Esther Lynch, European Trade Union Congress Confederal Secretary, writes: According to the International Labour Organisation: “The fundamental principle of freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining is a reflection of human dignity. It guarantees the ability of workers, and employers, to join and act together to defend not only their economic interest but also civil liberties such as the right to life, security, integrity and personal and collective freedom.”
This may seem like restating the obvious, especially in Europe where trade unions date from the 19th century and are involved in high-level social dialogue in many countries. And yet the fact is, these basic rights – and the trade unionists who exercise them – are under attack from governments or employers in a growing number of European countries including the UK, Belgium, Finland, France, Italy, Greece and Spain. Trade unionists have been assaulted and imprisoned, social dialogue abandoned and new laws drawn up making it ever more difficult for unions to organise industrial action.