Democrat Broadsheet (Number 19)
Trade unions, the right to strike and the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights
Charter of Fundamental Rights has a chequered history and a purpose which is
not in the interests of the labour and trade union movements across the EU or
people in general. The Charter would remove long-established rights. The power
to do so would be in the hands of an
This Charter has been inserted into the proposed EU state Constitution. Article 28 of the Charter - the Right of collective bargaining and action states:-
"Workers and employers, or their respective organisations, have, in accordance with Union law and national laws and practices, the right to negotiate and conclude collective agreements at the appropriate levels and, in cases of conflicts of interest, to take collective action to defend their interests, including strike action."
It beggars simple common sense that there is an attempt by some circles in the labour movement to focus minds on this article and especially the concluding three words - including strike action. This is a callous attempt to sell a certificate of approval for the whole EU Constitution so as not to upset a largely discredited and unpopular new Labour Government.
This exercise is being carried out without any hint or regard for the dire implications for democracy, peace, the public sector, privatisation, judicial matters and human rights.
The Charter was drafted by a previous EU Convention to the EU Constitution Convention headed by former French President Giscard de'Staing. The Charter Convention was made up of the EU Commission President, representatives from Member State Governments, national parliaments and European Parliament.
The EU Charter of Fundamental Rights was solemnly agreed at the Nice EU summit which was unable to agree inclusion of this Charter in the Nice Treaty of 2001. Britain took part in the solemn agreement.
Several questions are raised by the inclusion of the EU Charter in the Constitution.
There is already in existence:-
+ The 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights. *
+ The 1950 European Convention on Human Rights **
+ The 1989 European Social Charter which became the Social Chapter of the Maastricht Treaty of 1992. Britain had an opt-out of the Social Chapter until the current Labour Government signed up to the Chapter in 1997.
EU Court of Justice
The European Union Court of Justice*** stated it wanted the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights as a guide to making judgements and for the Charter to become part of EU law and hence the judicial process.
Given both the Universal Declaration and especially the long-standing and well-tried European Convention on Human Rights, why is there any need for the EU Charter to become part of EU law and subject to the EU's own court?
On behalf of the EU the EU's own Court wants to take to itself the power to decide fundamental rights. This is instead of leaving these profound and far-reaching matters to the Court of Human Rights at the Council of Europe in Strasbourg based on the Convention of Human Rights.
Extension of EU powers
Incorporating the EU Charter into the EU Constitution will mean a huge extension of EU powers over the citizens of every Member State as most policy matters can be interpreted as having a human rights dimension. It will make the EU Court of Justice supreme over national Constitutions, the Statues at Westminster and Supreme Courts as regards all human and civil rights matters affected by EU law. The EU Court will have the power to decide the boundary between EU law and national law in human rights matters.
The role and history of this EU Court is to further the interests of the EU. This includes the European Single Market which is defined as the "free movement of capital, services, goods and people [meaning labour]". Competition is part of the ethos and thrust of the EU where big capital and jobs are exported and moved out of Britain to the extent that trade unions have forecast that manufacturing will disappear altogether.
The official "Explanation" of Article II-28 in the EU Constitution itself states that:
"The right of collective action was recognised by the European Court of Human Rights as one of the elements of trade union rights laid down by Article 11 of the European Convention of Human Rights." The "Explanation" further states:
The "limits for the exercise of collective action, including strike action, come under national laws and practices, including the question of whether it may be carried out in parallel in several Member States."
Article II-52 has to be taken into account in regard to collective action. This all-embracing Article does not lay down any specific limitations but makes clear such rights could be removed if that was considered justified: "if they are necessary and genuinely meet objectives of general interest recognised by the Union" or the need to protect the rights and freedoms of others." It would therefore be the EU Court, and not parliament at Westminster, which would have the ultimate power to determine whether or not restrictions on collective bargaining, strike action or a general strike would be permitted.
Most important of all is the principle that if a right is fundamental then it cannot and must not be removed. But Article 11-52 says precisely that. The EU Court can remove fundamental rights.
In other words there is no way around the restrictive trade union legislation according to national laws imposed by Thatcher which the current Labour Government has carried over from the previous Tory Government. Further, to go along with an EU Charter of Fundamental Rights to sell the EU Constitution to the labour and trade union movement would mean fewer rights than we have now, besides the multitude of other profound implications indicated above.
Past struggles for rights
The right to collective bargaining and to strike has to be taken by a workforce or trade union using its own resources. This goes back to the roots of our rights including the Tolpuddle Martyrs. No rights have ever been given on a plate. They have all had to be established after considerable effort and then defended. It is the labour and trade movement in the past which has fought and won many of our rights which entailed human sacrifice.
The EU Charter does not sanctify the right to strike and in fact makes clear this could be taken away in the "need to protect the rights and freedoms of others. To get rid of the Thatcher anti-trade union legislation requires extra parliamentary action in Britain by the labour and trade union movement and not reliance on laws or charters penned by elite politicians or bureaucrats in Brussels.
It is imperative that all the implications for democracy, peace and human rights including the right to strike be discussed and understood across the labour and trade union movement before coming to any conclusion about the EU Constitution. - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
* Agreed at the United Nations.
** The court for this is in Strasbourg which is part of the Council of Europe with 45 Member States.
*** This EU court is in Luxembourg . The EU has 25 Member States. This court is one of the six EU Institutions.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Report by JOHN BOYD - Secretary of the Campaign against Euro-federalism and chairman of TEAM the international alliance of euro-critical organisations.