CC.OO holds seventh congress

Download article in original language : ES0005286FES.DOC

Spain's CC.OO trade union confederation held its seventh congress in April 2000. The congress confirmed the strategic line that has been followed since 1996, but with the disagreement of a minority of about 30% of members. Antonio Gutiérrez, who had led the confederation for the 12 years, was succeeded as general secretary by his favoured candidate, José María Fidalgo.

The Trade Union Confederation of Workers' Commissions (Comisiones Obreras, CC.OO) held its seventh congress in Madrid on 12-15 April 2000. CC.OO is the largest trade union confederation in Spain in terms of both members (800,000) and the number of elected representatives in companies (93,501). The congress was keenly awaited, largely because it was the first political event after the defeat of the left in the general elections held on 12 March, when the conservative People's Party (Partido Popular, PP), led by Prime Minister José María Aznar, won an absolute parliamentary majority, having previously formed a minority government. In fact, the opening speech of the outgoing general secretary, Antonio Gutiérrez– attended by personalities from the whole political spectrum and many trade union leaders from Europe and the rest of the world – was highly political, stressing the need for a renewal of the left. This topic, and the personality of Mr Gutiérrez, meant that the media paid less attention to other questions of great importance discussed at the congress, which are highlighted below.

Attracting non-unionised workers

As mentioned above, CC.OO now has some 800,000 members, which marks a considerable increase over the 700,000 members recorded at the time of its last congress in 1996. However, this membership is still relatively low, considering that only 2 million of the Spain's 10 million or so employed wage-earners belong to trade unions, and that 6 million vote in the elections for company-level representatives, almost all of them standing on union lists. CC.OO now wishes to attract non-unionised workers, giving priority to workers in small companies, those in unstable employment (mostly young people and women), women, and the growing number of self-employed workers who do not have formal contracts as wage-earners but are highly dependent on the companies for which they work.

In small companies, CC.OO wishes to use its existing teams to develop regional structures for union action and to organise elections of representatives. The attempt to attract those in precarious employment is to be combined with an intensified fight for greater employment stability. With regard to women, the new general secretary, José Maria Fidalgo, stressed in his closing speech that an equality plan involving measures both inside and outside CC.OO will be drawn up. Finally, CC.OO will open its structures to allow the collective organisation of self-employed workers.

The objective of full employment

The fight for full employment has become a basic line of trade union action in the last few years. CC.OO's policy is to negotiate internal flexibility (functional mobility and flexibility in terms of hours of work, working time and workloads) in exchange for more stable jobs. It believes that greater priority should be given to the quantitative and qualitative aspects of employment than to wages, and also calls for reforms that reduce and control external flexibility (mainly temporary recruitment). However, on this topic there are two contradictions. First, the government's policy is to create employment but not to improve the nature of employment and, following the US model, it even wishes to foster liberalising measures that considerably lower the wages of certain groups. Second, within CC.OO there is disagreement between the majority, who are in favour of negotiating improvements gradually, and the minority, who feel it is necessary to apply permanent pressure in order to force the government to create more public employment and more regulation, and put pressure on employers to offer better employment conditions though greater regulation. This group within CC.OO is in favour of penalising temporary contracts, prohibiting temporary employment agencies and providing greater protection against dismissal. There is also disagreement on the topic of the 35-hour working week: the majority are in favour of achieving this through bargaining combined with legislation, while the minority wants a law to impose the 35-hour week, maintaining wages and abolishing overtime.

Regionalisation

One of the controversial questions during the congress was the role of the trade unions in a strongly regionalised political context such as that of Spain. For many years, CC.OO in Catalonia, the Basque Country and Galicia have acted on the basis of a need for a framework of industrial relations with a certain regional specificity, in order to respond to narrow nationalist tendencies. Mr Gutiérrez has now reopened a debate that was closed in CC.OO 10 years ago by stating that the "Europe of the regions" is an "invention of the multinationals". Catalan and Basque representatives have expressed strong reactions to this opinion.

A desire for strict centralism seems to be no more than nostalgia on the part of some union leaders. Most members of CC.OO seem to be in favour of a three-tier, articulated system: the regions are seen as the appropriate context for participation in a federal-type state; a single overall state framework should deal with the most essential questions; and the European framework is increasingly significant as a means of avoiding regional "dualism" and fighting the power of multinational companies.

Gender equality and health and safety

In the past 20 years the rate of female employment has risen from 28% to 38%, which indicates a certain progress in the area of equal opportunities. However, there are still enormous inequalities between men and women. Women are twice as likely to be unemployed as men and almost twice as likely to have unstable jobs. For identical jobs they are still paid considerably less, although in this area there has been some improvement. They also occupy fewer posts of responsibility and management, although they have the same educational levels. CC.OO now wishes to pay greater attention to promoting equal opportunities.

The trade unions have for some years been fighting the deterioration of health and safety conditions in Spanish companies, which have the highest accident rate in Europe (with 1,200 deaths in 1999) (ES9904215F). The CC.OO congress stressed the need for full implementation of the 1995 Law on Prevention of Labour Risks (ES9708216F) and has insisted that employers and the government must provide the means to do this, including the prosecution of companies that infringe the law (ES9907146N).

Internal differences and trade union unity

The selection of José Maria Fidalgo, a member of the existing leadership, as the only candidate for the post of general secretary, with the support of Antonio Gutiérrez, led to a dispute in CC.00 several months before the congress, because the secretary of the metalworkers' federation, Ignacio Fernández Toxo, also wished to present his candidacy and had a great deal of support. At the congress, Mr Fidalgo received 70% of the votes, but was unable to gain the support of the remaining 30% (who opposed him or abstained), who are in favour of a more radical strategy to deal with several of the problems facing Spanish workers and feel that Mr Fidalgo will continue with the policies of his predecessor.

This minority faction within CC.OO, which obtained 30% of the executive posts, failed to obtain any secretariats and will therefore not be represented in the day-to-day management of the confederation, continuing the situation which applied after the last election. This contrasts with the solution found in CC.OO's Catalan regional organisation, where the 40% minority has specific responsibilities in many areas of the management bodies. The new general secretary has promised to work for the complete integration of the minority faction, but at present the lack of integration is the cause of serious tension within the organisation. Even Mr Gutiérrez recognised that his great failure had been not to overcome this tension.

United trade union action between CC.OO and the General Workers' Confederation (Unión General de Trabajadores, UGT) has been one of the reasons for the success of the trade unions, not only in the past four years but also in the eight previous years. At the seventh CC.OO congress, the majority expressed a desire to continue with this united action, but some would like to go further, laying the foundations for real unity between the two confederations. The new general secretary mentioned this in his closing speech and indeed went one step further, predicting that the European Trade Union Confederation could become a truly European confederation of trade unions. However, there are also staunch defenders of CC.OO and UGT continuing with differentiated characteristics, reflecting different traditions and sensitivities. This may become a very important question in the years to come.

Commentary

CC.OO and the rest of Spanish trade unions are entering a decade that is quite different from the previous one in terms of both the market in which they operate and their policies. In market terms, they face a framework of economic globalisation towards which they must develop new strategies. Certain national functions must give way to European structures. However, they also face the dangers of "localism", which cannot be dealt with simply by denying regional realities, but must be included in a more global strategy that is articulated from the most general level to the most local. In this strategy, the internationalist standpoint would no longer consist merely of showing solidarity to the less favoured, but would become the social alternative to globalisation.

In terms of policy, the trade unions must obtain a new form of regulation, without which it seems impossible to avoid a sharply polarised labour market and society. Solidarity between workers no longer means just achieving better working conditions, but also obtaining employment of sufficient quality for all and public policies of support for unemployed people.

The seventh congress clearly accepted the key objective of full employment, but trade unionists of both tendencies must be aware of the difficulties that this involves. They will face opposition from the government and the employers' associations but must also deal with conflicts between workers. The workers in stable employment are those who do most overtime and more second jobs, and they benefit from the precarious situation of other workers. More and better employment will require commitments to exchange between workers who have job security and those who do not, and it will also require greater integration and more equal opportunities within the trade unions. (Fausto Miguélez. QUIT).

Useful? Interesting? Tell us what you think. Hide comments

Eurofound welcomes feedback and updates on this regulation

Add new comment