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The all-purpose cop-out of ‘anti-competitiveness’

Companies, especially since the crisis, make the case that advances in workers’ rights lessen the competitiveness of an economy. Should we believe them?

Labor protestors in Korea. rabble/Flickr. (CC 2.0 by-nc)

We spoke to Montserrat Mir Roca, Confederal Secretary of the European Trade Union Confederation, about the obstacles and potential for labour organising in Europe in the context of the contemporary economic crisis.

Penelope Kyritsis: What is the biggest obstacle for labour organising in Europe?

Montserrat Mir Roca: The biggest obstacle is the economic crisis, because it is the excuse used by governments and companies to put obstacles in front of trade unions. They argue increasing wages might be an obstacle for competitiveness.  The economic crisis and the political decisions of the governments are the biggest obstacles.

Penelope: What can governments do to protect the rights of workers?

Montserrat: Of course, they could follow the law and follow the constitutions, because a lot of constitutions include protections for workers’ rights.

The more competitive economies in Europe are the ones that do a better job at protecting workers’ rights.

Penelope: What can be done beyond law enforcement?

Montserrat: We have the instruments. In this moment in Europe we are having a discussion about how we need a more social Europe. We can see that to focus on economic objectives or economic competitiveness leads to economic inequality and poverty. In this situation, trade union rights are human rights. We need to use trade unions’ rights to tell governments that we disagree with their policies. In the last period, we have seen that regardless of whether governments are on the left or the right, they are promoting similar policies.

Penelope: Since the crisis, have you experienced or witnessed successful labour movements that weren’t impeded by the government? Is there still space for that kind of organising to take place?

Montserrat: I think yes, and now it is more important than ever to build alliances. It’s true that the density of unionisation and trade unions is not very high, but we still see that the European countries where there are more people organising and affiliated to unions are the countries that are more competitive. The more competitive economies are the ones that do a better job at protecting workers’ rights. Business needs to have a balance, where human rights are protected, so that we can create a more equal society.


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