By Rachael Webb
At the end of February representatives from international road transport workers’ unions met to fight an international low wage threat. The meeting included people from Belgium, Germany, Poland, Denmark, UK and Ireland, Sweden, Latvia and Lithuania.
We met in Vilnius, Lithuania in order to plan a delegate meeting at Eastbourne T&G Centre on the 7 May. Before then there will be a series of local meetings between freight drivers to decide on our delegates and debate and discuss our strategy for fighting against the low wage threat.
The Vilnius meeting agreed five points for action:
- “Social Dumping” (the use by employers of low wage labour to undermine existing wage levels)
- Health and Safety, including the fight for a genuine 48 hour working week as opposed to the “bosses” 48 hour working week (60, 70 or 80 hours). It will also include discussion on action for the “Fatigue Kills” day of action in October all over the world.
- Dissemination and Enforcement of EU Legislation. Because the employers have more influence over governments, much EU legislation is implemented in such a way that it benefits bosses. We intend to find ways for workers to make sure their own governments implement EU legislation on workers’ behalf and that workers know and use any and every bit of legislation on our behalf.
- Social Dialogue. Building networks of trade union activists in the project countries and exchanging information.
- Developing cross border union retention and membership and establishing conventions for inter union support. This heading will include the vital need for international liaison between trade unions. In future there will be many “guest workers” in every EU country and we must establish working guidelines for their recruitment into national unions. We also agreed on the need to establish how an international freight driver who needs union backing whilst in another country obtains that help from local trades unions.
There is much to be done in order to fight for our rights for a secure job with proper pay and conditions. The delegates from Germany, UK, Sweden and Denmark were shocked to hear that in Lithuania the national minimum wage is only €145 a month, however, this is more than the Latvian NMW, which is only €100 a month! The best-paid drivers are probably Swedish drivers who get €3,000+ a month followed by the Danes with the British and Germans on about the same pay.
We learnt that the German and the Polish drivers had already begun to organise together by agreeing procedures for joint co-operation between drivers from the two nations now trade has increased between them after EU enlargement. This is the way forward, what the Polish and German drivers have been doing is what we have to plan for on a Europe wide level over the coming period.
We realised either the employers will drive down our wages to the lowest level or we fight to raise all our wages to the Swedish level, there is no other alternative.
We drivers have a lot of organising to do in order to defend existing wages and conditions and defend ourselves against the employers offensive on the “productivity” (boss speak for working longer for less wages) front. There is a point of view in some parts of our union that we can sort it all out by getting officers of our union to have nice comfy chats with people in EU and national government who can “fix” things. Nothing can be further from the truth, we will only win if we hold branch and shop level meetings and debate and discuss ways and means to achieve a united front on the issue of “social dumping”.
There is a lot of racism and national chauvinism around, the government and the employers will use it to divide us if we let them. We have to patiently explain that our strategy of solidarity with lower wage drivers from abroad is the only practical way we can achieve a proper wage and decent conditions. National “solutions” are the employers’ way, our interests, as drivers, are served by an internationalist position, but we have to have the debate in order to achieve the support and involvement of drivers.
One of the ways forward will be national stoppages on Fatigue Kills Day in October, throughout Europe, but, to use this as an example, drivers will not lose a day’s wages just because the “leaders” in our unions tell them to, we need discussion and debate to achieve anything.
Although this series of conferences is mainly European Union funded, the lower wage drivers will have difficulty in participating because of their present very low wages. One delegate from one of the former Eastern bloc countries told how they had to work, (in non-driving jobs, 20 hours a day just in order to get enough to live on. Therefore drivers in the four “richer” nations should consider ways of helping to fund the poorer drivers’ delegations and activities. This is basic trade union solidarity; we have to work on these practical difficulties in order to achieve the sort of unity we need.