THOUSANDS of workers marched to the European Parliament in opposition to the infamous Bolkestein Directive, to lobby a four-day debate of MEPs, in Strasbourg yesterday.
The Directive, tabled by the European Commission (EC) in January 2004, proposes a ‘free market’ in services throughout the European Union (EU).
The services it covers are not only retailing, tourism and construction, but public services, like healthcare, postal services, water, environmental and waste services, energy supplies, transport, telecommunications, and social services.
Services account for about 56 per cent of the EU’s GDP and provide 70 per cent of employment. The potential for profits for the multinational corporations and the European bankers and monopolists is huge.
The EC’s stated aim is to liberalise cross-border supply of services, creating a single market across the EU and eliminating the so-called ‘barriers’ between states. The EU leaders want to drive their free market bulldozer through health and safety controls, and qualifications standards.
Not only is the Bolkestein Directive a license for prospective privateers – multinational corporations desperate to get their hands on lucrative state-funded public services, like the National Health Service, education and local council services in Britain – it is also a charter for cheap-labour right across the European service sector.
The most infamous part of this Directive is the hated Country of Origin Principle (CoOP). This states that service providers will only be subject to the laws and conditions applying in the country where they have their headquarters.
It means that a company can set up in any state, choosing one with the lowest wages, the most lax safety conditions and the lowest qualifications standards, and take over services in a high-wage country and impose low wages there. This will all be legal!
The CoOP does nothing to improve the wages and conditions of workers in eastern Europe and is to be used as a battering ram against trade union rates of pay in countries like Germany, France and Britain.
This is what brought thousands of trade unionists together on the streets of Strasbourg, under the banner of the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) yesterday. There were delegations and leaders from as far afield as Britain, Ireland, Germany and France.
From Britain, the GMB trade union had a delegation headed by Kathleen Walker. She said: ‘Trade unions in Europe have had to use people power to extract the teeth of this legislation tooth by tooth, sector by sector . . . We will not allow our hard won rights at work to be taken off us.’
Bernard Thibault, General Secretary of France’s biggest trade union federation, the Confédération Général du Travail (CGT), was there at the head of a big delegation. The CGT declared: ‘It is time to change the Directive. Europe, it is us!’
Ireland’s largest union, SIPTU, took part in the march and lobby. Its President Jack O’Connor said: ‘If the Directive is voted through the European Parliament in its original form, it will be little more than a blank cheque for exploiting workers and ripping off consumers . . .’ He called for amendments to the CoOP.
The Bolkestein Directive spells out the bankers’ and monopolists’ EU agenda – the privatisation of public services and the smashing of workers’ trade union rates of pay and rights.
The anger and determination to fight the EU’s dictates was clear on the streets of Strasbourg.
But workers must understand that the EU is not ‘us’ as Thibault suggests, it is them, it is a creature of the ruling European capitalist class. The EC is not about to concede changes and amendments to the Directive as the British and Irish union leaders suggested, it is necessary for the bosses.
The way forward for workers in all the countries of Europe is through a fight to smash the EU, to organise to defeat the capitalist governments of Europe, and go forward to workers’ power to create a Socialist United States of Europe.
In the course of this struggle a new revolutionary leadership must be forged in every European country in a fight against the reformist trade union bureaucrats and politicians who collaborate with the bosses’ EU.
Workers must build parties of the Trotskyist International Committee of the Fourth International (ICFI), like the Workers Revolutionary Party (WRP) in Britain, to organise their fight for the European Socialist Revolution.