Unions join Euro-demonstration in Wrocław

Between 20,000–50,000 trade union members took part in a rally in Wroclaw, Poland on Saturday, 17 September 2011. The demonstration was organised by the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) to coincide with a meeting of European finance ministers. ETUC’s slogan was ‘Yes to European solidarity, yes to jobs and workers’ rights, no to austerity’. Union leaders stressed that fighting the economic crisis should not be used an excuse to reduce workers’ rights.

Background

The so-called ‘Euro-demonstration’, organised by The European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) took place on 17 September in Wrocław. It coincided with an informal meeting of The Economic and Financial Affairs Council (ECOFIN) also held in the city and attended by EU leaders, representatives of non-member states and, unusually for this kind of meeting, US Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner. The main topic of discussion was the debt crisis, mounting concern over Greek debt, and the actions needed to be taken by the EU. One important result was a compromise on several previously unresolved issues concerning the reform of economic governance. The agreement (28Kb MS Word doc), consisting of a legislative package of five regulations and one directive, strengthens the Stability and Growth Pact:

Four of six proposals deal with fiscal issues, including a reform of both preventive and corrective part of the Stability and Growth Pact. A new directive on requirements for budgetary frameworks will ensure that national budgetary frameworks reflect the objective of increasing fiscal discipline in the EU.

Demonstration participants

Members of almost 30 union organisations affiliated to ETUC from countries including the Czech Republic, Germany, Hungary, Lithuania, Norway, Portugal and Spain came to the rally in Wroclaw. The most heavily represented groups were from the two biggest Polish trade unions; the All-Poland Alliance of Trade Unions (OPZZ) and the Independent and Self-Governing Trade Union Solidarność (NSZZ Solidarność). The third largest trade union federation in Poland, the Trade Unions Forum (FZZ) which is not a member of ETUC, also joined the demonstration. According to police, about 20,000 people took part in the demonstration. According to the organisers there were at least 50,000 participants.

Trade union demands

The main slogan of the Euro-demonstration was: ‘Yes to European solidarity, yes to jobs and workers’ rights, no to austerity’. The ETUC General Secretary Bernadette Ségol said in a statement published on the ETUC website:

We must avoid a break-up of the euro zone, which would spark a serious social crisis. Economic governance must have the goal of improving employment and living conditions. Austerity plans have failed. The European trade unions will march in the streets of Wroclaw on 17 September to say that other choices have to be made and that we have to agree on European economic governance centred on solidarity and employment.

At a press conference before the demonstration, Piotr Duda, President of NSZZ Solidarność, said:

It cannot be that fighting the crisis becomes an excuse for fighting the man and the worker. The trade unions will never allow that.

At the end of the demonstration in Wroclaw’s Market Square, the speeches by trade union leaders strongly criticised EU economic policy. Jan Guz, President of OPZZ, said:

The European Union cannot be synonymous with pay reduction and junk employment contracts.

Piotr Duda, in his speech, agreed:

We have met in Wrocław to protest and to show the ministers of finance [that] … we want to tackle the crisis, but through development, through creation of jobs – safe jobs. We want a working people’s Europe for all citizens. Working people’s Europe – wake up!

Demonstrators wanted to give the ECOFIN members a petition setting out their demands, but on reaching the venue of the ECOFIN meeting discovered that it had already ended.

Commentary

The Euro-demonstration has probably been the biggest trade union demonstration in Poland since 1989, when communism in Poland collapsed in the face of support for Solidarność. It is worth emphasising that, in spite of its European dimension and mobilisation of trade unionists from all over Europe, the majority of participants were members of the Polish trade union federations. Nevertheless, the demonstration has demonstrated trade union solidarity throughout Europe and has also made it possible for unions to articulate their views on the European anti-crisis policy.

Marta Trawinska, Institute of Public Affairs

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