From Socialist Voice, February 2007

European Court threatens the end of “closed shop” agreements

In a little-known case in January 2006 the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg cast a shadow over Danish rules on joining a trade union in order to secure a job. The court allowed that two Danish citizens had a point in their complaint over the violation of their right to not join a trade union.
     In the first case a student was fired from his summer job for not being a member of a specific union, while in the other case a worker was forced to join a particular union to keep a specific job. Both examples refer to “closed shop” agreements between unions and employers, which are permitted in Denmark (and in Ireland). The judgement in this case supports efforts by the European Court of Justice to roll back trade union rights within the European Union.
     The European Court of Justice in Luxembourg, which constantly seeks in its judgements to expand the competence of the European Union, is to rule this year on whether eastern European workers’ right of free movement throughout the bloc was violated by the trade unionists’ actions.
     But, according to the general secretary of the United Federation of Danish Workers, Per Christensen, “if eastern Europeans working in Denmark are to be ensured salaries according to Danish conditions, the unions have to fight for it, and the exclusive agreements are the key to ensuring that agreements are held.”
     The European Court of Human Rights acknowledged the Danish government’s argument that the applicants could have chosen to seek a job with an employer who had not entered into such an agreement with a trade union. However, the judges pointed out that “the applicants were nonetheless individually and substantially affected as a result of the application of the closed-shop agreements to them.” They concluded that “Denmark had failed to protect the applicants’ negative right to trade union freedom.”
     They also argued that closed-shop agreements have been abolished in most European countries over the years, stating that “such agreements were not an essential means for securing the interests of trade unions and their members.”

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