European Transport Unions Resist Privatisation and Social Dumping
Over 40 transport unions from Greece in the south to Sweden in the north gathered in London at a meeting hosted by RMT to share their experiences of the disastrous effect of right-wing, neoliberal EU legislation on their respective shipping, rail and local transport sectors.
Opening conference, RMT president Alex Gordon reported European Commission plans to establish “a single European railway area” based on EU rules demanding complete ‘liberalisation’ of the rail sector.
“The move mirrors the EU’s drive to deliver European ferry services, from the Greek islands in the Aegean to Scottish ferry services in the Clyde and Hebrides, to private-sector competition and social dumping of seafarers’ pay and conditions.
“In the bus sector, corporate takeovers sanctioned by the EU Competition Commissioner, such as the acquisition by German state railways, Deutsche Bahn (DB) of Arriva plc, are creating EU-wide transport monopolies,” he said.
He said that a deeper understanding of the EU’s transport privatisation drive was required in order to resist this real and growing threat to members’ jobs and communities and to transport networks.
Greek union PAME international secretary George Pontikos said that Greek transport was being privatised at a massive rate following demands from the EU.
“The promotion of capitalist exploitation is a key part of the EU Lisbon 2000 strategy as demanded by monopoly finance capital.
“This has increased fares, reduced safety and increased accidents and Greece has lost its sovereignty over ports, shipping, railways energy and other resources,” he said.
Swedish rail union SEKO representative Jorgen Lundstrom said that the rail network was nearly completely privatised following years of implementing EU directives, leading to huge job losses and a decline in safety.
In train traffic over half the workforce had been done away with, the number of workers in maintenance had declined by a third while train use had increased by 60 per cent.
As a result only 50 per cent of the public now had confidence in railways with four workers and one passenger losing their lives last year.
“The train fleet and infrastructure are deteriorating yet budget pressures mean all maintenance is reduced to an absolute minimum.
“This fragmentation and the experiment with the market was alleged to have meant “more money for the railway” yet what has happened is more money from the railway.
Hans-Gerd Oefinger of the German campaign group Railways From Below outlined how German state railways Deutsche Bahn was using EU liberalisation rules to build a global transport and logistics monopoly.
“DB did not buy EWS freight company to develop the freight sector in this country but to conquer the French freight market.
“DB is locked into an economic war with the French to dominate Europe and to become a global player,” he said.
He said that it was still moving towards privatisation by fragmenting the industry in Germany and outsourcing work by “sub, sub, sub-contracting” with terrible results.
Unite union representative Martin Meyer said that local bus services were also under threat across Europe as a result of EU legislation agreed in 2007 which introduces EU-wide rules on the procurement and funding of contracts for passenger transport services.
“We have seen this process in Britain since the bus industry was privatisation in 1986 – cuts in jobs, wages and services. “When buses are operated simply for profit you get lower levels of service and the development of private monopolies,” he said.
RMT national secretary Steve Todd said that he recognised the experiences of other unions with the development of social dumping in the shipping sector. “We have foreign labour employed on rates of less than £2 an hour working next to UK seafarers.
“It is not about what nationality these workers are, but that every seafarer should be on the same rate of pay in order to stamp out this race to the bottom,” he said.
EU competition rules had enforced rapid ‘liberalisation’ in the maritime ferry and deep sea sectors since 1986, with drastic consequences for seafarers’ jobs, pay and conditions of employment through widespread social dumping and abuse of cheap labour in the shipping industry. Alongside their attack on labour costs, ship-owners had enjoyed unprecedented increases in profits.
Steve outlined RMT’s campaign to stop the privatisation of key lifeline Scottish ferry routes as demanded by EU competition rules.
“We need to be working together and let them know in Brussels and Strasburg that our members do not support this social dumping and other attacks in their industry,” he said.
Cypriot shipping union Segdamelin representative Athos Eleftheriou bluntly put it that the EU was implementing neoliberal globalisation on behalf of big business.
“At the same time EU structures ensured that bigger powerful EU states like France and Germany had complete domination of smaller states in order to implement policies that benefited their interests,” he said.
In the final session RMT general secretary Bob Crow proposed a statement, which was agreed after debate and changes, outlining joint strategies to fight back against the EU’s privatisation drive.
“This is not about setting up new organisations but simply agreeing strategies and analysis which can deliver an alternative to capitalist chaos.
“The Commission is now exercising the powers it handed to itself in December 2009, marking another shift in sovereignty away from elected governments and to appointed officials acting on behalf of corporate interests.
“Our call is for public service, not private profit – for nationalisation, not privatisation and trade unionists across Europe must make common cause with transport users to roll back this fundamentally undemocratic attack,” he said.
RMT produced a pamphlet for the conference outlining the history of EU directives on the maritime and rail sector and the devastating impact they have had on the industries. Copies are available from email@example.com.