Helsinki (02.07.1999 - Juhani Artto) "While it is not the purpose of the trade union movement to organise strikes, if the employer organisations challenge us by turning down proper European-level negotiations on working conditions, then conflict may be needed", said ETUC General Secretary Emilio Gabaglio at the Thursday evening Press Conference.

ETUC President Fritz Verzetnitsch supported this observation. "We're not looking for strikes but we aren't afraid to strike, either. The first industrial action will probably not be seen at federation but at branch level", he specified.

"In this Congress we have secured a framework for European-level negotiations. We have a twin-track approach. We have the tools for both federation-level and branch-specific negotiations. All of the elements for bargaining on European-level working conditions, workers' rights and training are covered in our Resolutions", Gabaglio assured at the Press Conference.

"In European-level negotiations we shall seek a common point of view with the employer organisations, for example on productivity gains. The idea is to create broad guidelines for more detailed negotiations, not to dictate anything from Brussels."

The Cologne Summit authorised the ETUC to consult regularly with the European Central Bank. "When we sit around this common table, we'll ask Wim Duisenberg to submit reasons for his monetary policy. Then we shall tell him what we think and the employers will put their own proposals on the table", said Gabaglio, describing the envisaged operations of part of the European-level tripartite system currently still taking shape.

"With this we have entered a new Era; a new Territory", Gabaglio said.

At their own Press Conference on the final day of the Congress the Finnish trade union leaders - who represent more than two million organised employees in a country of only five million people - enthusiastically expressed their satisfaction with the progress made by the European trade union movement at this ETUC Congress. The possibility of transnational industrial action as something "increasingly likely" was also mentioned.

On the final day the leaders of national central trade union organisations signed a brief document which is an important step in the European integration of the trade unions. "Europe is becoming an increasingly integrated economic area in which thousands of enterprises are operating across traditional international borders. This reality calls for the Europeanisation of the trade unions and for a further increase in their capacity to act at European level through the European Trade Union Confederation and the European Industry Federation. It also requires greater cross-border solidarity in order that the rights of workers on professional placements may be guaranteed and defended, irrespective of their national trade union affiliation", the leaders stipulated in the document bearing their signatures.

Several trade unions from the former communist countries of Central and Eastern Europe participated in the Congress with observer status. Many of these organisations work in countries which have applied for membership of the European Union. One of them was the leading central trade union organisation in Estonia, the EAKL.

Raivo Paavo, the President of the EAKL and a Member of the Estonian Parliament, greatly appreciates the ETUC Congress discussions and resolutions.

"The ETUC insists that applicant countries must have a functioning labour market system with regular social dialogue between the labour market partners and the government before accession to the European Union. This gives important support to our struggle and strengthens our position in the labour market", Paavo commented.

"In the forest industry, energy sector and public sector, where we have strong trade unions, the national tripartite collective bargaining system works well. One third of our trade unions make good collective agreements. In the light industry and construction industry sectors our influence is weaker. In light industry the employers do not have even an umbrella organisation with which we can negotiate."

"Trade unions are represented in all of the task forces responsible for preparing Estonian EU membership. Since last spring we have also been represented on the Socio-Economic Council, in which the labour market partners and the government are seeking common principles for labour market negotiations", Paavo told Trade Union News from Finland.

The Austrian Fritz Verzetnitsch was unanimously elected for a new term as ETUC President together with Emilio Gabaglio from Italy who continues as Secretary General.