The G20 Summit held in Seoul, Korea, on 11-12 November was marked by growing tensions between the world’s two biggest economies – the United States and China – and a failure to address fundamental issues required for sustainable growth and prosperity – including investment in education.
After two days of meeting, the G20 leaders issued a Declaration which papered over their differences on trade and currency imbalances. They attached a detailed ‘Seoul Summit Document’ including ‘The Seoul Action Plan’ which made one reference to education and training:“where needed, [we will] undertake:“ Labour market and human resource development reforms, including better targeted benefits schemes to increase participation; education and training to increase employment in quality jobs, boost productivity and thereby enhance potential growth.”
Trade union views of the documents adopted in Seoul are that the role of education falls far short of the G20 Toronto Declaration or the 2009 G8 communiqué from L’Aquila. One positive element is the inclusion of UNESCO to work on the two action points, together with ILO, OECD, World Bank and multilateral development banks. However the policy prescriptions fail to recognise the role of education as an investment with importance beyond a narrow concept of skills for employability. EI believes the omission of education as a key factor in growth, prosperity and social justice does not measure up to trade union demands.
Overall, one of the most worrying parts of the G20 Seoul Declaration is contained in its recommitment to the G20 Toronto decisions to cut fiscal deficits by 50 per cent by 2013, irrespective of the context of growth other than an ambiguous reference to’national circumstances’. The details of the implementation are provided in tabular form in the “Seoul Supporting Document.”
In a generally gloomy picture, there were some glimmers of hope. ITUC and the Trade Union Advisory Committee (TUAC) convened a G20 Labour Summit on the eve of the political Summit, and worked on a strategy to present the views of their many millions of members to the political leaders as they gathered in Seoul.
Prior to the opening, trade union leaders met with other G20 leaders as they arrived in Seoul. This resulted in the inclusion of a paragraph to earlier drafts stating:“We recognise the importance of addressing the concerns of the most vulnerable. To this end, we are determined to put jobs at the heart of the recovery, to provide social protection, decent work” as well as a reference in their detailed Summit Declaration to“building constructive partnerships with trade unions”.
EI worked closely in Seoul with Global Unions and the Global Campaign on Education. EI President Susan Hopgood held a press conference which was widely reported in the Korean media. This followed meetings with EI affiliates KTU and KFTA, which dealt with both the trade union rights situation in Korea and education issues. She was joined by EI Asia and Pacific Regional Chair Yuzuru Nakamura, member of the EI Executive Board and President of JTU, Japan, and Aloysius Matthews, EI’s Chief Regional Coordinator for Asia and the Pacific, who both attended the Labour Summit.
One positive outcome of the Global Unions meeting with the Korean President was a commitment by him to meet with both Korean labour federations after the G20 in order to address outstanding trade union rights issues.
The strong union and EI presence in Seoul was critical in keeping open the door for further intervention on jobs, education, and the achievement of the MDGs. But the unsatisfactory G20 outcome also revealed the extent of the challenges that confront EI and its member organizations.
Commenting after the Summit, EI General Secretary, Fred van Leeuwen, said:“For many EI members, the impact of the financial crisis is far from over, and so called ‘fiscal consolidation’ looms as a real threat to the funding viability of schools, colleges and universities.”
“Our campaign began two years ago, after the onset of the financial crisis, and we’ve been strong in our advocacy, we have sent lots of information to affiliates, but we must rethink how EI can work with member organisations to join global advocacy to national and local action. This is the big challenge leading up to EI’s World Congress in Cape Town next year, and beyond.”
The next G20 Summit will be held in Cannes, France, from 3-4 November, 2011. France will also host a separate G8 Summit during the year. EI will work closely with ITUC, TUAC and the GCE to press the case for education and teachers with the French presidency, while working with members in both G20 and non-G20 countries.
By Bob Harris, EI Senior Consultant