By the Parti Revolutionnaire Communistes

June 2023  (Bulletin N°36 juin 2023)


The ETUC (European Trade Union Confederation) congress was held in Berlin last week from Tuesday 23 to Friday 26 May.

This is an opportunity for the Revolutionary Communist Party [Parti Revolutionnaire Communistes] to talk a little about this structure, which is more like an official body of the European Union than a union of trade unions, whether they be social democrats or class-oriented.

Let us first note that the ETUC, which is officially financed by the EU, held its congress a few months after the Qatargate scandal (1) in which its then general secretary played a leading role, but the ETUC does not say a word about this scandal. And of course, this body cannot say a word because its existence is closely linked to the support of business groups, imperialist organizations and governments.

The aims of the ETUC

It is no secret that the ETUC does not fight capitalism. Nor is its aim the satisfaction of workers’ demands. On the organization’s website, in preparation for the congress, this goal was defined: “European trade union leaders will discuss trade union demands and priorities for four days to ensure a fair deal for workers. “

So that’s the word out, but what is a “fair deal for workers”? It’s social compromise, it’s shared sacrifices, where the bosses and the capitalists make their own way and where the workers aren’t too badly offended.

The workers in struggle today do not want a “fair agreement”, they produce the wealth that the capitalists monopolize, they want, according to Olivier Mateu’s formula, “to take everything back from them.”

The General Secretary of the ETUC, Esther Lynch of Ireland, from which she came, brought a message on the occasion of the first of May, supposedly supporting the fight against the Macron pension reform. The title of her message is hardly surprising: “Together for a fair deal for workers”, which means: “Together for a fair treatment for workers” .

And she had the opportunity to clarify her thoughts during an interview with the journalist of the “Dernières Nouvelles d’Alsace”, who questioned her during the Parisian demonstration. She indicated: “I am here to bring the solidarity of over 50 million European workers. The workers know that today we have to stick together, in the face of one of the first austerity measures imposed in Europe. It is not up to the workers to pay for this crisis.”

But this same Esther Lynch was full of appropriate replies to the journalist that, in her country, the legal retirement age is already at 67 years. But come on, it’s not the same, in Ireland there have been a lot of meetings, commissions, in short, a lot of social dialogue. Translation: the government did not pass “pension reform” by force, the unions went to bed and endorsed the anti-social measure. Clearly the problem is not the postponement of the retirement age but the way to get there…

We have already written it several times, social dialogue is negotiation without a struggle, without a balance of power, it is class collaboration. And the ETUC is indeed a class-collaboration organization.

As proof, Esther Lynch transformed the proceedings of the congress into a “rostrum” for representatives of the European Commission and of the host Member State, not the least of which was imperialist Germany, with dozens of EU representatives speaking. Among these, the most striking were the resounding interventions of the European Commission’s own President, Ursula von der Leyen, the German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and the Director General of European Bosses (Business Europe).

All jointly thanked the ETUC for its valuable services to the EU and to big capital. All thanked the ETUC for promoting “social dialogues” and the logic of “class cooperation”.

All, through the ETUC Congress, announced new anti-worker attacks by governments, capital and the EU against workers, the new era of austerity for the peoples, in order to ensure competitiveness, the growth and profits of the big capitalists. “Free trade unions are the pillars of a free and democratic society”, indicated the German Chancellor, which can be translated as “comprehensive trade unions are the pillars of capitalist society, of the exploitation of man by man.” All these enemies and exploiters of workers left with the applause of their servants, the members of the ETUC.

Worse, the speech by the President of the European Commission was celebrated with a standing ovation, the whole room rising in honor of the person directly responsible for the energy poverty of European workers, the massive inflation, the harm to workers’ rights, the freezing of our wages, the one that represents widespread corruption and submission to multinational pharmaceutical companies.

The Greek class-struggle union, PAME, which is not a member of the ETUC, comments on this as follows: “We don’t applaud the butchers of the workers! No militant worker, no militant union can accept the role of applauding the the anti-worker attack! No real trade union organization of workers can have anything to do with ETUC-type mechanisms.”

The llusions about what the ETUC is

The CGT, a union in which some class struggle organizations remain, is, alas, a member of the ETUC. Prior to the congress, on May 21, its international sector posted a brief message about the upcoming congress. One can only be surprised by the strange naivety of what it says (and other messages too) about the ETUC, which is completely out of touch with reality.

First, the CGT would be heard by the ETUC authorities. An ETUC adviser, a learned specialist elected by no one, tells us that: “The contributions of the CGT are quite expected. Our positions are carefully scrutinized in Europe in this period when action and mobilization are necessary”; the proof, continues the text, is that the secretary general of the ETUC, the Irish Esther Lynch came to demonstrate in France twice against the Macron pension reform. Her approach bears witness to a real political will. It suffices to refer to what we said above to understand what this political will is.

Second caption, there would be worker gains due to the ETUC. Credit where credit is due, let’s first give the floor to Laurent Berger, in his inaugural speech at the ETUC congress, of which he is the president: “The large-scale investment plan that is ‘Next Generation EU’, the European unemployment reinsurance mechanism “SURE” or even the common loan… are all advances for Europe and for workers that we can put in part to the credit of European trade unionism and the ETUC. ”

But, Sophie Binet, speaking for the CGT, is not outdone in her intervention: “All the European advances of the last period are the result of our struggles coordinated by the ETUC. Without the offensive protest campaigns in our various countries to demand wages that meet the needs of workers, no Minimum Wage Directive! Without the struggles of couriers, without successful challenges to bogus self-employment before national courts, there would be no draft European Directive on platform workers establishing a presumption of employment! Without the mobilization of our women’s committee, no directive on pay transparency!”.

We therefore learn that there have been “European advances” in which the ETUC has played an exemplary role. We also learn, even more surprisingly, that the ETUC coordinates the struggles from its offices in Brussels!!! What a pity that the employees are not aware of this! However, the CGT still points to some concerns. The text from the international sector wonders whether the ETUC is going to be on the offensive and propose an autonomous agenda or not in relation to the agenda of the European Union.

Sophie Binet adds a layer of this in her speech, insisting on the need to affirm an autonomous European trade union programme, without waiting for the initiatives of the institutions, in order to exert a stronger influence on the European political agenda and obtain the update the agenda of trade union concerns.

However, there is no rejection of the institutional behavior of the ETUC since the text of the international sector raises a serious question: “How to go about coordinating institutional work at European level and national and European mobilizations?” This is certainly the important question that workers are asking themselves.

Finally, the secretary-general of the CGT nevertheless points to three priorities which do not seem to be implemented for the moment by the ETUC: the need to stop the privatization movement led by the European Commission; the return of cuts in public spending (which the COVID period supposedly made disappear, typical language of the ETUC) and the use of executives as a Trojan horse to deregulate collective guarantees, for example on working time and telework. We are impatiently waiting for the ETUC to tackle these subjects head-on.

The energy transition

During the ETUC congress, there was also much discussion about one of the major concerns of the vehicles of the dominant ideology, in France as in the European Union: the so-called saving of the planet. It was Olaf Scholz who launched the affair by stating: “Today more than ever, we need strong social partners to face the challenges of the transition to come, in particular the energy transition.”

We have already mentioned this question, and without dwelling too long, we will simply mention the intervention of a CGT activist at the congress on this subject, totally representative of the stage of ingestion of the dominant ideology which characterizes certain activists of the CGT.

His introduction sets the tone: “Our framework for action marks our desire to develop a united vision of the concept of sobriety, by insisting in particular on decent work and the reduction of working hours. IPCC [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] scientists, with whom the trade union world is in contact and whose work makes it possible to measure global warming and its evolution, constantly alert decision-makers to the urgency of the ecological transition and the drastic measures necessary immediately.”

In addition to the use of the official terms of capitalist ideology such as “sobriety” or “decision makers,” there is not a quarter of a half of a doubt on the inter-state and non-scientific body that is the IPCC and its real role. And everything else is in keeping, so we learn that if it is necessary to reduce working time, it is not to live better or to hire, but to save the planet, a bit like the ISF, which can become acceptable for some, if it is for the “good cause”. Therefore, the reduction in working time can be used to “free up time to be able to implement other modes of consumption, for example. This is a suggestion for the millions of French people who only eat one meal a day.

In conclusion

On balance, we can say that the ETUC, through its congress, will have deserved well from its official bosses, the leaders of the EU and real ones, the big European capitalists. It is a congress that will go down in history for the new low reached by well-paid ETUC officials, transforming the so-called “trade union” congress into a platform for the announcement made in full congress, of new anti-worker attacks by corporate, EU and state government leaders. The ETUC shows itself more and more as a structure which, contrary to what is said, does not allow any progress in workers’ rights, does not coordinate any struggle, does not fight capitalism, but plays its role of servant of the institutions and of the Big Capital. They are just a bunch of bureaucrats adept at “social dialogue” and “fair deals”.

For the Revolutionary Communist Party, this congress revealed the deep essence of the ETUC; the workers should expect nothing from it.



(1) Qatargate: -zeles-legislate-in-the-name-of-the-interests-of-capital