How many solutions to how many crises? The European labour movement vis-à-vis the financial turmoil
Institute of Sociology University of Jena Berlin, Germany
As early as June 2008 a resolution of the European Trade Union Confederation, against the background of the growing financial and economic crisis, heavily criticised the business-as-usual attitude of every single EU institution and stated that it is "time to act together". This provokes questions about the internal unity of the European Trade Union movement itself vis-à-vis possible solutions to the crisis. As could be observed in the case of the European services directive, especially, EU enlargement has been followed by a serious East-West divide in labour politics, characterised by conflicts of interest (due to differing economic development levels) and institutional conflicts (due to postsocialist particularities). This has resulted in both low presence of CEE trade unions at the European level and in their rather passive behaviour with a view to supranational union activities. Since the current economic threats seem to be quite similar for Eastern and Western Europe, the crisis thus bears the potential to overcome such divides and develop a common labour project regarding the future of the European social model. As the paper will show, however, this requires a difficult process of rethinking and challenging long-established attitudes - especially on the part of Western labour, which, following enlargement, has been more concerned with the protection of vested rights than with the development of a pan-European labour identity. If trade unions, on the other hand, fail to establish a common reply to the crisis that is more than a simple appeal to policy-makers, the European labour movement as well as the European social model as a whole may find itself to emerge weakened from the crisis.