The International Trade Union Confederation submitted a declaration to the G20 prior to their summit in Toronto this past summer, it included instituting an international financial transactions tax, adopting an international pact for employment and sustainable development based on green energies, and reforming global governance and the international financial sector.
Since the ITUC was founded in 2006 with the unification of the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions and the World Confederation of Labour along with trade union organisations that had no previous global affiliation, a worldwide financial and economic crisis has reinforced the necessity to mobilize. ITUC officials note that 34 million jobs have been destroyed worldwide and a further 64 million people have been pushed back into extreme poverty while more than $1.1 trillion USD was collected to save the very institutions that bear responsibility for the crisis.
In the midst of the crisis, everything seemed possible for the workers of the world: from the bonfire of established orthodoxies a new consensus was forming to enact sweeping changes to the workings of the global economy, starting with an unprecedented kick start of sustainable growth and a profound process of regulation of financial markets and institutions. The G-20 was established to make sure that change had a broader base just as trade union satisfaction was reinforced by ITUC access to— and influence on— the first G-20 Summits in Washington, London and Pittsburgh.
Two years later, we observe the results— or lack thereof— and fear the worst.
The opportunities for fundamental change that the crisis generated have not entirely evaporated, but an uneasy sensation is growing— the window for those opportunities is closing. Without real and significant progress, the road away from the crisis will not lead forward to global social justice but backward to increasing inequality and injustice at work and in society.
However, the ITUC has several allies in the G20, including the President of Argentina, Cristina Kirchner, who spoke during the conference to inform the delegations of her support for the ITUC program. The Greek Prime Minister, George Papandreou, via satellite, spoke about current economic problems of his country and called for unions to strengthen their action to advance solutions to the crisis. Even the leaders of the International Monetary Fund, Dominique Strauss-Kahn and World Trade Organization, Pascal Lamy, invited the international trade union movement to offer its ideas.
Towards new trade union internationalism?
The ITUC declaration proposes an ambitious program to end the crisis in which common and concerted international action is foundational. It seeks nothing less than a new trade union internationalism, one that seeks to exceed the prevailing model that is remote from the mainstream of national trade union work and priorities that concern only a limited group of specialists and enthusiasts.
But given both the uneven development and differing realities of trade unions within the confederation, difficulties regarding coordination between organizations and differences between strategies going forward remain; the Brazilian CUT proposes a general worldwide strike, the European trade unions went ahead with a very successful day of disruption on September 29, and ITUC will continue to advance the need for a day promoting the right to decent work.
Uneven development and a current lack of synchronization of mobilization however, will not discourage the International Trade Union Confederation or its 176 million workers from across 155 countries who are unhappy with the road leading from the 2008 crisis— their latest declaration begins with a single message: “Now the people!"