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Ian H. Birchall

Labour Movements in the Common Market

(September 1974)

From International Socialism (1st series), No.71, September 1974, pp.31-32.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Labour Movements in the Common Market Countries
Marguerite Bouvard
Pall Mall Press, £7.25.

THIS BOOK is short, shoddily produced, and costs over seven pounds. One may presume it is addressed to employers and aims to help them with their labour problems. They are badly served. The book is ardently pro-European, full of praise for unions that have co-operated with the Common Market, sharp in condemning those that have opposed it. Yet every time Bouvard goes beyond rhetoric to hard fact, she provides more ammunition for those who argue that workers have nothing to gain from the EEC.

The principle of upward harmonisation of working conditions in the EEC gains lip-service from politicians of all complexions. But in practice national states will not surrender their powers in this of all fields. The Rome Treaties contain no provisions for a European social policy and the European Commission has no powers to achieve upward harmonisation.

The actual achievements in this field have been very limited. The agreement signed in 1968 to harmonise the length of working time of Agricultural Wage Earners applied only to full-time workers, not to seasonal labourers, and in any case had no legal basis and so was no more than a recommendation. Though a committee of employers and trade unionists in the steel industry has been meeting every six months since 1956, at the employers’ insistence it has confined itself to collecting documentation aind made no attempt to conclude Europe-wide agreements. When the European Commission called a conference in 1962 to discuss coordination of social security systems, the national governments attended only as observers to stress that they would in no way be committed.

The most glaring failure is in the field of equal pay for women. Here Article 119 of the original Rome Treaty lays down that equal pay for women and men must be achieved. It took until 1961 for the member states to agree what the article actually meant; they then fixed 30 December 1964 as the deadline for the end of discrimination; since then the Commission has issued reports listing the gross inequalities that persist.

On trade-union co-operation in the EEC Bouvard gives an equally depressing picture. The Executive Committee of the European Trade Union Secretariat was restructured in 1967; as a result it proved too unwieldy to meet for the next two years. The Trade Union Secretariat had neither the money nor the staff to do its job properly.

Don’t buy this book; but if you’ve got a grudge against your library get them to order it.

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Last updated: 25.3.2008