Unions: EU's industrial policy 'absolutely contradictory' with austerity

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Trade unions say the European Commission's new industrial policy must be followed up with concrete actions.

The European Commission published a communication on industrial policy last week, attempting to re-launch manufacturing industry and calling fora "new industrial revolution" in Europe.

The industry is ready to lead the revolution, but it needs the right instruments, European trade unions said at a press conference Monday (15 October).

"We are glad to see that the Commission shares our view that onlya strong European industry can bring about economic recovery after years of crisis," said Ulrich Eckelmann, secretary-general of IndustriAll Europe, a trade union representing 7.1 million workers in the manufacturing, mining and energy sectors.

"However, if the European Commission sticks to its current austerity policy strategy, the goals of the flagship for industrial policy would not be reached. These two strategies would be absolutely contradictory," he stated.

The Commission's communication, titled Mission Growth: Europe at the Lead of the New Industrial Revolution, sets a new aspirational goal to increase the industry's share of EU GDP to around 20% by 2020, up from 16% currently.

The EU executive wants to promote the re-industrialisation of Europe built upon investment in innovation, better market conditions, access to finance and building human capital and skills.

Right targets, inadequate financing

IndustriAll Europe said it welcomed the new targets, but awaits adequate financing proposals.

"In order to increase industrial growth, the financing concept in the document would not be sufficient," Eckelmann said.

"Moreover, the effort of modernising Europe's industry should be accompanied by adequate employment strategies that provide for a socially just transition in cases of restructuring and reorganisation," the secretary-general said.

Eckelmann added that the current situation of the European industrial labour market, especially for young workers and recent graduates, was absolutely dramatic and completely unacceptable.

The European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) said the European industrial policy should focus on forward-looking industries, such as energy and transport, in order to achieve a green and sustainable economy.

A key element for ETUC is to have the means and resources for training to keep having a qualified workforce. "The EU must swing into action on industrial policy. European workers can no longer be content with declarations of hypothetical support for industry," said Bernadette Ségol, secretary-general at ETUC.

Positions: 

Daria Cibrario, sectoral secretary at European Federation of Food, Agriculture and Tourism Trade Unions (EFFAT), said: "EFFAT supports IndustriALL and ETUC's positions 100%, including all the positive proposals made by both Secretary Generals. As far as EFFAT is concerned, these are perfectly valid proposals. Europe's food and drinks industry is the number one employer in terms of manufacturing and workforce. It employs more than 4 million people who for more than 274,000 companies so it's a highly fragmented industry, and at the same time a very powerful one because it produces a lot of wealth and exports products."

"Jobs are threatened and job quality is threatened because SMEs are forced to compete with imports due to world trade liberalisation. A lot of cheap products a coming to Europe from other countries due to lower price production levels. We need symmetric imports agreements to be negotiated," Cibrario said.  

Oliver Rothig, the regional secretary of Uni-Europa, said: "What we can see in the crisis is that if you are a trade union member, your chance to keep your job actually is higher compared to if you are outside of the organised area. That is a very important message for everyone."

Eduardo Chagas, general-secretary at EFT (European Transport Workers' Federation) added: "At the same time as trade unions are suffering from loss of members in several countries because of unemployment, because of the restructuring there's still going on. We are also witnessing a coordinated and concentrated policy from governments in some cases and companies in other cases that segregate workers which still resist and stay at trade unions. There have been a number of cases of clear persecution of all those who are resisting and manifesting their membership at a trade union."

"The European Commission is double-speaking also with this initiative. It has said it will take measures and increase for example surveillance, as the communication outlines, and will do more to address tax issues, and at the same time we experience cuts in public service, jobs, in environmental protection agencies, in health and safety as well as in tax administrations," said Jan Willem Goudriaan, deputy general secretary at EPSU (European Federation of Public Services Union).

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