Against Viking, Laval, Ruffert, Luxemburg: cross-Europe workers' unity!

Submitted by AWL on 5 May, 2009 - 2:28

Today workers can move freely and easily across most of the European Union. That freedom is a good thing, and makes it easier to build the working-class unity across borders which was an urgent necessity even from a trade-union point of view as long ago as the beginning of the First International, in the 1860s.
But capital is agile. Capital will seek to turn our freedoms against us. In four judgements in 2007-8 the European Court of Justice (ECJ) made it easier for bosses to undermine union agreements in one country by “shipping in” or “posting” entire temporary workforces from other countries.
The Viking judgement: the ECJ ruled that industrial action by the Finnish seafarers’ union against the replacement of a Finnish crew, on Finnish wages and conditions, by an Estonian crew on lower Estonian wages and conditions, was unjustifiable because not “proportionate”.
Laval: the ECJ ruled that it was unlawful for a union to organise industrial action to win terms and conditions for “posted” workers (i.e. workers brought in from another country for a specific contract) above the legal minimum in the country they are coming into. The specific case was action by the Swedish construction union to demand a Latvian subcontractor building a school in Sweden raise wages and conditions for its Latvian workforce to the levels negotiated in Sweden. This ruling particularly affects countries where union agreements are not legally-binding deals, like Sweden and Britain, rather than those where they are legally binding, like France or Italy.
Ruffert: the ECJ ruled against the Niedersachsen state government, in Germany, which had withdrawn a building contract after it found that the (German) contractor had subcontracted to a Polish firm which brought in a Polish workforce on wages and conditions lower than the rates negotiated in Germany.
Luxemburg: the ECJ upheld a complaint by the European Commission against the Luxemburg government, which had insisted that Luxemburg conditions apply to workers “posted” to Luxemburg from outside. The ruling compels the Luxemburg government to change Luxemburg law.
These judgements mean that many groups of workers will need to fight defensive battles to protect their union agreements against undermining by “posted” workers. Beyond those defensive battles, the judgements point to the need for a united workers’ campaign across Europe for directives and legislation that will override them and guarantee to “posted” workers the benefits of collective agreements and legal protections both in their home country and in the one they are “posted” to.
For the defensive battles to be cornered into protectionist slogans like “British jobs for British workers” or nationalist cries like “No to the EU” would be potentially suicidal. Capitalism is international. That clock cannot be turned back, nor do we want it to be. Workers’ only reliable weapon to defend ourselves is unity, across borders and across differences of origin. Otherwise the bosses will be able to play off one country’s workers against another’s, and workers of one origin against workers of another.
The slogan “British Jobs for British Workers”, used in the engineering construction strikes of January-February 2009, has been picked up by the BNP and the far right to fuel hatred of foreign workers and immigrants. If it spreads, this slogan will become a weapon to divide workers, setting longer-settled workers against the maybe two million migrant workers who are a major part of today's “British” working class — and maybe also against workers born in this country whom the sloganisers consider not “British” enough because of their religion or the colour of their skin. Only the bosses can gain from such divisions.
Workers must direct our anger — and our demands — against the bosses and their governments, not against fellow workers.

Add new comment

This website uses cookies, you can find out more and set your preferences here.
By continuing to use this website, you agree to our Privacy Policy and Terms & Conditions.