John Monks is the General Secretary of the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC). Two days before a new Euro-Demonstration on 9 April in Budapest, he describes for Touteleurope.eu Trade Unions opposition to the "Euro plus pact" recently adopted by member states.
Touteleurope.eu : What are the reasons of your objection to the Euro plus pact?
John Monks : We oppose the economic governance proposals that the heads of governments agreed last week in Brussels. Essentially, they put the pay, pensions and social benefits at the center of how to run the euro in the future.
Because currencies can't be devalued, the pressure will be on for pay, pensions and over-benefits to be devalued.
The adjustment from a country that has got higher labor costs than the best in Europe (which is currently Germany) will be expected if they can't improve their productivity very quickly : to cut pay and benefits.
For us, this is a major threat. The conditions got by the workers have been built up in the post-war period, and we will not give them up without fight and opposition. Our demonstrations in Brussels last week, in London, in Budapest next Saturday are really about that. We are protesting that workers are paying for the bankers' crisis. That's the truth of the matter. It's simply not acceptable, it's not fair, and I think it risks making Europe and the euro very unpopular among European citizens.
Touteleurope.eu : What is your assessment of the last ETUC demonstrations, on the 25th and 26th of March ?
J.M. : The demonstration on the 25th of March in Brussels was mainly held by Belgian unions but there were people from France, Netherlands, Germany and Luxembourg (delegations from neighboring countries), plus individuals from other countries. As there were delegations from France, Belgium… at the London demonstration on Saturday.
As for the impacts they had, as part of the general ETUC campaign… Well, I think it had some effect, it's not all pointless. For example the chancellor Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy's proposals agreed in Deauville a couple of months back now, which call for an end to indexation of pay, lower minimum wages, down the pressure on public sector pay, call for retirement at 67… these proposals have been made much vaguer. They haven't gone, but they are not so precise, not so specific.
The outcry, the outrage that greeted the Sarkozy-Merkel proposals (and it was shared by some other prime ministers and heads of government, for example M. Leterme in Belgium) had an impact. The fact that the trade unions were busy, noisy, active and engaged was important. That's a very good reason why we must continue demonstrating: to see if we can get a further weakening of these proposals. We are going to Budapest at the same time of the ECOFIN meeting. We very much need to press these issues to the Hungarian Presidency of the European Union.
So, this is a long and hard battle, and we will need to keep up as much pressure as we can in all the countries of Europe.
Touteleurope.eu : What are your proposals instead of this pact?
J.M. : There is a high degree of unity among the unions of Europe. We do need to build on that unity. The DGB and German Trade Unions are playing a very prominent part in what we are doing and are critical on restrictive government positions.
Now we go on to see if the more positive side of economic governance can begin to emerge. We believe in European economic governance. We know that if you are running a European monetary policy you need economic rules as well.
One of our proposals is about financial transaction taxes on all the speculation and deals that go on in the financial markets, a very tiny proportion of which are linked to the real world.
Secondly, we call for the European authorities to achieve Eurobonds, to help with the whole funding issue, and try and reduce the interest rates that countries like Ireland, Greece, or Portugal are paying. If Europe takes some of the burden, then the interest rates that are charged to those hard-pressed, distressed countries, could be assisted.
Thirdly, we don't rule out talking about terms and conditions of employment. But if it is about these things, then it's about executive pay, the raise in inequality, the richer getting richer, the poor poorer and the gap between the two has been widening. It is most shockingly displayed with bonuses in the banks. But other executives are also showing a very selfish and very unforgivable disinterest in the conditions ordinary workers experience, pay reductions, job losses and more precarious work.
Touteleurope.eu : What do you expect from the next demonstration in Budapest?
J.M. : I don't think one demonstration changes anything, the point for trade unions is to keep up the pressure, keep up the noise. We must show that the people are not just accepting what's going on.
We are not in North Africa, we are in democracies : we are making our voice heard and we want people to listen. We do that in several ways, one is of course by campaigning like demonstrations, and the other is more within the corridors and the meeting rooms of the Commission and the Council of Ministers, to make our views clear on what's going on.
Last week there was also the tripartite social summit, where I was arguing for policies of growth against austerity and for European efforts on economic governance for growth not just austerity, which is the direction nearly everything is in at the moment. Therefore, we are playing a full part of a normal democratic process.
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