Debate on the Future and Unity of the ETUC – Oliver Roethig


Debate on the Future and Unity of the ETUC – Oliver Roethig

The European Trade Union Confederation’s midterm conference took place on 8-10 November 2021 in Lisbon. Oliver Roethig, Regional Secretary of UNI Europa, spoke at the Debate on the Future and Unity of the ETUC. The text of the speach is available below.



On our future as European trade unions, UNI Europa is single-minded. The priority is to put collective bargaining back centre stages again in industrial relations, politics and society.

Our mission at European-level is straight forward: To reinforce the collective bargaining power of national unions, especially at sectoral level. Our aim is to build a transnational environment that strengthens and promotes collective bargaining nationally. It is about us coming together to defend, expand and rebuild collective bargaining.

There are three axes to this:

  • First, bottom up, organising: building a strong membership basis that engages in collective bargaining.
  • Second, top down, influencing EU politics, in particular to provide an enabling framework for collective bargaining.
  • And third, engaging with multinational companies to create a negotiating environment for national unions.

In influencing EU politics, the ETUC is in the lead.

  • So, from the side of UNI Europa, the ETUC should, first, have as its only flag ship strengthening collective bargaining. Let’s define 3 priorities that the ETUC pushes on this in EU politics. More generally, for everything we do we should find an angle to use it for adding to the bargaining power of our unions.
  • Second, let’s limit what we spent on other issues that the EU asks us to deal with. We don’t need elaborate policies on everything. Especially, we must not be the fig leave or rather clover leave for the Commission pretending being social! That looks rather indecent for all of us.
  • Third, let’s be repetitive. Let’s talk always about collective bargaining. Let’s counter the business strategy of painting collective bargaining as old-fashioned and irrelevant. It isn’t.

Collective bargaining is workers having a real say about their working life – so that working life allows them and their families to live in dignity.

Collective bargaining is democracy at work. Democracy at work and democracy in politics are the two sides of the same coin. The basis of Europe’s success. A triple win situation for workers, business and society at large.

One concrete proposal, join us in the campaign on public procurement: “No public contract without collective agreement”.

Within 2 weeks, we had over 100 trade union leaders rallying around the campaign. That is 90% of UNI Europa’s membership. The issue hit the spot. We have now close to 100 MEP signed up.

Thanks to Esther and the ETUC, the colleagues from the ETUFs and many national unions for your support

Achieving “no public contract without collective agreement” is the lowest hanging fruit for public authorities to support collective bargaining. Yet, their political will is simply missing. Let’s change this together –  whatever it takes. Let’s put collective bargaining centre stage again.

Now a last point – more technical. Luca Visentini already said it this morning: as ETUC and ETUFs, we need to improve our coordination and do so more systematically. We made a start already after the ETUC Congress. Let’s pool resources, let’s integrate more. This will allow us to make a real difference to our unions nationally.

And to repeat again – the focus must be strengthening collective bargaining. We need a strong and united ETUC.


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