At the head of the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) is Esther Lynch (United Kingdom, 60 years old), who before taking office in 2015 played a key role in developing union strategies in Ireland, her adopted country, where she started as a representative of the workers in the eighties.
Ask.What are the main challenges facing trade unionism in the coming years?
Answer.Particularly two: the increase in the cost of living and the consequent need of workers to obtain salary increases that allow them to stay afloat; and the irruption of new forms of work that seem to have more in common with what happened 100 years ago than with the future.
P. What are you referring to?
R.. To the ways of working that the platforms are promoting, which are characterized by fueling competition between workers, also forcing them to become self-employed to prevent them from bargaining collectively to obtain fair treatment. The reality is that unionized workers have better working conditions and higher wages.
Q.Does the emergence of remote work and the consequent loss of the feeling of belonging to a collective put the strength of unions at risk?
R.. In the same way that there are multiple technological tools that allow the employee to connect to his position from his home, there are also others that allow unions to interact with them virtually. But it doesn’t necessarily have to be that way. We are looking for formulas that encourage debate among workers, either remotely or in person. Unions have always been very innovative.
Q.How are unions preparing to not lose their strength in a context in which the employee is the one who decides where he works from?
R.. What we are currently experiencing is a resurgence of the feeling of injustice on the part of those workers who for the last decade have been observing how the benefits of their work have not resulted in an improvement in their wages and with the recent rise in prices they are feeling that pinch in their pockets. So they are taking to the streets to make it clear that enough is enough and that justice has to return. All our virtual actions must be additional to the action on the street.
Q.Do unions have real pressure to force companies to raise wages? In Spain it has not yet been achieved.
R.There are two things that are happening right now. There are companies that are using the war in Ukraine as a disguise, as a way to increase their profits. And so we have seen it with energy companies, which doubled their profits in 2022. While, at the same time, many workers cannot afford to keep a roof over their head or put a plate of food on the table. What we want is to ensure employment and income for workers. We also ask all the governments of the world to take into account the reality of what is happening and to put in place tailor-made solutions. And the best way to create and apply those solutions is through social dialogue. Which means they have to sit down with the unions and discuss what the problem is and what solution would work best to combat it. We should not be ignored in crafting these response policies.
Q.In Spain, the minimum wage has risen by 47% in the last five years, an achievement that would not have occurred without pressure from the unions.
R.. It is an important measure that we want to see taken throughout Europe, because we do not conceive that competition between companies is based on wage devaluation. That is why we are so interested in campaigning for the European directive on the minimum wage, which establishes that the base salary of the Member States must represent 60% of the average salary. Collective agreements are a way of returning fair wages to the economy.
Q.Are unions facing one of the biggest transformations in their history?
R.Yes. The times when unions worked best were when workers needed them most. And if we look at the current moment, workers need a change due to all the imbalances that are taking place not only in the work environment, but also in other branches such as health, education, transport or housing. All of this is creating a real need for a collective focus of workers to take hold wherever they are.
Q.Do companies like Twitter, Amazon or Google pose a threat to future job gains?
R.We are focused on fighting all kinds of anti-union activities that have grown and developed in the United States in recent years, and that we have since seen how these companies have tried to reproduce in Europe. And that is unacceptable, because the European social model does not work like that. The European social model works on the basis of social dialogue, respect for trade unions and respect for workers and the work they do. And I think the workers are clear that the best way to do it is through the union.
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