we can have in spreading a different narrative, and defeating populism and xenophobia.


Europe is at a turning point.

Either it changes its strategies for the economy, for social standards and rights, for the refugee crisis; or it will collapse and we will go back to the Europe of Nations. We risk losing the political cooperation that has underpinned peace in Europe. 

Many European citizens now doubt European integration, and many trade union members doubt European trade union cooperation.

Together we must make the case for a stronger and better Europe, another Europe, for citizens, workers and ordinary people.

We need a strong trade union movement, to defend workers at the EU and international levels.

Only in this way can we make a difference in European policy and legislation, can we negotiate with multinational companies, can we address cross-border challenges.


After the Paris Congress we have been discussing and reflecting on how to strengthen, relaunch and renew the European trade union movement.

We need to move with the times, to cope with new issues in the economy like digitalisation and climate change.

We need to face emerging problems in the labour market, like precariousness and non-standard jobs.

We need to fight for inclusion of youngsters, elderly people, women, unemployed people, migrants. We have to make sure they are included in the labour market and society, and in trade union life.

The trade union network the ETUC and its affiliates have established to support and assist migrants and refugees, UnionMigrantNet, goes in this direction.

As does the campaign we are going to launch to protect and organise atypical workers, especially in the digital economy.


That’s what the ETUC stands for. That’s why we are working to build a renewed ETUC.

We are sure that you, IndustriAll, together with the other ETUFs, will continue to be actively part of our project for the future.

I really want to thank the colleagues, like Ulrich and Bart, who are going to leave IndustriAll, for the important work you have delivered and for the support you have given to the European trade union movement.

To you, and to the colleagues who are going to continue working at IndustriAll, as well as to the new leadership, starting with Luc, I wish all the very best and good luck.


We are looking forward to cooperating with you and to getting the results and the fruitful suggestions that will emerge from your debate.

Dear comrades and friends,

Have a very successful Congress!

The ETUC is – and always will be – on your side! 

We think Europe needs a new industrial strategy, in order to meet three fundamental needs we have in front of us: revitalising the European economy – addressing climate change and just transition – facing the digitalisation of production and services and its consequences on the labour market.
All this requires a vision for Europe and its industry for the next decades. A vision that’s currently lacking, and that we have the responsibility to design.
Fair and just transition, quality job creation, reinforcing and extending labour and social protection: that’s what workers need, a sound and alternative macroeconomic strategy from trade unions.