[Marxism] FW: Workers of the world are uniting

Lil Joe joe_radical at earthlink.net
Sun Dec 19 15:03:21 MST 2004

Workers of the world are uniting

By Brendan Barber,
General Secretary of the Trades Union Congress (UK)

Financial Times - December 7, 2004


The world trade union movement is poised to follow the
lead of transnational companies, by extending its reach
and throwing off the shackles of national boundaries.
Unions are about to go global.

It will come as news to some employers - and a shock to
some of the anti-globalisers - but trade unions are in
favour of globalisation. Most of the world's trade
union movements are meeting this week in Japan to
discuss an epoch-making strategy called "Globalising
Solidarity". By the end of this week, we may well have
ended 50 years of division in world trade unionism,
abandoned a creativity-stifling global bureaucracy and
refocused our core business on campaigning and

In recent years, trade unions have sometimes looked,
and felt, outdated and sluggish, unable to respond as
business "delocalises" and the free movement of capital
and jobs makes it possible for companies to race for
the bottom in terms of wages, employment conditions and
questions of health and safety. Some have called this
the "Wal-Mart-isation" of the workplace.

Unions have made academic statements and sent symbolic
deputations to address global institutions such as the
World Bank, the International Labour Organisation and
the World Trade Organisation. Bureaucrat has spoken
unto bureaucrat while transnational corporations have
spread around the globe, revolutionising world trade.

Some of this is overstated. Despite comparatively
little progress in the US, Wal-Mart has been dragged to
negotiating tables from Canada to China by UNI, the
global union federation for private service sector

Global union campaigns to encourage ethical sourcing
for goods have been linked to this year's Athens
Olympics, with the purpose of spreading decent labour
standards right along the global supply chain. The
campaign will be resurrected for the Turin Winter
Olympics in 2006, the soccer World Cups in Germany and
South Africa, and the Olympics in China. The Trades
Union Congress is already discussing the issue with the
2012 London Olympics bid.

The global trade union movement has learnt from the
tactics of non- governmental organisations and is
working more closely with them on corporate social
responsibility. We increasingly recognise the power of
consumers, shareholders and pension funds.

This week's world congress of the International
Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU) could take
the bold next step. The ICFTU is the largest trade
union confederation in the world, with 250 affiliates
in 152 countries representing 148m trade union members.
It was created in 1949 at the start of the cold war but
has been split since then. The breakaway communist-
backed confederation formed at the time is fading. This
week's congress may decide to merge the two remaining
global organisations - the ICFTU itself and the World
Confederation of Labour, originally a Christian body.

Such a merger would create a single free trade union
movement around the world, from Australia to Zimbabwe,
united by a common vision of social globalisation that
works for people rather than the other way around.

But, as so many companies have found out, mergers are
not enough. The new global union federation would need
to refocus on its core function. Its unique selling
proposition would be the ability to mobilise a total of
174m members and attract more. In this way, global
businesses, world institutions and governments would
take the organisation seriously and would have to
negotiate and reach agreements.

Old committee structures, conferences and paperwork
must go. In their place must come the ability to target
key companies, sectors and campaigns. Guy Ryder, the
ICFTU's popular and thoughtful general secretary, has
had his work cut out securing agreement from often-
embattled unions to give up the security of their
bureaucracy. But he has the support of the TUC, the DGB
in Germany, the AFL-CIO in the US, Cosatu in South
Africa and many more.

Each of these bodies, with their proud traditions,
knows it cannot continue to champion the interests of
its members if it does not operate internationally.

Trade unions in every developed country face the
challenge of delocalisation. We must not re-erect the
barriers of protectionism but we must protect the
livelihoods of workers at both ends of the
delocalisation equation.

British unions have done a lot in the financial
services sector to ensure retraining at home and better
wages in places such as India. We could do a lot more
if our international organisations were focused on
helping unions address the organising and bargaining
challenges that delocalisation presents. But how much
more could we achieve if employers faced the same union
when they arrived in Mumbai as they did when they
deserted Macclesfield or Milwaukee?

That is a huge challenge for a trade union movement
that has admirable internationalist credentials yet
sticks rigidly to 20th -century borders. This week
trade unionism will try to show it up to that


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