Patrick Dury (LCGB), Nora Back (OGBL) and Roberto Mendolia (Aleba) each hope to see their organisations gain seats in the 12 March elections. Photos and montage: Maison Moderne

Patrick Dury (LCGB), Nora Back (OGBL) and Roberto Mendolia (Aleba) each hope to see their organisations gain seats in the 12 March elections. Photos and montage: Maison Moderne

Nine trade unions are seeking seats in the Chamber of Employees, but three of them stand out: the LCGB, OGBL and Aleba. The first two want to consolidate their positions, while the third is seeking new legitimacy.

The social elections are fast approaching: on 12 March, voters will determine who sits in the Chamber of Employees. Four unions are represented in chamber’s current makeup: the OGBL and LCGB, the two major national unions; Aleba, the union representing the financial centre; and Syprolux, the union for railway workers and professional drivers.

As we broke down in , the Chamber of Employees’ assembly has nine colleges representing Luxembourg’s major economic sectors: steel (5 seats); other industries (8 seats); construction (6 seats); financial services and intermediation (8 seats); other services (14 seats); administration and public enterprises (4 seats); health and social work (6 seats); active and retired CFL employees (3 seats); and retirees (6 seats). The unions propose lists of candidates only in those colleges that interest them.

Led by its secretary general , the OGBL currently holds a strong majority in the chamber with 37 seats out of 60; the other national union, LCGB, has 18. With these 55 seats, they combine for over 90% of the representatives. Of the remainder, four seats belong to Aleba and one to Syprolux.

The LCGB wants to build on 2019 results

In the last election--held in 2019--the OGBL won a clear majority with 62.29% of the votes, but this nevertheless meant the loss of three seats, all of them picked up by the LCGB (31.82% of the votes).

This time, the LCGB’s goal is to maintain this momentum.  its national president, has stated his organisation’s objective: “to get the best possible tally, and to strengthen ourselves as we did five years ago. We want to reap the rewards of our work over the last five years.”

He added: “And of course, it’s not a question of getting stronger for the sake of getting stronger, but of working even harder to represent the interests of our members and of employees in general.”

Without favouring one group over another, Dury notes the importance that services have taken on. “The classic starting point for trade unions was industry, and in this case the steel industry. With services becoming more and more important--and without neglecting other sectors--we have to adapt and keep up with changes in the economy.”

The OGBL wants to strengthen its majority

For its part, the OGBL is looking to prove its political weight in relation to the government and employers: a big win would help end the controversy that pitted the union against Statec in 2022, when the statistics bureau published  (French only) on the falling prominence of unions. 

“These are really decisive and important elections, especially as the context is complicated for workers,” says Back. “Times are hard, crises are multiplying and purchasing power is falling. If we look at social history, it’s ordinary people--the workers, the middle classes--who ultimately pay the bill for these crises and the periods of austerity that follow. And these are very tough times for workers, pensioners and their families, who are facing a drop in purchasing power. The economic situation is more complicated, a recession is possible and certain economic sectors are in crisis. This has a direct impact on jobs, wages, living conditions and working conditions… We’ve seen a lot of industrial action in recent months. Faced with liberal and conservative governments [i.e. the former and current governments; editor’s note] whose interests and agenda are far removed from our own, it’s important that we emerge from these elections stronger.”

Her objective, she adds, is “to strengthen our absolute majority in the Chamber of Employees.”

The workplace as a campaign ground

Campaigning is happening on two planes, national and workplace.

On the national level, the OGBL’s marketing campaign highlights what, for them, is at stake: late last year they ran the slogan “This time, we’ll all have the right to vote,” but this has now been updated to: “New government, same fight.”

On the ground, the union’s major themes contain no surprises: wage indexation, working time, wages, labour law, taxation, pensions and housing. To these, company delegates and activists--whose role is to get out the vote and recruit members--can add issues specific to their workplace,

At the LCGB, the tactics are the same: “The real campaign ground is the company. Company delegates and our activists are our first electoral agents,” explains Dury. Its main themes are digitalisation, purchasing power, indexation, training, health, working time, tax scale reform, reduction of the tax burden on low and medium salaries and housing.

“Generally speaking, the LCGB wants to take a stand against social injustice and on how to distribute the wealth generated by the private sector,” he adds.

Aleba’s survival at stake

For Aleba, this election is a special one. Having last year after a rocky episode, the financial centre union is now aiming for national representativeness, as a union open to all sectors of the economy. To wit, it is no longer the “Association luxembourgeoise des employés de banque et assurance” (Luxembourg Association of Bank and Insurance Employees) but rather the “Association luxembourgeoise des employés ayant besoin d’assistance” (Luxembourg Association of Employees Needful of Assistance). It’s a high-risk strategy, but inevitable since it lost its status of sectoral representativeness.

For those unfamiliar with trade union matters in Luxembourg, this question of “representativeness” isn’t an easy one. Is a representative union simply one with a majority in a company? One with a majority in a given sector of activity? One that wins a high proportion of votes under a sector-specific name in the social elections? The truth is a combination of all of the above.

A difficult assessment

Is Aleba a representative union?

Not under a strict application of the law: the union may have a majority in most banking and financial establishments in the financial centre, but it lost its sectoral representativeness in the 2019 social elections. To obtain sectoral representativeness, you need to obtain more than half the votes in a given sector of activity. And while Aleba won 50% of the mandates in its relevant college within the chamber--financial services and intermediation--it only scraped together 49.22% of the votes, spelling the end of its official status.

Meanwhile, you need 20% of the votes to qualify for national representation, and with 5.67% Aleba was a far cry from that in 2019 (against the OGBL’s 62.29% and the LCGB’s 31.82%). Achieving 20% is nevertheless , although there are no illusions: “We are aiming for national representation,” said union president . We’re seeking it by various means, both in the legal sense and at the ballot box level. We want to show that we are a major union and that we can represent all employees, whatever their sector of activity. We’re already doing that, and now we want to make it official. 2024 will be a start. We are aware that it will be very complicated to break away from our image as a banking and finance sector union. The aim is to achieve this by 2029 if, by some misfortune, the laws on national representativeness are not reformed.”

Collective agreements

Aleba’s other immediate objective is to break the 50% barrier in the Chamber of Employees’ financial services college--what Mendolia meant by “in the legal sense” in the above quotation--and thereby regain the sectoral representativeness withdrawn by the previous government. “This will also be very complicated in the sense that the OGBL and the LCGB, traditionally more discreet, have been positioning themselves very strongly in this college for some years now,” adds the Aleba president. “It has become a very competitive college.”

To differentiate itself from its competitors, Aleba has a battle horse: maximum coverage of employees by increasing the number of collective agreements. “It’s a big issue, an issue for a national union like we want to be. And that’s a big challenge, because you have far too many sectors that don’t have a collective agreement.  for 80% coverage for a country. In Luxembourg, we are currently at around 40% at best.”

To negotiate such agreements, the union intends to draw on the experience it has acquired in the financial sector and to incorporate what exists there in terms of wellbeing at work, holidays, working hours and compensation for overtime. “All these general issues relating to the protection of employees should be included in collective agreements,” says Mendolia, “which are the best way of protecting them.”

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