we send a clarion call to workers to resist the siren calls of populist and xenophobic politicians, to stand together and ensure that we emerge from this crisis united and strengthened

The horrifying images from India and elsewhere around the world make it clear that the pandemic is still a reality which is framing working people’s lives. We send our gratitude and solidarity to those on the front-line, here and abroad, fighting to save lives and ensure our collective health and well-being. We know that we will not be safe until we are all safe.

At the same time, fundamental labour rights to organise, collectively bargain and take collective action are under assault across Europe and globally. This is unacceptable and we renew our commitment to jointly fight to defend and extend these fundamental rights.

The pandemic has exposed and entrenched inequalities in our societies. Whether in relation to access to vaccines, staggering wealth inequalities or the catastrophic impact on young workers’ lives, this crisis is exposing the gaping needs for greater solidarity within and between countries.

Without concerted and coordinated government action across Europe, it is increasingly clear that the long-term damage of the pandemic is going to change many lives for the worse. Specifically, it is going to exacerbate existing inequalities, between and within countries, as the privileged buffer themselves against its pernicious effects while Europe’s most vulnerable people and regions struggle not to fall through the rapidly widening economic fractures. The pandemic has disproportionately impacted on women and those in precarious jobs or a more vulnerable labour market position. Rising inequalities, unless checked, will provide a seedbed for populism and xenophobia. Economic inequalities will increase fundamental damage to the social fabric of Europe through rising poverty in all its guises, depopulation and deindustrialisation.

Multinational companies and opportunistic governments will not hesitate to exploit and deepen divisions in their desire to drive down costs and labour standards. Brexit has been in some ways a unique political process, as no other member state has exited the EU, but in other respects it is a symptom of wider attempts to fracture and divide the unity of European workers. As a European trade union movement, we will respond to this by redoubling our efforts to deepen and strengthen solidarity and cooperation between European trade unions – the well-being of all the workers we represent depends on it.

The pandemic has accelerated existing structural changes in many industrial sectors, whether due to necessary climate action or digitalisation, whilst acting as an interrupter in others. While this undoubtedly poses a perfect storm for some, there are also potentially opportunities for innovative industrial policies to develop, which with the necessary political will could support more sustainable industrial recovery. It is ever clearer that there will be no sustainable transition or recovery without a Just Transition for the workers impacted.

The invisible hand of the market has been exposed as a myth and the need for strong industrial strategies has become a common policy objective. Notably, through our common climate action, politicians have deliberately intervened in market forces, and therefore, politicians have a direct responsibility for delivering a Just Transition and decarbonisation without deindustrialisation. Workers have a vital role in steering these policies to ensure that good industrial jobs are created, transformed and maintained.

Today, the economic recovery is visible, but it is extremely fragile. Rocketing raw materials prices and supply shortages of key components and materials threaten to damage the recovery with serious impacts on workers. Workers who last year were subject to short-time arrangements for public health reasons are now, in some cases, subject to the same arrangements because of a shortage of semi-conductors or key polymers. The case for assertive and coordinated European industrial policies has never been more urgently needed.

As last year, we are unable to celebrate International Workers’ Day in our usual ways. But over the last year, workers and our trade unions have shown extraordinary agility in adapting to the pandemic’s constraints and continuing to defend and promote workers’ rights and worker participation in our workplaces, industries and policy-making.

With just weeks until our own industriAll Europe Congress, we send a clarion call to workers to resist the siren calls of populist and xenophobic politicians, to stand together and ensure that we emerge from this crisis united and strengthened.

This too shall pass.

IndustriAll Europe position: “A new context: strengthening European trade union unity post-Brexit” (April 2021) EN, DE, FR