The forgotten labour movement for reduced working hours in Europe during the neoliberal turn

Transnational left-wing movements
By Aurélie Andry

This paper explores the forgotten history of the European labour movement’s struggle for a “workers’ Europe” during the 1970s and early 1980s, and in particular its efforts to build a European-wide trade unionism capable of supporting its proposals on employment and working time reduction. The paper first traces the emergence of the alternative project of European unity that the trade unions formulated in the 1970s, and the movement to build a unitary and combative trade unionism on a European scale. Secondly, the article reveals the struggle of the European trade union movement for a generalised reduction in working time in western Europe, through a twofold effort consisting of institutional lobbying and building a transnational mobilisation of workers – admittedly, on a fragile and limited basis. Thirdly, the paper sets out to examine the failure of this unprecedented struggle and to assess the main reasons for it in order to better understand the affirmation of another kind of Europe, that is, an increasingly neoliberal Europe in which full employment, economic solidarity, and the improvement in working and living conditions for the masses became, at best, a secondary objective.

Go to the article on