HBV opt-out prompts trade union debate on national Alliance for Jobs

At an extraordinary congress held in November 2000, the HBV commerce, banking and insurance workers' trade union decided to opt out of Germany's national tripartite Alliance for Jobs. Following the IG Medien media union, HBV was the second affiliate of the DGB confederation to take this step. However, the three largest DGB affiliates - the metalworkers' IG Metall, the chemical workers' IG BCE and the public sector workers' ÖTV - declared that they will continue to work within the Alliance.

On 20-21 November 2000, at an extraordinary congress in Magdeburg, the Commerce, Banking and Insurance Union (Gewerkschaft Handel, Banken und Versicherungen, HBV) resolved to bring its participation in the national tripartite Alliance for Jobs (DE9812286N) to an end. A great majority of the delegates at the HBV congress adopted a resolution stating that the Alliance is "no longer seen as a suitable instrument for the promotion of trade union goals." Therefore, HBV will "argue for a termination of the Alliance within the forthcoming new Unified Service Sector Trade Union (Vereinigte Dienstleistungsgewerkschaft, Ver.di) (in which HBV is participating, alongside four other unions - DE0012295N) and the German Federation of Trade Unions (Deutscher Gewerkschaftsbund, DGB), as well as in public debate."

The HBV congress stated that the "red-green" (Social Democrat-Green) coalition government that came to power in 1998 (DE9811281F) has not so far led to the hoped-for change in the policies conducted by the former conservative government. On the contrary, the HBV delegates claimed that:

  • the government's budget consolidation policy has, to a large extent, been conducted at the expense of weak groups in society such as unemployed people, welfare recipients and pensioners;
  • the government's tax reform has privileged high-income groups and large capital; and
  • the government's planned pension reform would lead to a reduction of pensions and an unequal distribution between employers' and employees' contributions to the pension fund (DE0008276F).

Against this background, the HBV congress declared that "the union's hope of having – together with the government – a greater influence on the employers for a more progressive reform policy within the framework of the national Alliance has failed." On the contrary, the union had "more and more the impression that the employers have been able to create an 'Alliance for Competitiveness' together with the government against the interest of the employees". The HBV delegates criticised in particular the Alliance's declaration on an "employment-oriented collective bargaining policy" (DE0001232F) which has, it is claimed, become an instrument for disciplining trade unions' pay policy in the 2000 collective bargaining round (DE0007270F).

HBV is the second trade union affiliated to DGB to have called for a termination of the national Alliance. In September 2000, the German Media Trade Union (IG Medien) had already decided to opt out of the Alliance (DE0010285N). However, the Public Services, Transport and Traffic Union (Gewerkschaft Öffentliche Dienste, Transport und Verkehr, ÖTV) decided to continue cooperation within the national Alliance after a controversial debate at its congress in early November 2000. The ÖTV congress adopted a resolution, stating that "the Alliance for Jobs may be a suitable instrument to influence government's policy on certain issues." However, the ÖTV resolution also stated that, "despite some positive results, the employees and trade unions could make a critical or even negative assessment of the work of the Alliance so far. The sceptical view of the Alliance was said to be reinforced by decision-making lacking transparency, an absence of strategic trade union coordination and a suspicion of agreements which might disciple unions' pay policy." Therefore, ÖTV called for a strengthening of the unions' position within the Alliance through improved coordination between the different unions and broader and more open discussions on the Alliance's topics and structures.

In a recent statement, the Mining, Chemicals and Energy Union (Industriegewerkschaft Bergbau, Chemie, Energie, IG BCE) took a much more positive view of the national Alliance for Jobs. According to IG BCE, the work of the Alliance has already shown good results which have partially contributed to the reduction of unemployment in Germany. However, IG BCE also stated that, after the trade unions have fulfilled their commitments in the recent collective bargaining round, it is now up to the employers to fulfil their commitments and to start an "employment offensive". For the near future, IG BCE sees training, as well as performance-related pay and employee financial participation, as most important issues to be dealt with in the national Alliance.

Representatives of the IG Metall metalworkers' union expressed their regret at HBV's opt-out but declared that it will continue to work within the national Alliance, since this still constitutes an important political arena for trade union policy.

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