Europe-wide unions come a step closer

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Pan-European trade unions came a step closer yesterday as a deal was struck between the biggest employees' organisations in Britain and Germany.

The GMB general union and the IG Chemie made an agreement that will give nearly two million workers in both countries dual membership.

Senior union leaders believe that the single European currency is inevitable, that wages and conditions will eventually be determined at single bargaining tables throughout the continent and that the future for workers now lies in international organisation.

The inter-union pact contrasts with the deep divisions over Europe in the Conservative Party, and could well fuel the fears over monetary union expressed by the Europhobes.

The union deal was signed yesterday simultaneously in London by John Edmonds, leader of the GMB and in Hanover by Hubertus Schmoldt, president of IG Chemie-Papier-Keramik.

The accord means that British workers employed in the process industry in Germany will have the protection of IG Chemie and vice-versa.

Mr Edmonds said that he would not rule out a "con-federal" relationship with the German union with the doors open for the creation of a single group to represent employees throughout the sector in Europe.

Mr Edmonds said unions had to respond to the "Europeanisation" of companies. There had been co-operation between the GMB and IG Chemie for the last four years, now that was to be taken a step further.

"The long-term intention is to develop collective bargaining at European level. This is one stage in that direction," Mr Edmonds said. He stressed that unions were still a long way from that level of co-operation, but there was already substantial contact between European employees' representatives at the level of works' councils.

The GMB leader said his union was looking to tie up similar arrangements with at least one other union in continental Europe.

He said that both unions already participated in works' councils and there was a strong case for representatives from both to sit down and work out a common agenda before critical meetings.

Mr Schmoldt said that the accord was the first his union had reached with any similar organisation in another European Union country. It was, however, a stimulus to start talks elsewhere.

The German union leader hoped that the link-up would mean increasing harmonisation between health and safety rules and the provisions for working hours in Germany and Britain.