Friday, February 22, 2013


German strikers in may 2012.(Photo taken from the German Christian Metal Trade Union CGM )

America and Germany want to raise the minimum wage to fight poverty. Opponents fear that a higher minimum wage will destroy jobs.

Germany is the major economic example in the European Union. Southern European states, but also northern countries such as the Netherlands, look enviously to the German economic growth. Unlike the Netherlands and many other European countries, Germany has no minimum wage. That has to change, before the elections in September, says the German Christian Democratic Party (CDU/CSU).

The Christian Democratic Party sees the minimum wage as the best way to fight poverty. Currently, 6 to 8 million Germans are working for less than 8 euros per hour. Despite their full-time jobs, they have to turn to municipalities for additional assistance because they are living below the subsistence level. The Social Democratic Party SPD calls this unhuman.

The liberal coalition partner of the CDU, the Freedom Party FDP, strongly opposes the minimum wage. This party emphasizes the economic importance of the absence of the minimum wage. If labor is expensive, jobs will be lost, they argue. Germany now has some kind of a minimum wage by sector, but in sectors with many international competition the minimum wage does not exist.

The German Economic Growth also has its dark side. Because of the he lack of a minimum wage millions of Germans need assistance from local authorities or are threatened by poverty.

Partly this is the formula behind the German economic success. But the economic growth rates has a shadow side: increasing poverty. The number of Germans living near the poverty line, is around 16 percent. In the United States, the federal minimum wage is $ 7.25 per hour. States may have their own minimum wage, but the majority of the states follows the wage directive of Washington. Like the German Christian and Social Democrats, Obama sees the minimum wage as a way to fight poverty in his country. He wants to raise the minimum wage of $ 7.25 up to $ 9 per hour, he said last week.

President Obama wants to raise the minimum wage in the United States.

Various economists, employers and Republicans don' t believe this is a good idea. They use the same argument as the Liberal Party FDP in Germany. Increase the price of employment and you get less of it, said the Republican chairman of the House of Representatives John Boehner. These critics point out the implications of the last increase in 2009, when 600.000 jobs for low-paid teenagers would have been lost. Employment figures show that approximately half of the 3.8 million employees with a minimum wage is younger than 25. With a higher minimum wage, these jobs are at risk, these critics argue.

The $ 9 an hour minimum wage Obama proposes is nothing compared to the $ 21 per hour minimum wage that the American Center for Economic and Policy Research last week calculated, based on the increased labor productivity since the fifties in the past century.

This is the translation of an article published in the Dutch newspaper Trouw of 18 February 2013

Tuesday, February 19, 2013





Please note that this report soon will be available on the WOW website in Spanish, German and French.

The Seminar Room
Billund, 01 February 2013 – In the past trade unions have played an important role in, amongst others, promoting social dialogue, bargaining for collective agreements, and supporting its members in case of disputes. Today, however, the role of unions is under pressure. Throughout Europe one can detect a decline of membership affecting the position of trade unions. But what does this say about the support for unions? What future do trade unions have?

This was the topic during a two-day European seminar which took place in Billund, Denmark. Focus of the seminar, which was organized by the Christian Trade Union KRIFA (Kristelig Fagbevægelse) and the European Organization of the World Organization of Workers – EO/WOW in cooperation with the European Centre for Workers’ Questions (EZA) and with the support of the European Union.

The seminar with the theme “What reason for existence do trade unions have in a market with declining support?” was well-visited by trade union leaders from over 17 EU Member States. This clearly showed that the them of the seminar is very topical and does not stop at the borders. All countries are faced with the same development to a more or lesser extent. We as trade unions have to find ways to countries these developments in order to remain a representative bargaining power.

The trade union STING delegation of Croatia at work with Lego learning to build and to communicate.

The way in which the economy is organized has changed. Whereas in the past people often worked for the same employee for forty years, these days people shift from one job to the other. Not always by choice, but in most instances it is by choice. People are continuously trying to improve and challenge themselves. This is also something they expect form their employer. If the employer does not do this people look for greener pastures.

What can be seen is that society as a whole has become more individual. There are a number of reasons for that, but one important characteristic is the speedy development of certain kind of media. Another characteristic is the fact that (young) people want to shape their own future more and more and not be dependent on an organization such as, for example, the trade union. But it can also be seen when looking at the lower interest in being part of a community (football-club, music-band, volunteers-work). People in general feel a lesser need to belong somewhere.

The individualization greatly affects the role of unions as well. People not only shift from one job to the other, they may also, because of this, may shift from one branch to the other. Trade union will have to act on this development. Create means to keep members first and to attract new members second. A way to do this is to do as the Romans do. Meaning that if society is becoming more individual, the unions should have a more individual approach as well. Of course without forgetting their role as collective bargainers. Unions are, in principle, for the collective. But certain developments in society are now leading to necessary changes.

EZA President Bartho Pronk, former Member of the European Parliament, opened the seminar with some critical and optimistic remarks.

But not all has to be bad. The current crisis may be of benefit. As Bartho Pronk, EZA President, explained: “A crisis leads to restructuring. It is easier to make these changes with social dialogue than without. New Liberalism has proven its wrongs. The market is important, but without social dialogue it is not functioning as well as it could. The effect of this all is that social dialogue has gotten a prominent role in the Lisbon Treaty. So the crisis has caused a turn-around in thought.”

Indeed crises often lead to positive changes. People are forced to rethink certain strong-held strategies and ways of acting. A trend which started some years ago is the increase of so-called part-time and a-typical jobs. “In Austria, Günther Trausznitz, European President of the WOW, stated, 59% of the jobs are a-typical (typical jobs are from 9 to 5). This makes it difficult to find common grounds for collective bargaining”. True, the interests of the workers is different making certain general agreements difficult to achieve.

Although many trade unions are losing members this is not the case in all countries. In the case of Austria, for example, there has been a steady growth form the fifties of the last century. Lately, what can be seen is that half of the new members within the FCG/GPA-DJP (private services sector) are female.

In Denmark, as in other countries in Scandinavia, trade union membership is quite high. There are various factors that cause this, but the most important is possibly the unemployment insurance scheme. Laust Høgedahl said that: “This so-called Ghent-system allows trade unions to administer government-subsidized unemployment insurance funds (Norway excluded). In the Danish context these funds were trade- and profession-specific. Unions thereby had a monopoly. This does of course not necessarily explain the high density of membership. But what happens in practice is that is that people experience a lack of transparent institutional separation. Wage earners perceive the trade union and UIF as the same thing!”.

When we look at the role of the employer and their expectancy of the future cooperation with trade unions, it becomes clear that they have quite a different perception. Knud Nørbo of the Jyske Bank sees developments on which they do not have influence, but is affecting them as a company. “While the Jyske Bank complies to the standard collective agreement for the Employers Association and Financial Services Union, they also have their own local company agreements (within the framework of the standard collective agreement). This company agreement is more purpose and intent than actual rules. We belief people on the spot know best!”.

EO/WOW President Guenther Trausznitz spoke during his words of welcome on the growth of the so called a-typical jobs, also in his country Austria.

Knud Nørbo sees a few challenges for the future. The challenges, which are global, are the individualization which does not fit well into rigid rules, meaning that a one fits all approach is no longer possible. Secondly, the time, place, nature of the work, and life-style is changing (eg. work-life balance).

This growing individualization is reoccurring point of attention. Particularly what can be done to work within this trend. As Laust Høgedahl stated: “You can change yourself or you can change your members. What is easiest”. Trade unions will have to work with the current parameters. They have more influence on themselves than on their (potential) members. In Austria they are acting with this in mind. They have sent mailings to non-members just before difficult collective negotiations. This to more prominently show what it is they are doing and for whom. Also by offering a reduced membership-fee (or no fee at all) in the first period of membership is a means to attract members, thereby hoping that they will continue their membership.

The same developments can be detected in other countries as well. Not only when there is a decline of membership, but also just to attract more members and thus become more representative. All unions are searching for ways to attract people. Only by showing that you have an important role in collective bargaining is no longer enough. The people demand more. It is always: ‘What’s in it for me?’

Wolfgang Pischinger, President of the Christian Fraction of the Austrian trade union GPA-dj was one of the speakers at the seminar.

Trade unions should be more introspective” stated Jesper Wengel, CEO of KRIFA. “I cannot create jobs, but what I can do is make sure that the people in KRIFA have high-competences, and deliver a high service and quality to the members”.

And this is exactly what is needed. “Attracting members is one thing. Keeping them another”, said Guy van Gyes, Research Manager at the University of Leuven, Belgium. “There is a high-turn-over. People leaving the unions, but also people going form one union to the other”.

There are various reasons for people to leave or switch unions. Important reasons were the price of membership and the fact that the former union supported certain political parties. Perhaps an even more important reason is the that the former union did not attend the member’s interests (Høgedahl). This clearly shows the importance of being attractive for the individual as well as for the collective.

What is striking is that the sympathy for and feeling of legitimacy of trade unions is quite high, although this does not necessarily comes back in an increase of new members. In that respect trade unions should question themselves about the ‘logic of influence’ and the ‘logic of membership/participation’. Of course taking the current societal changes into account”, stated Guy van Gyes. People want to know what is in it for them. “They demand a quick response and a personal approach”.

There will always be a future for trade unions, since there will always be a relationship between employer and employee. This is always a power-relationship and this relationship changes over time. How trade unions will be organized in the future is to be seen. Trade unions should be, more than now, a movement organization establishing a community experience (community unionism).

The need for unions remain so there will always be a future. Trade unions will, however, have to reinvent themselves, without disregarding their core-values and traditional role for the collective. Not everything is for sale. Changing oneself is easier than changing the other.

As Laust Høgedahl stated: “In order to be an attractive trade union in the future, trade unions must strike a balance between relevant individual services and a reasonable membership fee apart from delivering collective goods”. 

Report made by Bjorn van Heusden, executive Secretary WOW

Tuesday, February 5, 2013


Invited by its Danish affiliate, the board of the European Organization of WOW held a 'strategic day' in a special training centre of KRIFA in the north of Jutland. Here we se during breakfast on the left side of the table board member Mara Erdelj from BOFOS, Serbia. Next to her Soren Fibiger Olesen president of KRIFA and our host. Next to him you see executive secretary Bjorn van Heusden and treasurer Rolf Weber from KRIFA. In the foreground on the right side of the table Roel Rotshuizen president of WOW and secretary general of CNV Dienstenbond. In the kitchen you see Wolfgang Pischinger, board member and President of the Christian Fraction of the Austrian trade union GPA-djp.
The debates on the future strategy of EO/WOW were guided by Helene Riis Lindholm from KRIFA (on the photo she is the only one standing). She speaks German and English. Before starting the strategic debates, the board had agreed on 4 main goals: growth (financial,  membership and representativeness), more solidarity activities and funding, more influence on European level (European Commission and Parliament) and exchange of experiences (seminars and other international activities). The road to these 4 objectives was symbolized by climbing a mountain, as you can see on the photo behind Helene. 
The sessions started by a small training in how to deal with dreams and/or ideals. Each of us was asked to share his dream he would like to realize within 2 years. Then he had to walk through the 2 lines where the others made sounds that support his specific dream. As you can see everybody was listening carefully to the dream of our board member Valère Jung of CFTC France.
We were invited by Helene to an imaginary New Year Happening of the year 2015, to celebrate that we had reached our goals as specified during our sessions we were holding. It was a short break to the future to help us better understand the present. It helped us as a team to get a sharper aware of our goals.
The next day - Wednesday 30th of January -  we were invited to have breakfast together with all employees working at KRIFA headquarters in Aarhus, Denmark. The delegation was announced on the screens in the restaurant. From left to right: Guenther Trausnitz, president of EO/WOW, Wolfgang Pischinger of the FCG/GPA-djp, Soren Fibiger Olesen, President of KRIFA and Adalbert Ewen of the German CGM.
An overview of the restaurant with in front the EO/WOW board members. Everyday at 9 o'clock in the morning all KRIFA employees are invited to come to sing together and to share the information of the day. it was a nice experience to see how KRIFA combined motivation of its employees with information and communication.
After our KRIFA breakfast we went to Hotel Legoland in Billund to have our regular EO/WOW boardmeeting and to assist to the EU seminar organized by KRIFA and WOW with the support of EZA and the European Commission. Standing before the Legoland Dragon from left to right: Solveig Baekkgaard Maksten from KRIFA, assistant to the seminar, board member Mara Erdelj from Serbian BOFOS and myself.
The rest of the day the EO/WOW board held its regular meeting in one of the rooms in the Hotel Legoland Congress Centre. Going from left clockwise you see president Roel Rotshuizen, treasurer Rolf Weber, Adalbert Ewen, Valère Jung, executive secretary Bjorn van Heusden, Wolfgang Pischinger, european president Guenther Trausznitz and Mara Erdelj.
Thursday 31 of January was the first day of our two days European seminar on "What reason for existence do trade unions have in a market with declining support?" The seminar was opened by KRIFA President Soren Fibiger Olesen, host of the seminar, Guenther Trausznitz as European President and as you see below EZA President Bartho Pronk.
 As a former Member of the European Parliament EZA President Bartho Pronk challenged the EU trade unions  - if necessary -  to force the European Union Countries to respect the social paragraphs of the EU Lissabon Treaty. Trade Unions should even think about the possibility to go to court. 
An overview of the seminar room with participants coming from Spain, Romania, Serbia, France, Germany, The Netherlands, Denmark, Austria, Slovakia, Czech Republic, Lithuania, Croatia, Cyprus, Portugal, Macedonia, Malta and Ukraine. ( more than 50 participants from 17 countries). The seminar languages were English, German and Spanish
From Lego employee Helena Jensen the participants got a short training in communications.  They had to sit in pairs of two, with its backs to each other. Only by communicating with words -not seeing - one should try to build the same Lego helicopter within 15 minutes. It was not easy. To come to a common result one must communicate very clear and precise. On the photo we see working on the project UHM Secretary General Josef Vella (left) and UHM President Jesmond Bonello from Malta.

Laust Hogedahl from the University of Aalburg analyzed "The future of trade unions in a Danish context". The traditional trade union confederation LO lost the last decennia hundred thousands of members while a smaller union like KRIFA has grown more than 200% in the same period. Laust investigated why workers prefer one trade union for another. Ons of his conclusions is: "wage earners decision for joining of leaving a trade union consists of a mix of utilitarian and normative motives which must be seen in relation to the price of the membership fee when you have a market with competition as is the case for Denmark." Another conclusion is that "the flight of members from LO unions to alternative unions (mainly KRIFA!) is mostly due to utilitarian arguments (to save money) but the LO unions close relation to the Social Democratic Party has also facilitated the flight of members." After his presentation there was room for questions and remarks. The same happened during all presentations held at the seminar.
KRIFA's chief executive officer Jesper Mengel explained the seminar audience about how "being an attracting union in a market with declining support". As you can see on the photo it's Jesper's conviction that a trade union should create a strong vision, a vision that helps your union to climb a mountain, motivates your staff and attracts new members. You cannot change the people but yes you can change yourself and your organization.
EO/WOW President Guenther Trausznitz (on the right) introduces to the seminar audience Knud Norbo from the Human Resources Department of the Danish Jyske Bank. He spoke about "what employers do expect from the future cooperation with trade unions". The Jyske Bank believes that cooperation with trade unions is necessary for the future of his bank. Cooperation with trade unions gives more stability to labour and working relations at the company and it motivates workers to do the best for the company. The challenges for the future are: the pressure on the 'Danish model' (flexicurity, European/Danish government interference in agreements, declining union organized employees), individualization (global mega-trend), changes in ways of production (no common working times), changing work-life balance, need for more local empowerment.
STING Secretary General Jasna Pipunic had the floor during a panel about how "being an attracting union in a market with declining support". Jasna used the opportunity to explain briefly the  history, vision, mission and basic values of STING in Croatia, that soon will become a member state of the European Union. The two other members of the panel, Wolfgang Pischinger and Gunther Trausznitz, explained how their union FCG/GPA-djp succeeded in maintaining membership and even to grow a little bit.
Last speaker of the seminar was Guy van Gyes from the Belgium Higher Institute for Labour Affairs from the University of Leuven. He spoke about "the future of trade unions in a European context". Like all other speakers before him he confirmed that on European level there is a downward trend in trade union membership except in the Scandinavian countries and Belgium. Statistics show that between 60%  and 70% of the workers still believe that unions are necessary while around 50% really trust trade unions. Besides many other challenges like those mentioned by foregoing speakers, Guy believes it is necessary to establish a community experience in a large network organization which means the trade union.
On the first day of the seminar KRIFA invited all participants for a visit and a dinner with music at their headquarters at night. The new building was opened in june 2012 ( A NEW HOUSE FOR THE DANISH CHRISTIAN TRADE UNION CONFEDERATION KRIFA) . Here you see the photographer and Rolf Weber preparing us for the 'family photo' of all seminar participants.
During the visit KRIFA employees gave sightseeing tours through their headquarter's offices. On this photo the Spanish speaking group with Martine Grislain (in red jacket) as translator. On the left you see Allen Brunn from KRIFA and further clockwise Gonzalo Postigo (ASIPA), Fernando Serrato (ASIPA), José Javier Rebato (FEC) and Ovidi Noguera (FEC-CAT).
During the office tour we passed by the KRIFA call centre that is working from early in the morning until late in the evening. It is one of the very important services for the members of KRIFA. Allen told us that the employees of the call centre can handle 80% of the calls. The other 20% of the calls has to be channeled through others.
After the sightseeing tour the seminar participants was offered a drink and a dinner with music. On the photo left you see executive secretary Bjorn van Heusden, KRIFA board member Ib Horup (red pants). On the right you see CNV Dienstenbond President Dirk Swagerman talking to Ken Tobiasen from KRIFA, who gives a helping hand to the WOW administration.