For Roberto Mendolia, trade union freedom is no longer guaranteed. Restoring it is his mission for 2024. Photo: Romain Gamba/Maison Moderne

For Roberto Mendolia, trade union freedom is no longer guaranteed. Restoring it is his mission for 2024. Photo: Romain Gamba/Maison Moderne

As it celebrates its 105th anniversary, Aleba is setting its sights on two goals: to be recognised as a national trade union after the social elections on 12 March, and to help reform Luxembourg’s current trade union laws, which it deems “undemocratic.”

Yesterday was 9 November, a symbolic date for Aleba: it launched on that day in 1918 and was furthermore “reborn” on that day in 2020, when an agreement (in principle) was reached between the banking and insurance unions--the ABBL and Aca--on the reform of collective labour agreements (CCT) in the financial sector. This agreement was denounced by the OGBL and the LCGB, who retaliated by asking the labour minister, (LSAP), to suspend Aleba’s sectoral representativeness. .

This was taken as an injustice for , the Aleba president, for whom the agreement that triggered the suspension was not, in fact, an agreement. “It was a pre-agreement aimed at reassuring the marketplace that there would be no crisis during the covid crisis. It was important for everyone to be aware that we were about to embark on a sound renegotiation of the collective agreements based on the previous ones, whereas many companies were no longer respecting the collective labour agreements because of the crisis and wanted to take advantage of the opportunity to roll back many of the rights they had acquired in the name of the uncertainties caused by the pandemic. This was not how the two national unions wanted to see it.”

Aleba awaits the new government

The ensuing crisis gave Aleba the “legitimacy” to denounce current trade union laws, which it regarded as “discriminatory, not to say unconstitutional.” Says Mendolia: “These are laws that protect national unions and allow elected representatives to be excluded from the negotiating table. Laws from another era.” For him, the principle of representativeness must be reformed, as well as the way in which the chamber of employees operates, and in particular the system of colleges whose composition does not reflect--or no longer reflects--the importance of these sectors in the economy.

Last spring, the union threatened to take its case to the European Court of Human Rights after the Administrative Court refused to restore its sectoral representativeness, but this is no longer on the agenda. “We are waiting for the new government to be formed.” Mendolia hopes that it will have the “political courage” to reform.

3% more members in six months

Aleba is not just counting on the government and the courts to turn its fortunes around. It’s also counting on the social elections on 12 March 2024. Here the focus is not on sectoral representation, but on national representation, the remit of the OGBL and the LCGB.

“Representativeness no longer has anything to do with the negotiation of collective agreements,” Mendolia comments. “That has been completely separated. The so-called national unions are automatically part of the negotiating table for a CLA, as well as, normally, those that are representative of the sector or can prove that they have 50% of the votes in the area covered by the collective agreement. This is our case. We are not interested in sectoral representativeness. You might even say that it’s window dressing. What interests us from now on is national representativeness. What’s more, we already have elected representatives in other sectors, notably commerce.”

It was to achieve this goal that the union decided last March to open up to all sectors of economic activity. Since that announcement, the union, which has around 10,000 members, has reported a 3% increase in membership. Young people have been particularly receptive.

Becoming a universal union

To become a national union, you need 20% of the votes in the Chamber of Employees. “Getting 20% of the vote in the Chamber of Employees is complicated. You have to manage to put forward 120 candidates--that’s 60 candidates and as many substitutes--and get them elected. Our ambition is to regain our absolute majority in the financial sector and to make inroads in the other sectors. Becoming a universal union is the right strategy. Just as the others want to get in with us, we want to get in with them. We are not afraid to grow. We have a structure that is viable.”

Social elections are used to appoint members of the Chamber of Employees. But they are also an opportunity to elect the social delegations in companies. In Luxembourg, 58% of these delegations are neutral. In other words, they are not affiliated to the OGBL, LCBB or Aleba. “The law does not give these neutral delegations the right of representation or negotiation, unless they total more than 50% of the votes. We are seeking to attract these neutral delegations. We see ourselves as a politically neutral union. And our message to them is the following: rather than being neutral in your corner, be neutral with us and together we will build a great union at the service, only, of workers.”

This article in Paperjam. It has been translated and edited for Delano.