European Commission must keep its hands off the right to strike

7 January 2018

European Commission must keep its hands off the right to strike

By it's own account the European Commission is exceptionally socially-minded. You only have to look at the Social Pillar, the document solemnly adopted during the European Summit in Gothenburg on 17th November last year. The reality is something else: the Commission, for example, wants to restrict air traffic controllers' right to strike. Such actions, they argue, lead to delays and cancelled flights and that's bad for the economy. It's clear that Brussels is once again bowing to the employers' demands. The trade unions have started a petition to defend the right to strike. The English version is here and I urge everyone to sign it.

The controversial document in which the Commission services state that it's time we had done with all these industrial actions came out halfway through last year, but at the time attracted little attention. The Social Pillar was, on the other hand, hot news. The entire Social Pillar is, however, simply a list of nothing but general principles, though according to the Commission this will represent a break with the past and the EU is now going to become truly social. Unfortunately this isn't true.

If you look at the Commission's proposals, you'll see that the market always comes before anything else. What they write about the air traffic controllers is the umpteenth example of this: air transport is important for the market and delays can't be tolerated. To be competitive internationally, costs must be limited. Two thirds of these costs relate to labour, including that of the air traffic controllers, who must therefore work longer hours and harder. And no strikes, please: the right to strike must in the Commission's view be done away with, which would mean fewer delays and lower costs. The unions have produced a useful little video in which they undermine every one of the Commission's arguments (e.g., in reality, strikes cause just 1% of flight delays). With air traffic increasing, the controllers' work is more important than ever. But clearly it is neither the safety of passengers, nor rewarding work, but only the market that's important to the Commission - Social Pillar or no Social Pillar.

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