Thursday, 13 June 2024
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100 years of union struggle and determination

In 1918, a handful of workers in the banking industry decided to join forces to defend their common interests. In 1918 after the end of the First World War, the people of Luxembourg were impoverished and facing an uncertain future. At that time, the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg had economic relations with Germany through a customs union (Zollverein), and one of the objectives of the war was to annex Luxembourg to Germany.


Until then, Luxembourg had been provisionally governed by three international treaties (independence, territorial dimension and neutrality) dating from the 19th century (Vienna 1815, and London 1815 and 1867). The economic situation was disastrous due to the daily devaluation of the currency and the loss of purchasing power. Moreover, the cost of living (or just survival) was extremely high, making for an extremely precarious social environment.

People were required to work 10 to 12 hours a day, six days a week. Solidarity was the order of the day. The trade union movement was growing, leading to the founding of several unions. For private-sector employees, these were: the Association Cantonale Générale des Employés Privés and the Fédération Nationale des Employés du Luxembourg. In early 1918 these unions merged with the Fédération Générale des Employés de l’Etat.

Their programme of action encompassed three areas;
  • combating the rising cost of living,
  • reducing the tax burden,
  • obtaining compensation for damage caused by wartime air raids.

In 1918, the "Luxemburger Bankbeamtenverein" (Luxembourg Association of Bank Employees) called "ALEB" was created. All these associations of private-sector employees were grouped together in the Fédération des Employés Privés du Grand-Duché de Luxembourg (Federation of Private-sector Employees of the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg). The social unrest caused by the post-war economic crisis (1918-1924) led to the introduction of the eight-hour working day, and the establishment of worker representation structures in companies, as well as the creation of professional chambers. The economy regained a certain amount of stability thanks to an efficient and modern steel industry. The creation of the Luxembourg Stock Exchange in 1927 was a boon for the financial sector. In 1929, the first legislation on holding companies was introduced. The death benefit fund of "ALEB" (as it was formely called) was created on 20 October 1928. The articles of association of the death benefit fund were filed under the name "Sterbekasse des Luxemburger Bankbeamtenvereins" and were published in Mémorial.

The 1930s were marked by the global economic crisis caused by the 1929 New York Stock Exchange crash. Then, before the outbreak of the Second World War, Fascism and Nazism were gaining in popularity, a military dictatorship was established, and trade unions were banned. After the Second World War, the steel industry once again buoyed the economy until the steel crisis of 1975. Thanks to visionary politicians, Luxembourg was able to make the most of its financial industry. Banking secrecy and the tax environment helped overcome the economic turbulence. From that time on, the financial services sector has been developed and expanded.

In 1955, the number of bank employees was 996 (numbers were not recorded before this date). The insurance sector had 224 employees. In 1967, the number of employees in the financial sector had already reached 2,400; this increased to 7,600 in 1980 and 15,500 in 1990. Since then, the number has doubled again. The first collective bargaining agreement (CBA) for bank employees was signed on 3 May 1967, and the first insurance CBA on 7 May 1967. Both CBAs were signed by the Fédération des Employés Privés (Federation of Private Employees), which was the only trade union for private-sector employees (trade, steel, banks and insurance) at that time.

The 1970s fundamentally changed the trade union landscape with the restructuring of the steel industry, which led to a significant drop in employment, which for the traditional workers' unions was linked to a considerable decline in membership. The idea of a single trade union was considered but did not come to pass due to a lack of common ground. In 1978, ALEBA separated from the Fédération des Employés Privés (Federation of Private Employees) and established itself as an independent trade union.

In 1979, the FLA and LAV joined with dissident EFF leaders to create OGB-L. Thus, apart from a 'union of convenience' between ALEBA and the FEP faithful, the union for private-sector employees was shaken and divided. It was only a matter of time before FEP disappeared. ALEBA has continued to make progress. Through successive electoral victories in the financial sector, it has taken a leading role in social development and progress. Compared to other sectors, the financial sector is a reference in terms of social status due to its collective bargaining rights, and the additional social benefits it has won in different companies. ALEBA's journey after its departure from the FEP structure has not always been easy. And all those who contributed to the creation of ALEBA can be rightly proud of it. Today's ALEBA is a mature, independent and representative trade union.

For the financial sector and the Luxembourg economy, it is reassuring to know that ALEBA is able to assume its responsibilities with total independence. This was demonstrated in December 2007 when a fundamental decision had to be made about the survival of the bank employees' collective bargaining agreement.

The steady increase in the number of members — which has now reached more than 10,000 — is proof of our effective and recognised trade union work.


We are the number one union in the financial sector, but not only!