Union reflections on the economic crisis

Economy This is the first in a series of reports from the Swedish Trade Union Confederation (LO) on the theme 'Trade unions and the EU'.

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During my years as President of the Swedish Trade Union Confederation, the day-to-day work of the unions has increasingly been characterised by the European cooperation. These days, not many union matters are exclusively on a national level. The situation of the Swedish labour force, both at work and in society, is affected by what is happening in the rest of the world. Consequently, our mission to protect and work in the best interests of our members is dependent on a transnational cooperation between trade unions.

In our international work, we fight for equal opportunities for every employee. However, our rights on the Swedish labour market must also be protected and reinforced. Trade union achievements and successes are not gained to last forever. The widely-known Laval case showed that we must continue to fight for our union rights and against forces that seek to turn wage-earners against each other.

Our objectives are the same

If we are to progress in our union cooperation within the EU, we need to be united with our European colleagues. A fragmented organisation is a weak organisation. The European trade union organisations face many challenges but the prospects of succeeding are good because we all share the same beliefs and ethos.

The concept of a collective agreement and recognition of a common interest extend across all borders. The global trade union movement recognises that its own terms and conditions cannot be protected if others are forced to accept lower wages for their work. We have different union traditions and strategies – but our objectives are the same. If we respect each other's differences and work for common solutions while at the same time recognising our diverse national characteristics, we will be able to grow stronger. It is a question of showing respect and being prepared to learn from each other.

This was particularly evident during my four years as President of the European Trade Union Confederation. During this period, I learned how important it is to be aware of our different national conditions. It is through an understanding of both mutual and national matters that we may find common European solutions that will strengthen the trade union movement overall.

Put citizen before market needs

In this publication, seven union leaders from Europe share their views on the European trade union work. What challenges lie ahead? How and on what issues should we cooperate? 

These contributors have all been important to me in my work as an international trade unionist. I would therefore like to pass this publication on to my successor with a special request to continue building a relationship with these seven leaders as well as with other trade union leaders in Europe. Only together can we create conditions for a Europe that puts the citizen before market needs.

Wanja Lundby-Wedin, former chairman of LO