Labor unions taking pulse of new forces

Just imagine what would happen if one of the many distinguished heads of Greek labor unions dared, in an open meeting, to say that «unions ought to seek alliances with the good employers,» or something to that effect. He would surely be forced to end his speech as soon as he uttered the words to avoid the heckling and flying objects. It is certain that even if he believed in such a proposal, he would never say so in public, even if in practice he acted behind the scenes according to that belief. John Monks, the general secretary of the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC), uttered this proposal before an international audience during the 4th European Social Forum, which ended in Athens yesterday. There was no reaction, perhaps due to the fact that the Greek attendants were few and the majority of the audience came from central European countries where such dogmatic, black and white reactions were quite common in their not-so-distant past. Politically, one could describe Monks as a typical Blair-ite trade unionist. Nevertheless, the interesting thing about his presence at the forum is that even this authentic representative of white collar workers feels the need to glean something from the attraction young people feel toward the movements and trends taking place in broad international forums. To be sure, this is the first time that traditional trade unions, feeling the huge gap that separates them from the younger generations, has tried to approach the «spontaneous» movements (even if in reality they feel uneasy with them), attempting to overcome the crisis that envelopes all traditional institutions. No one can predict with clarity what may emerge from such meetings of different views and traditions. Nonetheless, the fact that the traditional bureaucratic trade union organizations are seeking access to other social groups is of particular interest. As is the image of the central American worker Mr Zapatista, who works on a sugar cane plantation and is paid $1 a day, discussing the new labor relations with a German trade unionist who sits on the board of a big multinational company.