From Sun Mar 26 08:37:10 2000
Date: Fri, 24 Mar 2000 23:11:35 -0600 (CST)
From: IGC News Desk <>
Subject: LABOUR-EUROPE: Unions Call for Equitable Distribution of Wealth
Article: 92073
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Unions Call for Equitable Distribution of Wealth

By Tito Drago, IPS, 23 March 2000

MADRID, Mar 23 (IPS)—The European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) is going before the European Union (EU) at its special summit, held Thursday and Friday in Lisbon, to demand the implementation of measures that ensure better distribution of the benefits arising from economic growth and greater respect for social and labour-related advances.

The ETUC, an umbrella for most of the unions in the EU's 15 countries, has been seconded in Madrid by Spain's two largest union centrals, the communist-leaning Workers Commissions (CC.OO.) and the pro-socialist General Union of Workers (UGT).

The text of the ETUC's demands—which was also sent to current EU president and Portugal's prime minister, Antonio Guterres—stresses that the introduction of new technologies must take place within an economic framework based on social inclusion and not just on international market competition.

The ETUC stance is in response to the goal the EU set for the Lisbon summit, which is to study the full liberalisation of three major economic sectors: telecommunications, transportation and energy.

Two prime ministers of opposing political bent, Britain's social-democrat Tony Blair and Spain's centre-right Jose Maria Aznar, agreed in a joint letter sent to Guterres that the social factor is a priority and will require new economic policies.

Aznar and Blair stressed the need to establish a calendar and deadlines for completing such economic reforms.

But they also pointed out that it is essential to combine the economic dynamic with social justice to ensure the success of the economy of knowledge so that it will provide employment and prosperity for all Europeans.

Romano Prodi, president of the European Commission, the EU's executive body, also agrees that the region cannot expect to create a wealthier society without social justice.

But these political statements run up against the wall of experts who fo cus on economic growth, the fight against inflation and the liberalisation of the employment market, which they say is to be achieved through the elimination or reduction of labour rights.

Wim Duisenberg, president of the European Central Bank (ECB), told the European Parliament Monday that he is concerned about the rising consumer prices in Spain, Ireland and Italy and called on the three countries to implement wage moderation.

Other governments, including Britain and Italy—which is headed by former communist Massimo D'Alema, will propose adopting a common policy for reducing unemployment subsidies as a way to push unemployed individuals to look for work.

Sources close to the European Commission indicated that it is essential to fight for social justice but, despite the economic bonanza, in a global economy the current European model of social protection—considered the most advanced in the world—is untenable.

Which is why the ETUC, which has 60 million workers on its rosters, is deeply worried. The EU must closely co-ordinate its structural and macro-economic policies in order to achieve full employment and economic stability, claims the union organisation.

In addition to maintaining social achievements, the region must also focus on reducing unemployment to five percent by 2005—half the current European average rate of 10 percent—though some countries, like Spain, suffer unemployment rates of over 15 percent, according to ETUC.

To do so, it is essential that employment issues are not subordinate to the major issues of economic policy, says the ETUC, which also demands that decisions taken by the BCE and Europe's economic and finance ministers must not contradict the fight against unemployment or maintaining social conquests.

The ETUC emphasises that falling inflation is a result of the decisive contribution of workers who accepted wage cuts, but now it is necessary to take on the grave problems of inequality, especially between women and men, and of social exclusion.

The federation also underscores that the leaders must value the European social model and emphasise its renovation, not cutbacks or its elimination.

The European union movement supports the development of society, of information and of knowledge (), as long as they take into account the introduction of new information technologies, labour communications, labour rights and social protection.

In short, it means promoting an economy based on social inclusion and not just on international competitiveness, for which the ETUC demands that workers be given a space to take part in the processes of structural change.

The ETUC also announced it will make its voice heard through a massive union demonstration June 19 in Oporto, Portugal, where a summit will be held to mark the end of the Portuguese presidency of the EU and to approve the resolutions under discussion this Thursday and Friday in Lisbon.