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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: En finir avec les salaries low-cost

by Jacqueline Sellem

Low-Cost Wages in Europe : Enough !

Translated Thursday 3 April 2008, by Isabelle Métral

Motor Car Industry: Christian Pilichowski, of the French General Labour Confederacy (CGT) Metal-Workers, who has just met Dacia auto workers in Poland: to him, it is clear that when workers’ actions converge, the struggle for social rights in the EU gets boosted.

The motor car industry, which has been number one for relocating plants, is now confronted with rising demands on several East European sites. And as competition gives way to solidarity, the European Labour Confederacy (ETUC) launches an offensive over wages by calling a demonstration on April 5.

Spearheading the struggle is the Dacia Auto plant taken over by Renault in Romania to produce the low-cost Logan model whose soaring sales are now boosting the group’s trade. The struggle of Dacia workers at the Pitesi-Mioveni plant, who have been on strike for over a week, has fueled the solidarity of Renault workers and automobile workers generally. The CGT has sent a delegation to the Polish site.

HUMA: You are just back from Romania where you delivered messages of solidarity from CGT metal workers to Dacia workers out on strike. What does the struggle of the Romanian Renault workers represent for your trade union?

PILICHOWSKI: It’s extremely important. First because wage rises are on the unions’ agenda everywhere in Europe. Productivity gains have for too long now been confiscated solely and completely by capital. Today, the question of the distribution of wealth is being raised in France, in Germany where steel workers have obtained important pay rises (slightly more than 5%), and in Romania as this strike shows right now.

Secondly, this conflict shows that social rights are at stake in the construction of Europe. Renault’s first reaction to the Dacia strike (which mobilizes a vast majority of workers), was to ask the court to pronounce it illegal. Which has so far been denied by Romanian judges.

HUMA: Renault is not just keeping wages down, but social rights too…

PILICHOWSKI: Renault has signed a collective agreement with the international federation of metal unions which takes up the norms of the International Labour Organization (ILO). Among them is the right to collective negotiation. Now the reason why Dacia workers are still on strike today is that Renault will not open negotiations. Multinationals are the spearhead of that kind of globalization against which workers in France, Romania and elsewhere are struggling. The role of a group like Renault should be on the contrary to observe workers’ fundamental social rights in all its plants no matter where they are located.

HUMA: How do Romanian workers view French workers’ support for their strike?

PILICHOWSKI: Their first reaction was extremely warm, enthusiastic even. For several years the CGT metal federation and all of the CGT generally have worked towards building up new forms of international solidarity. But words are not enough and we wanted to take the opportunity to manifest our support more substantially and to cross-fertilize our struggles in France and Romania. This solidarity has shown the need for both Romanian and French workers to put their shoulders to the task of resisting the threats of relocation the Renault group has started using in Romania. The blackmail is that if wages go up, production will be relocated in India, Russia or Morocco where a plant is now being built. Now, if wages and purchasing power rise in Europe, the Romanian market will be in a capacity to absorb a greater share of the local production.

The point is not just that the pay rise is not going to encourage relocation, but more significantly, that it will boost demand. That is what we have been debating with Romanian workers.

HUMA: The Logan production in Romania was meant to develop a market in East European countries…

PILICHOWSKI: There will be no market if purchasing power in East European countries is too low, even for that kind of low-cost model. Will low-cost cars still be made? Low-cost wages are out, that much is certain. This conflict marks a rupture. And that gives it a symbolical dimension. Logan sales are hot for two reasons: the first is that it’s a good quality car, which testifies to Romanian workers’ high qualification. Productivity in Dacia plants has soared. And so the struggle to get the pay rises due in recognition of that qualification is legitimate.

The second reason for the model’s success relates to the question of purchasing power in France. If French workers’ purchasing power was greater, they would rather buy more elaborate and costly models. So we come back to the need for solidarity over wages in France and Romania.

HUMA: Isn’t the relocation threat real enough?

PILICHOWSKI: There will be no relocation. That’s what we have been debating in the light of our previous experience and with a view to shoring up their own experience and struggle. The rate of profit on the Logan is such that even if Renault doubled the Romanian workers’ wages the profitability of the site would not be jeopardized.

HUMA: And then the workers’ qualification could not be relocated…

PILICHOWSKI: Of course not. When Renault took Dacia over, it invested to turn it into a modern plant like any that will be found in West European countries. So the workers’ qualification, which was already quite high before (most had already been working there when the plant was bought by Renault) has increased as a result of this modernization.

HUMA: What positive repercussions do you think this struggle could have elsewhere?

PILICHOWSKI: It must be viewed within the general context of today’s struggles: many of the ongoing conflicts are over wages, in France, or Germany - in quite a few European countries. They have much to do with the call for a European demonstration in Ljubljana (Slovenia) on April 5. It is the first time that the ETUC has called for an offensive demonstration to press for specific demands. So far its policy has been rather defensive, like for instance its coming out against the Bolkenstein directive. A new form of European trade union activism is emerging, which keeps in step with workers’ expectations and aspirations. New convergences can appear. The Renault CGT branch will be on the delegation that the CGT metal federation is going to send. This dynamic is good news for French, German, or Romanian workers. The social rights for which we have long been fighting in Europe can at last materialize.


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