30. august 2012

Struggling for political response: On trade union and socialist mobilisation against the Laval quartet

Paper by Jens Arnholtz

The EU enlargement gave new economic incentives for labour migration and posting of workers. However, just after the 2004 enlargement both legislative and juridical institutions at the EU level were confronted with issues regarding the regulation of posting of workers. In the legislative process surrounding the Services Directive, trade unions and socialists were successful in mobilising an alliance that opposed the deregulatory efforts of the EU Commissions initial proposal.

However, just as the legislature had seemed to make its position clear, the juridical process went in the opposite direction. In the so-called Laval quartet, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) severely limited both trade unions and member states scope for regulating the terms and conditions of posted workers. After the Laval decision, the alliance of trade unionists and socialists has been pushing hard for a political response to these decisions.

This paper briefly outlines the problems raised by the Laval quartet and then tracks the effort of the alliance in mobilising a political response to the ECJ decisions. Based on a large number of interviews, the paper shows that these efforts have been undertaken at several levels and through several institutions. They have consisted both in establishing a common understanding internally in the alliance, and in elaborating a clear position and plan of action.

The efforts have been marked by a constant interplay between politics and law, just as they have consisted in linking the very particular issue of posting with big issues (such as fundamental rights and human rights) and big events (treaty referendums and commission re-appointment). Still, the paper concludes, that despite these efforts, the proposals presented by the EU Commission in late March 2012 do not seem to open the door for an adequate response to the issues raised by the ECJ decisions.

Paper presented at the 26th Conference of the Nordic Sociological Association 2012, University of Iceland, Reykjavik, 15-18 August 2012.