Comrade H. Mahadevan, Deputy General Secretary WFTU and Head of the Asia Pasific Regional Office participated and addressed on behalf WFTU the 13th Convention of INTER COMPANY EMPLOYEES’ UNION on 13th March 2012.
“Dear Comrades in the Presidium, functionaries of the ICEU, revolutionary leaders of the working class movement in Sri Lanka, militant cadres coming from different parts of the nation, guests from fraternal organisations, friends and comrades, brothers and sisters,
On behalf of the class oriented international working class organisation – the World Federation of Trade Unions – I bring the warmest and revolutionary Greetings to your historic convention being held in the Capital of the island nation, at Colombo. Com. George Mavrikos, our General Secretary has conveyed his fraternal and heartfelt Greetings on this occasion, for the success of your Convention.
“The rising income inequalities, growing wage polarisation between the bottom and top resulting in increasing percentage of workers in low pay resulting in increase in number of dollar billionaire’s as well as those below poverty line inversely proportionate situation between productivity growth and real wage increase, persisting gender gap, limited or even decreasing social protection, continuing vulnerability and informality of employment, continuing restrictions on Freedom of Association & Collective Bargaining, amongst others” have been the experience of the working people over the years in this part of the world, along with their contemporaries, elsewhere. As against this situation, the ‘Athens Pact’ adopted by the 16th Congress of the WFTU in last April gave a clarion call for
– “Decisive, unyielding trade union struggles against monopolies unified in each country, industry, region
– Unification of the working class on class basis
– Politicization of trade union struggles with the objective of changing the correlation of forces, with the perspective of defeating the slavery pursued by monopolies and imperialism
– More coordinated struggles with other movements like peace movement, the youth movement, the women’s movements etc.
– WFTU affiliates must, de facto, take a role of rallying and mobilizing for action and struggle of the working class and its allies.”
Let us understand the background of the crisis of capitalism under the neo-liberal globalization.
Globalization is integral to capitalism. Capitalism means making profits. Making profits means making profits anywhere in the world, doing anything, be it running factories or educational or health care institutions or drug rings. Make profits anywhere or anyhow, that is capitalism. Capitalism does not say that profits must be made only by ethical means. So the essence of capitalism is pursuit of profit, which means it is inherently global and globalizing in character. It will always expand. It will always go to new places, look for new opportunities. So, from its birth, capitalism has been an expanding and globalizing mode of production. As Marx put it, `Capital is nothing but self-expansion of value’. Its entire history stands testimony to this aspect of capitalism.
In a capitalist economy, unemployment is not a problem but a solution. We need to understand this. For you and me, for working people, unemployment is a problem. For capitalism, unemployment is a partial solution, as long as it does not get so high as to cause social unrest. As long as unemployment exists, workers can be held in check. Trade unions can be held in check. Capitalism likes some amount of unemployment, not too much, because then there will be social revolt, but enough unemployment to keep the workers on their toes, afraid of the threat of unemployment. The threat of dismissal is the capitalist mechanism for disciplining the working class.
From the 1980s onwards, the main demand of global finance capital was financial deregulation. Not simply in the US, but in all countries in the world. In its drive to prise open the financial markets of all countries, global finance capital has been hugely successful. You must see the contrast. In 1974, towards the end of the era of global democratic advance from 1945 onwards, in the 37th general assembly session of UN, the developing countries, together with Socialist countries, managed to pass a significant resolution. The resolution called for the establishment of a new international economic order (NIEO). It demanded reparation from the advanced capitalist countries for the depredations and plunder of colonial rule. It demanded a more democratic international order. In hardly twelve years after 1974, in 1986, a fresh round of negotiations among the member countries of the then General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) began in Punta del Este, a resort in Uruguay. Called the Uruguay round, these negotiations were marked by a strong push from the developed capitalist countries for a global economic system governed by rules favouring the advanced countries and their TNCs. Unlike in the UN in 1974, the demands in 1986 came not from the poor countries but from the rich countries. Rich countries said to the developing countries, ‘Open up your economies. Let our finance capital enter. Let our commodities enter. Lower your tariff walls. Remove quantity restrictions on imports. Open up your stock market, open up your financial markets. Change your patent laws to provide greater patent protection to our products. Open up your agriculture. Remove all regulations on how we can do business in your economies.’ Between the mid 1970s and the mid 1980s, the world changed dramatically with the rise of global finance capital. Following the crisis in advanced capitalism in the late 70s, their ruling classes strongly pushed the strategy of opening up of third world markets, opening up of financial markets everywhere, and imposing a new set of rules in the game under the aegis of the World Bank, the IMF, and ultimately the WTO. Now, this was the context of financial globalization.
In the recent years, the Structural Adjustment Programmes (SAPs) have imposed hardships, as more governments followed the far-reaching liberalisation measures such as privatisation of govt. institutions, reducing the size of the civil service, liberalisation of foreign exchange, cuts in government spending on social services and all these resulting in drop in formal sector employment, retrenchment/job loses in the various sectors, collapse of small enterprises, declining of the co-operative movement, trade unions losing considerable percentage of membership in the organised sector, commercialisation of services like Education, Health System, elimination of food subsidies to the poor coupled with the sky-rocketing increase in the prices of all essential commodities, the so-called labour flexibility driving workers to the informal sector and similar hardships including non-implementation of labour laws in most sectors including Special Economic Zones, Export Promotion Zones and millions of workers in the small & medium industries and the laws remain only in the statute books.
In capitalism, there are two contradictory forces. On the one hand, competition among capitalists drives capitalists to innovate and technologically advance, to mechanize, to automate, try and increase productivity from mechanization, so that they may lower their unit cost and sell at a marginally lower price in order to defeat their competitors and capture the market. This is one part. But more important, the class struggle between capital and labour is fundamental. What does it do? For the capitalist, the worker is a source of profit. But the worker is also a nuisance because, unlike the machine, the worker will go on strike. Capitalists naturally prefer machines, since they do not argue nor go on strike. No strikes, no problem. So capitalists will constantly try to eliminate labour, by mechanization or automation. Also, if they depend on the skills of the worker, then, they cannot rapidly adjust levels of output to serve changing markets, they cannot expand scales of production quickly. And if the production process is crucially dependent on the skills of the workers, the bargaining power of the workers will be high. So capitalists prefer to constantly make workers redundant. Class struggle between capital and labour as well as the competition among capitalists thus leads to the constant replacement of labour by machinery under capitalism. Capitalism constantly renders the skills of the working people redundant. It creates unskilled labour on mass scale. Before capitalism, we have heard of artisans, we heard of skilled agricultural workers, but not of a mass of unskilled labour. Unskilled labour on a mass scale is a product of Capitalism.
We, in the WFTU, characterise the present situation as “deeper exploitation of workforce, depreciation of workforce with sweeping anti-labour changes, increase in productivity without increase in the real wages and social security to those who produce, mergers & repurchases in all essential branches and the gigantism of monopolies, intensity of rivalry for control of raw materials and spheres of influence, putting the burdens of the crisis on workers and countries and generalisation of limitations of social allocations.” In several countries we find an unholy nexes between the law-makers, law-protectors and law-breakers. Profit over the people as against ‘Profit for People’ has become the order of the day which explains the huge disparity between the haves and have-nots.
I firmly believe that the ICEU follows ‘Rank-and-file unionism -– as opposed to “business unionism,” where the conduct of union affairs is patterned on a corporate model – constantly pushes member involvement and fosters a higher understanding of the political and economic context in which we live. Giving proper leadership, it also provides a better organizing vehicle through which members, and “not yet” members, can force changes in their workplace and society. Belonging to a union should offer a member more than just a better material life earned under more dignified conditions; it should promote an understanding of our economic and political systems, and help reveal to workers the “Them and Us” nature of our society.
We are of the consider view
– That the Global economic & financial crisis underscores the fundamental flaws of the system and there is an urgent need for radical transformation towards a new economic order built on certain principles such as “justice and equitable development, peoples participation in the shaping of economic policy, food and energy sovereignty, universal access to essential services and public utilities, protection and promotion of all human rights.”
– Re-orient budgets to finance measures to address the impact of the crisis, additional public investments to social infra-structure, complete repeal and reverse of the policies that brought on the crisis. Repeal those budgets that slashes the social protection and hard earned gains of the working people.
– Protection of jobs, labour and migrant workers based on the four pillars of Decent Work & core labour standards of ILO. Every investment should result in retention and increase of decent and green jobs.
– Commit massive public funds to reverse privatisation of common essential services and public utilities. No country in the Region shall deny to all workers the ‘Need based Minimum Wage’ and ‘Social Security’ and this mandate shall not be delayed anymore.
– Cancel unsustainable and illegitimate debts of developing countries;
‘Restitution of undue wealth’ should become the principle of International law.
– Institute full scale socialisation of Banks; shut down the offshore banking system.
– The end goal of trade should be social usefulness and not just financial profits; Trade policy should not destroy traditional, home based and small and medium industries including Retail trade which have huge potential of employment.
– Industrial policy should prioritise employment generation, safety & health, improving quality of life, in line with the parameters of Decent Work, in letter and spirit. Decent work cannot go with ‘Union –Free-Environment’ and such conditions attached to FDI & FII. Code for MNE’s are an constant violations, directly or clandestinely encouraged by Governments, having been black-mailed of denial of investment.
I once again wish all success and glory to this important, historic Convention.
• Long Live Working Class Unity.
• Long Live ICEU.
• Long Live class based trade unionism
• All success to Sri Lankan Working Class.”