Workers and their unions across Europe are leading the push to address the cost-of-living crisis. Prices are skyrocketing while salaries are being suppressed. Unions affiliated with UNI are responding by taking action for a fairer distribution of the burden, and of the rewards.
“The cost-of-living emergency is the result of political choices made in Downing Street. Of course, it’s hard for government to control global energy prices – but austerity, benefit cuts and attacks on unions have held our living standards back. Even now, with City bonuses rising six times faster than wages, ministers are choosing to tax working people rather than wealth.”
– Frances O’Grady, General Secretary of the TUC.
On the same day, union members in Ireland will be in the streets of Dublin for the Cost-of-Living Protest. Siptu, Mandate and CWU are backing the march and calling for government action to control prices, protect incomes and share the wealth.
In Belgium, a mass national demonstration is taking place in the capital on Monday. The trade union movement (see the CSC, FGTB and CGSLB webpages) will take to the streets of Brussels as one to call for an end to a law that suppresses wage increases. The law puts a limit on how much salaries can increase by, undermining the collective power of workers to negotiate better salaries in a time of price escalation. The UNI Europa secretariat will be present at the demonstration.
Following the money
Unions are repeatedly highlighting that corporate greed is exacerbating the hike in prices. By hiking prices above costs, many market-dominant multinational companies are continuing to register high profits for their top management and shareholders.
In the Netherlands, FNV produced a report showing that multinational shareholder profit has risen by over 500% in the past 20 years while money allocated to workers only rose by 50% in the same time. In Belgium, unions have been highlighting the hypocrisy of employers’ attempts to foil worker salary increases while in the meantime CEO income rose by 14% in 2021 alone.
“Despite the crisis, the super-rich have become even richer, as the most recent data and studies show in unison. A millionaire tax is inevitable. The reintroduction of inheritance tax in connection with inflation has also recently led WIFO to the meeting. We will continue to apply pressure on this issue as well,”
– Barbara Teiber, General Secretary of GPA.
Unite’s ‘profiteering report’ has uncovered the corporations who have profited from the crisis. It’s not workers who are pushing up inflation; it’s often their employers.
Workers should not be the ones who pay for it!https://t.co/MshxbLlW3J
— Sharon Graham (@UniteSharon) June 17, 2022
Core to the solution: strengthening collective bargaining
Collective bargaining is the main vehicle through which workers can claim higher wages. By choosing to reinforce workers’ collective say at work, governments can help to ensure that both burdens and rewards are shared.
“The law must not replace bargaining, but must dictate the rules that support bargaining,”
– Francesca Re David, General Secretary of Italy’s FIOM-CGIL (link)
Relief measures are vital now. At their core must be a rebalancing of who holds the power. Working together, workers and their unions are pushing things forward through collective bargaining. This is key to ensuring that a wealthy few cannot continue to extract record profits at the expense of working people.