« PreviousNext »

GLOBAL RESPONSE TO THE GLOBAL CHALLENGES - Some points for trade union debate

25 September 2001

1.1.       The beginning of the 21st century is marked by tremendous achievements in the development of productive capabilities and technological achievements, which should be enough to create decent living standards for the entire humanity. At the same time, humankind, as a whole, faces unprecedented challenges and threats. The statistics and facts are well known and their impact deeply felt. Probably for the first time in the history of human civilisation, the world itself appears as a mutually bound global entity, because of the global impact of both these factors.
1.2.       In the social and labour fields, these developments resulted in a steady decline in the social situation as well as in the working conditions of the vast masses of the population There is a growing gap between the rich and the poor, leading to the marginalisation and social exclusion of more and more people, both in the developed world and in the developing countries.
1.3.       All these contradictory trends and negative factors are clearly recognised by the UN and the ILO and reflected in their reports and documents. From the positions of the world trade union movement, what then are the standpoints concerning the reasons for such a situation and the way out?
1.4.       It seems that we have come to the moment when all trade unions agree that the trends and developments which have come to prevail are unacceptable and that if they continue, they will bring irreparable damage to the society and the whole world we live in.
1.5.       We also find that the reasons for the negative developments, despite their different forms in different countries and regions, have a global and comprehensive nature and need a global and comprehensive response.
1.6.       Most affected are the working people and the weakest strata of the population everywhere.
1.7.             The crisis involves the geopolitical situation, development of the world economy, trade and other aspects of international relations. It questions the role of international organisations, governments, parliaments and other institutions. It drastically affects the trade unions in a negative sense, questioning their role, their capabilities to represent workers and even their very existence.
1.8.             Assessing this as a phenomena, trade unions consider themselves both affected and responsible. They recognise their special role and potential as organisations deeply rooted in society, and believe that they have a mandate from their members to reverse the situation.   But, unfortunately, trade unions at the national, regional and international level are weak, marginalised or divided.
1.9.             The very first thing to do is that the unions should unite their efforts in one direction, i.e., to search for a way to unite (merge) or to co-operate. It seems that this is the assessment of practically every sector of the trade union movement. The main point to be stressed is that the trade unions – just as parliaments and political parties – constitute an indispensable part of every civil society, that they have an irreplaceable role to play and that society is responsible to create conditions for trade unions to fulfil their role.
1.10.          Also we should realise that not only points of agreement should be dealt with but also points of disagreement.
1.11.     The next step is: how to co-operate. There are different possibilities but the first step is to go for dialogue. To start the dialogue, the parties concerned should agree on the principles of that should govern their relationship. On this, longstanding traditions exist: respect for sovereignty and independence of each trade union organisation, equality, mutual respect, and non-interference in international affairs of each other. This co-operation should be on a just and fair basis, solely in defence of workers’ rights and interests on commonly agreed issues:
1.12.          It should embrace such issues as:
-          Defence of workers’ interests;
-          Economic and social development;
-          trade union rights;
-          legislation
-          proportional representation and elaboration of common positions at the level of different bodies – economic (IMF, WB), labour (ILO), policymaking (UN).
1.13. The forms of co-operation could be mutually agreed, e.g., a round table or joint working group, (composition to be agreed) meeting regularly, and engaging in broad debate where necessary, on a commonly agreed agenda, which could be seen as a permanent mechanism of co-operation.
1.14.           Co-operation should address international, regional, national, industrial and workplace levels.
1.15.     This should be seen as the beginning, to initiate the co-operation for which we feel the time has come. How it will develop later depends on experience and willingness of all sides to observe the rules. The aim is to strengthen the voice of the working people, to build the necessary global response to meet the global challenges.
1.       The Trade Union Forum which was convened in the framework of the World Summit for Social Development (Copenhagen, 1995) showed possibilities to bring together trade unions of all countries and all international and regional trade union organisations on a common platform and to adopt a common declaration in support of the WSSD.
2.       Unfortunately, there was no follow up to the Copenhagen consultations. The result was that there was no effective national and international campaigns and actions by all the trade unions to secure the implementation of the Copenhagen Commitments, although many vital trade union demands regarding social development were accepted by the WSSD, in principle.
3.       At the national level, in many countries, on the principal policy issues such as the struggle against privatisation, factory closures and dismissals from jobs, etc., trade unions affiliated with the different international organisations have been acting together – and succeeding in winning demands in many cases. Therefore, it should be possible for all the international and regional trade union organisations to agree on co-ordinating their campaigns on specific issues or on specific questions of solidarity with the ongoing struggles in different sectors and countries.
4.       High priority has to be attached to find ways to reverse the trend of declining trade union membership and denial of right to organise in different industries and sectors. While the tripartite machinery and the recent Tripartite Declaration are loudly talked about, these high principles are seldom implemented. Therefore, the trade union centres at all levels should collectively insist that the right of association is not only formally accepted by governments and employers but allowed to be freely exercised by all employed persons in all trades, sectors and countries. To introduce an effective mechanism to review and overcome the serious shortcomings in this respect, it would be useful if the ILO and the world trade union movement jointly issue a World Trade Union Development Report, (on the lines of the UN Human Development Reports) analysing the extent to which the right of association is exercised in the different countries and the state of industrial relations in these countries. Such a Report could also assess how the concept of people’s participation in development, as upheld in the International Development Strategies adopted by the UN, through the involvement of trade unions and other people’s organisations, in all decision-making on economic and social policies, and related issues.
5.       It is also appropriate to propose that all employers (both in the private and public sectors) should publish annual reports (or include in their annual statutory reports) information about the trade union rights recognised in their enterprises, including the percentage of employers who are members of trade unions, and on the collective agreements signed with the trade unions. 
6.       The reporting which governments are preparing for the ILO – in terms of implementation of the various conventions and now in terms of implementing the ILO Declaration on Principles and Rights at Work – is too elementary and over-generalised. It should be far simpler to ask all corporations and other employers to include this information in their statutory annual reports which they are expected to publish under existing national legislation. 
7.       A major problem facing all countries and especially the working people is that governance and governing structures continue to sustain a yawning ”credibility gap”, making them far removed from the goals and aspirations of the common people. This is so when the gap between promise and performance in the field of decision-making is widening and when double standards become the dominant trend – the trend set by the economic and political elite. The trade unions as democratic, self-governing and representative institutions of the working people are, therefore, called upon to educate and mobilise public opinion against such anti-democratic and anti-social practices. They must promote confidence-building measures and eliminate all attempts to impose various forms of discrimination. Trade unions at all levels must exercise vigilance against all attempts to impose hegemony. All institutions connected with work and life should uphold their universal character. Representation for the workers’ side in all tripartite bodies should be fully representative of all trends and this principle should be fully respected right from the local, regional and national levels to the international level including the composition of the Workers Group at the ILO.
8.       Working Groups to examine the above-mentioned points and aspects could be set up at the international, regional and sub-regional level, as may be necessary and as may be agreed by all concerned.
1.                  To establish continuous stable relations between the two organisations – locally and worldwide.
2.                  To look for possibility of multilateral cooperation between the international and regional trade union organisations (Trade Union Front).
3.                  To organise – bilaterally or multilaterally – actions of trade unions on common points:
-          foreign debt of developing countries
-          end of blockades and sanctions
-          against neo-liberal policies
-          for full employment, for the implementation of the Ten Commitments of the Copenhagen Summit
-          Against violation of trade union rights.
4.                  Mechanism for unity and cooperation within ILO, on matters of labour standards.
5.                  Elaboration and presentation of common stand towards specific aspects:
-          the U.N.,
-          Towards the IMF and WB; WTO

Posted Archives | Top Of Page