Spotlight: Towards New Global Unionism
In June 2012 in Copenhagen, the affiliates of the IMF, ICEM and ITGLWF will found a new unified global union for the industrial workers of the world. The unions are taking a bold step towards a new era of global solidarity and to fight for a model of globalization that is based on social justice.
Text / Jyrki Raina, IMF General Secretary
2011 will remain in history as a year when people took to the streets. In Europe, trade unions have mobilized against austerity measures which have been used to weaken social protection and union rights. In North Africa and the Middle East, revolutions and uprisings have highlighted the true problems of our world today: poverty, unemployment, inequality, social injustice, lack of democracy and lack of hope for a better life.
The global economic and financial crisis exposed the weakness of our existing systems of global governance and social protection. Tens of millions of jobs were lost as a result of financial speculation, and poverty increased in the absence of social safety nets.
Some lessons should be obvious. Disappointingly, the world’s leaders have not managed to take serious steps to build effective financial regulation and to ensure that people are not left on their own in times of trouble.
Unemployment remains high. Too many of the lost permanent jobs in industrialized countries are coming back as precarious temporary and agency labour jobs. In the developing countries the situation is even worse. Typically 50-90 per cent of the workforce is in the informal sector, with no social security, health care or pensions.
NEW SOCIAL MODEL
There is an urgent need to address these problems both in industrialized and developing countries. Unions have fought to show that austerity packages are not the way out of the crisis. Public finances are a problem in many countries, but in the long term, the road towards sustainable economic growth must be based on investments in the creation of good quality jobs, wage-driven consumption and increased purchasing power.
The global trade union movement has for some time already been arguing for a new paradigm instead of the failed neoliberal model. The new social and economic model has to be based on policies that put people first. We need urgent measures to create jobs, alleviate poverty, promote decent work, enforce labour standards and regulate the financial markets, including the introduction of an international financial transaction tax.
Now our challenge is to channel people’s spreading expressions of anger into a broad progressive movement for change. We need to build political and social alliances and fight not only for the interests of our members, but for a better life for all citizens. That will also enhance our legitimacy and role as a leading voice for those wanting a world built upon social justice.
Trade unions remain the world’s biggest democratic movement, but we are divided and not using all our potential. It is time to reorganize ourselves to fight back. It is time to build a stronger united trade union front worldwide.
ACTION THROUGH STRATEGIC CHAINS
If the decision-making bodies of the IMF, ICEM and ITGLWF so decide, a new unified global union for 50 million industrial workers in more than 140 countries will be founded on June 18 to 20, 2012 in Copenhagen.
The new global union will represent workers from extraction of oil and gas, all types of mining, generation and distribution of electric power, to manufacturing of metal, chemical and textile products. Its power and influence will be founded on uniting workers throughout these strategic chains of production.
Organizing and growth has to be a top priority for the new organization. The global crisis, job losses and increasing precarious work have left the trade union movement weakened. The average unionization rate in Europe has dropped to around 20 per cent. In developing countries, only 3 to 5 per cent of workers are members of a union. In too many countries unions are small and divided. We need to build unified structures so that unions have the necessary resources for fighting seriously for the goals they set.
INDUSTRIAL POLICIES NEEDED
The new global union will advocate strong industrial policies that promote sustainable manufacturing industries as the engine of national economies and provider of sustainable, good quality jobs in both developed and developing countries.
In many countries in Europe and North America, there is no real industrial policy. In Africa, there is no industrial base and almost all countries are exporters of raw materials. The new global union and its affiliates in the South and the North should work together to develop a plan and mobilize support for accelerating industrialization and the creation of jobs through developing infrastructure, transfer of technology, proper training and skills development.
Climate change has not stopped despite the difficulties in global talks, which have been somewhat buried under burning financial problems. But a global treaty that takes into account social implications and promotes the path towards a low-carbon economy, is still needed. There is a lot of job potential in the development of new and renewable energies as well as clean and energy saving technologies. A sustainable and balanced energy mix is also the foundation of industrial production.
In the majority of countries of the world, it is difficult to join a union freely and to bargain collectively. Each year some 100 union activists, national leaders and local union representatives, get killed, and thousands sit in prisons. Several governments have used the crisis as a pretext to weaken labour legislation, and companies have taken the occasion to attack trade union rights.
International labour standards are essential to the new global economic and social model. The new global union needs to plan systematic action in cooperation with the ITUC against governments that refuse to acknowledge fundamental labour rights. Some progress has been made in including core labour standards in free trade agreements and the World Bank’s loan conditions, but we need to continue pushing for effective implementation.
The new International will be a strong counterweight to transnational corporations that dominate manufacturing industries. We need to continue to create and expand trade union networks for developing solidarity and joint action. Links between mining, energy and metal sectors provide interesting opportunities, especially if combined with strategic action with transport workers. Attacks by companies against union rights will be met with rapid and efficient campaigns, using various available tools.
Around 40 international framework agreements with major corporations have been concluded in industry and mining to guarantee trade union rights for millions of workers and to develop mechanisms for solving problems together. The IMF has reached other global level agreements with a few companies on health and safety. A number of World Works Councils and Global Networks have been recognized by the corporate management as counterparts for discussions. Further agreements on union rights, other topics and recognition will enhance our legitimacy to discuss matters at the global level.
In sectors as electronics and textiles where union density is relatively low, we will increase our cooperation with non-governmental organizations and civil society networks such as Clean Clothes and PlayFair in campaigns for decent conditions of work. Such alliances have already proven their usefulness.
SOLIDARITY ACROSS BORDERS
In times of crisis, racism, xenophobia and nationalism traditionally increase, and this is the case also today. It is the responsibility of trade unions to take determined and visible action in favour of tolerance and solidarity.
We are a movement for democracy and peace. In North Africa and Middle East, our major project will be to help trade unions to become pillars of the new, hopefully democratic societies. We have seen that it is a complicated process, and it will take time.
Transnational corporations are increasing their investments in the manufacturing industry and mining in South and Southeast Asia. Obviously one of our absolute priorities in the future will be to assist trade unions to organize the 90 per cent of workers who are unorganized. There is a potential of millions of workers.
Finally, we will need to get more engaged in China. Last year’s developments especially in the province of Guangdong and at Foxconn, Honda and other companies show that there is change in the air. It is in the interest of the world’s industrial workers to help Chinese workers to develop true collective bargaining and improve their wages and working conditions. China remains a challenge, but I am confident that we will find ways of making our solidarity truly global.Oct 20, 2011 – Alex Ivanou