Introductory speech of the WFTU General Secretary George Mavrikos to the WFTU Asia-Pacific Meeting taking place in Port Dickson, Malaysia on the 25-26 October 2013:
Dear comrades, Dear friends,
I salute you on behalf of the WFTU Secretariat and the 86 million working people that our class-oriented organization represents in 120 countries of the world.
It is an honor to be here with you in this All-Asia and Pacific trade union meeting under the generous hospitality of NUBE here in Malaysia. I want to underline that this meetings and the frequency and consistency these meetings have, is a great step forward for the WFTU. It shows:
the important and stable steps of the WFTU the past years.
It shows the great potentials, the abilities that the WFTU and the class-oriented trade union movement have, if they work with strategy, with specific tactics, with determination.
It proves that the WFTU has presence and action for the contemporary problems of the working people in all continents.
And finally, it shows that we must continue in the same path but intensify our efforts. We must overcome difficulties, weaknesses, problems. We must deepen the collective work and jointly rise at the level of expectations, placed before us by reality, by the anti-labour attack of the monopolies and the governments for the future that the working class deserves.
We are here, first and foremost, to discuss the basic problems of the working people in the Asia-Pacific region, to analyze how these problems increased and how these problems are blocking the improvement of the quality of life of the workers and of the People. A quality of life that is realistic based on the productive and technological achievements of our times.
The leadership of WFTU needs to hear and learn from you the facts, your experience, the picture that you get from the contact with the members of the base. The more we know, the better we become in our positions and action.
You, of course are fully aware of the situation in Asia. The picture shows difficulties in the lives of the working people.
It is clear to all of us, that the majority of the working people are struggling to survive and cover their basic needs. Millions of workers survive with wages that are below the $2 per day. We see salaries from $30 per month for the workers in the garment and retail industry in Bangladesh. $60 to $100 is the average basic salaries the Asian workers are getting. For us this is called modern slavery. When your salary does not cover your basic needs this is slavery in modern terms. In some countries, such as Nepal there is even bonded labour. Old slavery still exists as a phenomenon.
We must demand dignified salaries now.
At the same time, the prices rise. The prices for basic food items are high. The rise has almost become a luxury item in India. The prices for onions, potatoes, corn are continuously rising.
Complex and crucial problems for the working class such as child labour, discriminations against women continue to exist in high percentages. The statistics, during the international capitalist crisis with the extreme unemployment levels, might show a decrease in child labour but it remains in dramatically high levels.
In most countries of Asia, social security is not a right. When a worker is sick or injured he has to face a series of problems and difficulties to recover his health and continue working to survive. He has to face the multinationals in the pharmaceutical industry and the logic of profit which works against the public health.
We must demand Public Social Security for all.
Under the assistance of the governments and the supervising of the multinational monopoly groups, corporations and companies put the lives of the workers in danger every day inside workplaces with no conditions of safety.
The building that collapsed in Rana Plaza and took with it 1,129 workers is not an exception. This is the daily fear for many workers in Bangladesh, in Pakistan in many Asian countries.
We must demand protective measures against earthquakes.
The low quality of life for the workers, the degraded states and the deliberate lack of welfare force the majority of the people to live in unsafe houses. The disasters caused by floods or earthquakes are a repeated scenario. The huge number of victims and homeless people in Pakistan, in Indonesia, in Philippines, in India after such disasters could be greatly reduced with specific measures that are not taken.
Millions of Asian workers migrate to Qatar, to Saudi Arabia, to Europe and leave their families and homes seeking for a better life only to face increasing exploitation and terror.
And when the working people everywhere decide to organize, to resist, to protest, they are faced with terrorism by the employers and the authorities. There is lack of freedom of association. Militant trade unionists are being terrorized, threatened, fired, imprisoned and persecuted such as the trade unionists of NUBE, such as the coal workers leadership in India, such as comrade Ramendra Kumar, President of AITUC India and member of the Presidential Council of the WFTU, such as dozens of others. State violence and repression is used against the workers to stop their radicalization and the strengthening of the class-oriented struggles.
We must demand trade union and democratic freedom
This is the hard reality of the workers in Asia and Pacific. This is the reality for most part of the international working class. This is reality for the majority of the world population being exploited by a small minority that profits from their work.
Multinationals transfer part of their production to the Asian countries, especially during the international capitalist crises to find cheap workers with no rights. But also the local billionaires who have spread internationally are not few. The owner of the steel-giant Arcellor Mittal, the owner of Reliance Industries, the owner of Sun Pharmaceutical Industries, Wipro and many others, to name few. $19.5 billion is the profit from the garment and retail industry for Bangladesh, $16 billion for Vietnam, $5.3 for Cambodia that are occupying the sector 4 million Bangladeshi workers, 1.5 million Vietnamese workers, 615,000 Cambodian workers.
For the WFTU it is clear: It is realistic, it is necessary for the workers to fight for their rights and fight for the right in livelihood. A decent life for the WFTU is a very specific thing.
Healthy, cheap, quality nutrition clean,
adequate, public water supply
Public, free and qualitative education and healthcare
Public system of healthcare and social security,
Safe and cheap housing for all
For these demands we struggle and we call in the struggle all the class-oriented trade union organizations in the world. This is what we did in the Action Day of the 3rd of October with great success. Thousands of workers took the streets, organized discussions in and out of working places around these demands.
Great struggles are being organized by the members of the WFTU in the region, struggles that leave a footprint and prepare the workers movement for the next big battles. A great example is the two-days strike organized in India on February with the participation of 100 million workers. Similarly, strikes, demonstrations, rallies are organized in Malaysia, in Sri Lanka, in Indonesia, in Pakistan, in Bangladesh and elsewhere. The new large demonstration being organized in India for December 12th, 2013.
The WFTU has made important steps with the collective work of all its members and friends and with the important work of the Regional Office in India headed by comrade H. Mahadevan.
However the action plan that was decided last year by this Asia-Pacific Meeting was not fulfilled in its greater extent. This brings us behind the needs of the class-oriented trade union movement of the region, behind the needs and expectations of our members. We believe that we must intensify the coordination and our collectivity in regional level and assist the important work of the Regional Office of the WFTU in India.
The creation of Sub-Regional Office in Africa and Latin America is a good experience that shows us that this way we have positive results in regional level, it can facilitate the better, more often, more direct communication between the affiliates and the Central Offices, it can help the organization and the coordination of our common action in the framework of the WFTU initiatives.
Take the floor. Make your suggestions for the functioning of Sub-Regional Offices in your region. Which countries, which unions have the ability to function regional offices?
We are already preparing the World Conference for Working Women. We need you preparation and your help for this important and historic initiative for the international class-oriented trade union movement so that we can have a successful conference and to elect a Women’s Committee of the WFTU that will work in this sector. Which country could host this World Conference?
The trade union educational work of the WFTU has been improved based on the decisions of the Presidential Council. We believe we can and we must organize Seminars together with our members, in all Asia-Pacific countries, around subjects that concern the working people and also around subjects that can help our trade unionists in their internationalist work (such as IT and languages). Make your proposals for the Seminars and the Trade Union Education.
During this meeting we also need to discuss how we will improve our work in sectoral level, how we will strengthen the Sectoral Organizations of the WFTU, the TUIs’ so that they are worthy of the history of the WFTU, so that they have class-oriented positions, so that they have action and presence for all the problems of the working people. We need in Asia-Pacific region, a leader who will be responsible for all the TUI’s in your region?
At the same time, we must not forget the financial condition of the WFTU. We need your fees, we need your support.
Let me thank again NUBE for hosting this Conference. I want to thank VGCL for the moral and material support towards the WFTU. This is an important help, the flags, the T-Shirts, the caps that they prepared for the WFTU.
For all these issues we will discuss today and tomorrow and we will take collective, democratic decisions exactly the way has proven it does. We expect to listen from all of you your remarks, your criticism, your proposals.
This is the only way we will strengthen our common family, the WFTU. This is the only way we will deepen the internationalism in the trade union movement. This is the only way we will do our duty towards our members who need a strong, class-oriented, organized and determined class-oriented trade union movement that will put obstacles in the anti-workers’ policy and a movement that will open the way for the labour and social rights up to the abolition of the exploitation of human-by-human and the capitalist barbarity.