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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Bolkestein : 50 000 pour le retrait

by Paule Masson

Bolkestein: 50,000 Demand Withdrawal of Proposal

Translated Sunday 19 February 2006, by Steve McGiffen

Strasbourg. The Euro-demonstration organised by the European Trades Union Confederation (ETUC) attracted twice the numbers predicted. The text before the European parliament still leaves the door open to "social dumping". (1)

In the streets of Strasbourg yesterday there were twice as many demonstrators as had been expected by ETUC, the organisers of this day of action against the directive on liberalisation of services. Which is as good as saying that the Euro-MPs gathered in debate here until Thursday have been put under the intense surveillance of 50,000 demonstrators, a figure announced yesterday evening by ETUC General Secretary John Monks.

“You can’t leave all power in the hands of the Brussels decision-makers. We have to teach them to decide with our advice,” laughed one Austrian trade unionist, struggling to find a place among the forest of flags of the German trade unions DGB and Verdi, which were, along with the French, unquestionably the most numerous. A single demand echoed to the sound of drums, whistles, bands and Slovenian football rattles: the withdrawal of the Bolkestein Directive. “And the complete withdrawal, because if the door’s left open, all services will end up being liberalised”. Francis Geisler of Luxembourg’s OGBL, a union which, in the follow-up to March 19th last year confirmed its impressive ability to mobilise, was quite clear on this point.

No fewer than twenty countries were represented in the Alsatian capital of Strasbourg, people from the border region being, logically enough, the most numerous. The compromise arrived at last Wednesday by the Socialists of the PES and the conservatives of the PPE, which skirted any reference to the extremely controversial “country of origin principle” leaves one, at the very least, sceptical.

A text which is still too ’liberal’

Although ETUC has received certain amendments “favourably”, those who, among the demonstrators, had familiarised themselves with the new version, judged it to be still much too ’liberal’. André Roth, a non-unionised teacher living in Strasbourg who declared himself to be “strongly for Europe”, said that for him “Bolkestein reworked is going in a positive direction, but doesn’t go far enough in terms of justice or progress.”

It still needed numerous amendments “to put an end to the whole idea of social dumping” asserted Gabril Cullen, an Irishman from SIPTU, his hat pulled down over his ears.

“They’ve got to stop taking us for imbeciles. Bolkestein offers no advantages, not for us, not for the Poles,” said Annais Caullery, a young militant of the CGT, a union which brought along more than 5,000 participants, some of whose banners called for “total withdrawal of the directive!” For Fréderique Dupont, however, the ETUC official responsible for the issue, the debate must “launch itself further, because public services deserve a different debate in Europe. They must be maintained and improved and also have to respond to new needs.”

Gérard Aschien, Secretary General of the FSU, condemns any “apparent concessions which maintain the text’s logic” and calls for continued vigilance with regard to education, for the time being excluded from the text, and notably in relation to the ’porous borders’ represented by higher education and professional training.

Like him, many demonstrators were demanding that education be kept away from the appetites of the market. But also health. And energy. And transport. And water, as Elisa Pavore, from the Italian CGIL, insisted, saying that “water belongs to everyone. It shouldn’t be possible to make a profit from common property which is, in addition, an essential.” Or Bernard Mercenier, a nurse from the Liège area, who explained that to adopt Bolkestein would be, little by little, “to abandon all activities condemning health or postal services which are not profitable.”

So.... this was not the first demonstration and it won’t be the last. Christophe Thomas, who led the procession of a thousand trade unionists from the CFDT-Lorraine, said that he is ready to “come back in a week if necessary, because a social Europe can’t be constructed on the basis of dumping.” In every language and with every accent, the message was the same.

(1) "Social dumping" generally refers to the export of a good from a country with weak or poorly enforced labor standards, reflecting the idea that the exporter has costs that are artificially lower than its competitors in higher-standards countries, constituting an unfair advantage in international trade. It has taken on a broader meaning in the European debate

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