Europe downgrades the right to strike

26 March 2012

Europe downgrades the right to strike

In recent years workers’ right to strike has come under pressure where the strike in question is a cross-border affair. The European Court of Justice (ECJ) has, in a number of rulings, shown that it places little value on the protection of basic rights within the EU internal market. SP Euro-MP Dennis de Jong has made the European Commission aware of his concerns, while the Dutch trade union federation, the FNV, and the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) have on a number of occasions sought an explanation of these developments from the Commission, demanding that fundamental rights not be subordinated to the workings of the internal market. With an eye to crumbling public support for the single market project, Mario Monti made the same points some years ago. And indeed, how can the public and working people in particular be expected to support the internal market, if they can have no confidence that the protection of basic rights is of a higher order than purely economic motives?

By Dennis de Jong, MEP (SP), Agnes Jongerius (Chair, FNV) and Marije Cornelissen, MEP (Green Left)

The Commission promised to meet the trade unions’ objections with a regulation dubbed ‘Monti II’. This regulation has now appeared, and the Commission has chosen to make it an official ‘Regulation’. This means that the European Parliament can make no amendments to the text. Also, in contrast to a ‘Directive’, which must go through national legislative processes before it becomes law, it will be directly applicable in the member states. It is odd that a measure regarding fundamental rights within the EU should be subject to a procedure which hardly excels in democratic legitimacy. In the view of Marije Cornelissen, who is a member of the European Parliament Committee on Social Affairs and Employment, there has to be an opportunity to amend the proposal so that it protects workers’ rights.

As far as the content goes, Monti II does not address the concerns of the broad public or of working people. This is because the European Commission values the free movement (of goods, capital and labour) at least as highly as it does people’s fundamental rights. It is downgrading the right to strike, recognised as a fundamental right under several international treaties including the EU’s own Charter of Fundamental Rights, to a possible limitation on that freedom of movement. The European Commission view the right to strike as an obstacle to the internal market and for that reason wants to restrict it.

We stress that to strike is a fundamental right and note that the Netherlands has the lowest rate of strikes in the Eurozone. Of course not every strike call is sacred, and in exceptional circumstances fundamental rights may legitimately be restricted. But the question is: under what circumstances? The courts must, on a case-by-case basis, if there is a possibility that matters of such gravity are involved, determine that such a restriction on the right to strike ‘is necessary in a democratic society’. As things stand the courts in the Netherlands do this in a strict manner, but under the new Monti II proposal the courts will no longer be in a position to put the right to strike before the economic interests of the internal market. The workers’ last resource in defending their interests will thus be stripped away.

Because the European Parliament is excluded from the decision-making process in this instance, and the trade unions’ concerns have not been taken on board by the Commission, only the Dutch government can fight the undermining of our right to strike. Every EU member state enjoys the right of veto. We call upon Prime Minister Rutte to make use of it.

This opinion article first appeared, in Dutch, in the regional newspaper Het Dagblad van het Noorden, on 26th March 2012.

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