Patrick's blog

Katie Davis of the Royal College of Nurses (UK) on Organising Young Nurses

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

On Friday, the Congress discussed and debated trade union organising. It’s clear that to build unions for the future there must be a focus on recruitment, especially on young people. We spoke to Katie Davis, member of the student committee of the British nurses’ organisation, the Royal College of Nurses (RCN), on why it’s important for young nurses to be involved in their union.

The RCN has the advantage of being able to attract young members not only with the representation and protection of a union, but also with access to professional training and material which is very attractive to nursing students who are looking for ways to support their studies. The RCN also attracts young recruits by having a student structure that is well integrated into the workings of the union. Being in the RCN makes young nurses more aware of the political issues facing the profession, such as pay freezes and threats of privatisation.

The main challenge for nurses in the UK, according to Katie, is that they are simply not being afforded the time the need to care for their patients. In the UK, nurses have a wide base of responsibilities, so when, due to staff shortages or reorganisation, nurses do not have enough time for each patient, care is substantially effected. The RCN has met the problem head on by launching the ‘Frontline First’ and ‘Time to Care’ campaigns aimed at highlighting cuts in jobs and services and giving members a platform to raise concern in their workplaces.

Katie also highlighted the possible risk of a future skills gap in the profession, as employers are increasingly demanding master-level qualifications for certain positions, whilst funding and availability for nursing education is being whittled away. This is strange, considering that the recent Willis report into nursing education praised the high quality of nursing education and said that nurses organisations need to ‘stand up and be counted’ on the challenges facing healthcare. Yet the government’s response, unfortunately, did not reflect these conclusions.

To coin a phrase, the youth are our future, or rather student nurses are the future of the profession. RCN has a network of student information officers who provide a point of contact for students that really facilitate student involvement in the organisation. These kind of dedicated structures and emphasis on recruiting young workers are the kind of strategies that are starting to be used throughout public service unions to organise and build. There are clearly differences between the challenges facing nursing organisations and unions in, say, government administration, but RCN could provide some example of best practice about how best to involve young people in unions.

Watch a short video interview with Katie on the EPSU YouTube channel.


"We Do Not Need More Millionaires But More Social Dialogue..." Fagforbundet Article on EPSU Congress

Thursday, May 22, 2014

The Norweigan Municipal Workers Union, Fagforbundet, has published an article on EPSU Congress. You can read the full article in Norwegian through the link below.

We do not need more millionaires, but more social dialogue and democracy in Europe, said Secretary General, Carola Fischbach-Pyttel when trade unions in the public sector across Europe were gathered for the ninth EPSU Congress in Toulouse.

Read the full article in Norwegian here. 


"Unions are key in fighting for a transparent Europe," Interview with Olivier Hoedeman of Corporate Europe Observatory

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Another afternoon, another fascinating interview with a participant at the congress. We spoke to Olivier Hoedeman of Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO), an organisation with which EPSU has collaborated on various issues of the past years.

Olivier started off by explaining the areas of work where CEO has worked with EPSU, such as the corporate influence on the direction of the TTIP negotiations and the role of the Troika in successive water privatisations around Europe. The core aim of CEO is to expose backroom-industry lobbying in the EU and the close ties between European institutions and the corporate world. CEO campaigns for tighter rules against secretive lobbying and for greater transparency in EU decision making.

If you’re in any doubt about the pervasiveness of corporate influence in the EU, you need look no further than the push for water privatisation and deregulation in countries where the Troika has imposed austerity measures. This cosy relationship between big business and the EU is institutionalised in the form of the Expert Advisory Groups, which are packed full of corporate representatives, at the expense of other voices like trade unions.

There is a massive democratic deficit in the EU. The Parliament, the only directly-elected institution, can’t force the Commission to put its cards on the table on issues like privatisation or trade deals. Rather, everything is wrapped up in corporate doublespeak that allows them to hide  their real interest in the shadows.

The best example of these is the TTIP negotiations. The documents are still secret and there is almost no opportunity for trade unions to influence the negotiating process. This makes it easy for the Commission to pull the wool over people’s eyes and tell European society not to worry, whilst simultaneously negotiating away citizens’ and governments’ rights, in secret.

CEO investigated the role of the corporate lobby in the TTIP negotiations. They uncovered close links between DG Trade and industry lobbies. DG Trade have held 135 advisory meetings as part of the TTIP negotiation process, 95% of these were with industry representatives. Their implacable defence of Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) exemplifies this. While corporate Europe gets priority access to the EU negotiating team, trade unions and civil society are side-lined. Unions are key in fighting for a transparent Europe, they are the only organisations that have the necessary numbers and the mobilising power.

You can watch a video interview with Oliver Hoedeman on the EPSU youtube channel.

See also: EPSU General Secretary, Carola Fischbach-Pyttel Supports Research to Reveal Corporate Lobbying.



Video Interview of Georges Archontopoulos, of the Thessaloniki Water Workers

Thursday, May 22, 2014


Georges Archontopoulos of SEEYATH, the union for Thessalonian water workers, talking about the self-organised referendum that they organised to fight the privatisation of water in Thessaloniki, Greece. Georges addresses the congress on Thursday afternoon as part of our celebration of the European Citizens' Initiave right to water.

You can also watch a short interview in Greek here




The Problem in Europe Right Now Is a Lack of Aggregate Demand: Conversation with Ronald Janssen

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Ronald Janssen is an Economic Advisor to the European Trade Union Confederation and participated in yesterday’s panel on the Economic Crisis, which caused such interest on social media. We sat down for a chat about what the EU is doing wrong in its economic policy and what it needs to do to start getting things right.

The problem in Europe right now, according to Ronald, is what Keynes would call a lack of aggregate demand. People have little purchasing power, depressing demand which has a knock on effect on production and therefore causes unemployment. This is a downward spiral that markets can’t break on their own.  Yet we have a European Commission and a European Central Bank which is doing little to get this motor of consumer demand running again. Instead they are obsessed with lower debt by cutting public spending, no matter the consequences.

But there is a change of emphasis isn’t there, we asked Ronald. We spoke to David Hall yesterday about his report that we’ve just published, where he said that the intellectual debate against austerity is being won. Ronald admits that parts of the Commission are starting to put out a more nuanced message, but that the real power lies with the ECB and the Germany Government, which is implacable in its pursuit of austerity. Their model doesn’t allow for private money to save social Europe, their sole preoccupations are debt and inflation and then let the market free reign.

The two issues that came up most on social media during the panel were tax and precarious work. Ronald was in no doubt that there is significant room to increase taxes on corporations and capital gains.

 The US has a corporate tax rate of something like 40%, which is higher than any European country. And who’s going to say that the US is uncompetitive? The European Commission seems to want to shift the tax base more towards taxes on consumption, but this only serves to further harm demand. We need to call for a more progressive tax system, not only lower VAT but less tax on workers’ wages and higher taxes on high incomes and corporate profits.

Precarious work can be a bit of an amorphous concept, but it is clear that across Europe young workers particularly are stuck in insecure, low-paid jobs, whether that is zero-hour contracts in the UK or bogus self-employment in central Europe. To stop this, the existing EU directives and social clauses firstly need to be enforced on the ground, these are very comprehensive on things like the abuse of agency workers. But in many European countries agency workers are still being paid 50% less than their permanent counterparts. 

Watch a video interview with Ronald Janssen on YouTube.