Trade unionists to protest in Strasbourg

Protesters were arriving by bus and charter plane for a march Tuesday against a draft law to liberalize the European services market, a move they claim could undermine workers' rights. "More and more trade unionists signed up for the demonstration every day. We expected 30,000 to 40,000 people," said European Trade Union Congress spokeswoman Patricia Grillo.

Police said some 500 buses and seven charter planes from Spain, Portugal, Italy and France were expected in Strasbourg, which was under heavy police surveillance. Organizers said they did not expect a repeat of the violence that marred a march of dockers protesting a bill liberalizing port services last month.

The march was to finish later Tuesday near the European Parliament. Lawmakers are debating the bill after making changes to water down its original aims.

It may be Valentine's Day but unions are finding little to love in the draft services directive. They say it could undermine Europe's social protection just as the 25-nation bloc struggles with globalization. Worries about a wave of cheap labor from eastern Europe contributed to French and Dutch voters' rejections of the EU's constitution, halting political reform and plunging the European project into crisis eight months ago.

One of the founding ideas of the European Union is to create a single market spanning all its member states. Almost fifty years later, firms still face major obstacles when they try to set up shop in another EU country. The first draft aimed to clear this away, saying companies could initially use the rules of their homeland.

In its original form, the services bill blasted away restrictive national rules such as a Greek rule that all diving instructors speak Greek even if their clients don't, or that electricians wanting to work across the border have to register with a national trade association in some countries, which could cost around Ђ 776.

The "country of origin" clause triggered fears in western Europe that unscrupulous firms could base themselves in a country with few rules and work in countries such as Germany that have a strong tradition of labor rights. Lawmakers agreed on a compromise last week that stripped out this clause and cut down the sectors the law would cover. They vote on Thursday, reports the AP.

N.U.