Education International
Education International

Global Unions prepare the future

published 27 January 2006 updated 27 January 2006

Global Union Federations (GUFs) held their Annual Conference in Brussels 10-11 January. General Secretaries of the 10 GUFs, representing many millions of employees in the main sectors of the global economy, dealt with an impressive list of issues facing the global trade union movement.

They were joined by the General Secretaries of the ICFTU and TUAC/OECD, and the Director of ILO/ACTRAV. EI’s General Secretary, Fred van Leeuwen, currently chairs the GUF Conference, and EI has invested considerable time and effort in consultations aimed at reaching new agreements on the way forward for the trade union movement in the 21st century. UNION’S UNITED, READY FOR CHANGE! As ICFTU and WCL move towards the creation of a new Global Trade Union Confederation, the slogan from EI’s creation in 1993 ( Teachers’ United, ready for change) applies 14 years later to the current situation in the movement as a whole. The 12 Global Union General Secretaries agreed to present each of their Executive Boards with a proposal to create a Council of Global Unions. This Council will be a Partnership for growth and action. When the governing bodies of a majority of organizations have ratified this proposal, the new Council will start in January 2007. It will establish “ an instrument for solidarity, mobilization, joint advocacy and campaigns. It grows out of a shared commitment to the ideals and principles of the trade union movement. It is based upon a common determination to organize, to defend human rights and labour standards everywhere, and to promote the growth of trade unions for the benefit of all working men and women and their families.”. It will “ build on the historical relationships between Global Union Federations and the ICFTU, and between the International Trade Federations and the WCL.” At the same time “ Each Federation will remain an independent and autonomous organization free to establish policy on all issues its governing bodies consider relevant. Global Campaigns The Conference endorsed the continuation of the Global Campaign Against Poverty (G-CAP) aimed at putting pressure on governments to achieve the United Nations’ MDGs. G-CAP insists on debt relief for the poorest countries, more and better aid, and fair trade. The worldwide campaign on asbestos, led by the International Metal Workers’ Federation (IMF) will be stepped up. A new campaign will be launched on contract and agency labour. Proposed by the Mining, Chemical and Energy Workers’ Federation (ICEM), this issue increasingly affects all sectors, including Education. Pressing the financial institutions TUAC’s General Secretary and the Director of the Global Unions’ Liaison Office to the Financial Institutions in Washington reported on actions at OECD, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. Major issues are being confronted at these institutions. Just one example: the World Bank private sector investment arm, the International Finance Corporation, will adopt new rules requiring companies to recognize trade union rights when accepting IFC loans. The WTO and the ILO At the WTO, following on from the Hong Kong Conference in December, the battle to include the decent work agenda in trade deals continues. The new Director of Social Dialogue and Sectoral Programs at ILO, Jo Walgrave, addressed the Conference. There was a frank exchange with her on the need for ILO to step up its work where it counts most, in sectoral activities at the country and regional levels. Corporate Social Responsibility Global Unions are active members in the UN’s Global Compact and the Global Reporting Initiative, aimed at getting companies to act more responsibly on issues ranging from child labour to respect for womens’ rights and labour standards. They also monitor the OECD Guidelines on these issues, and work with the International Standards Organization (ISO). Most Global Unions also attend the World Economic Forum, held annually in Davos, as well as the World Social Forum, held this year in Bamako, Caracas and Karachi. Joint activities and cooperation Global Unions work together for reconstruction of the region devastated by the Tsunami of December 2004, and for the prevention of HIV/AIDS. Campaign and website staff met in 2005 to improve their coordination, and reported to the Conference. Looking forward, the Global Union University (GLU) and the Research Network (GURN) are encouraging a new generation of unionists to prepare the future. Back to the 19th century in Australia A legendary figure of the international labour movement, Bob Hawke, former Prime Minister of Australia, addressed the Conference on the significance of new labour relations legislation in that country. Hawke, who chairs EI’s Committee of Experts, described how the present government wanted to set the clock back to the 19th century, when employers could dictate the worst possible conditions to employees. “ They say their new legislation is about choice,” he said “ In practice, that means employees will be denied all bargaining power, and that means the Australian tradition of a “fair go” for working men and women will go out the window,” he stressed. China The General Secretaries held an important exchange on the situation in China. With dramatic annual growth, pressures are growing on the “official” trade union bodies controlled by the government. Given the sheer size of the China’s population, and the growing impact of China on the global economy, Global Unions are monitoring developments closely.