Monday, December 13, 2004

Two Global Trade Union Federations to Reunite: Anti-Globalization

Thu Dec 9,12:45 PM ET
World -
Jim Lobe, OneWorld US

WASHINGTON, D.C., Dec 9 (OneWorld) In an effort to keep up with the challenges posed by corporate globalization, the world's two largest global trade union federations have agreed to merge.
The International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU), whose 250 affiliates in 152 countries represent 138 million union members, and the World Confederation of Labour (WCL), which represents some 27 million workers worldwide, say they hope to consummate the union next year. Both groups are based in Brussels.

"Such a merger would create a single free trade union movement around the world, from Australia to Zimbabwe, united by a common vision of social globalization that works for people rather than the other way round," according to Brendan Barber, general secretary of Britains national union federation, the Trades Union Congress (TUC).

"Each of these bodies, with their proud traditions, knows it cannot continue to champion the interests of its members if it does not operate internationally," he wrote in the Financial Times earlier this week.

The plans were unveiled at the ICFTU's annual conference, which is being held this week at Miyazaki, Japan, under the slogan, "Globalizing Solidarity." The ICFTU delegates attending the conference are expected to approve the merger Friday.

Speakers at the conference stressed this week that unifying efforts should not end with the merger of the two global unions. It should be extended to other major national unions in order to cope with the impact of globalization one of whose features is accelerating the movement of entire production lines and service sectors from one country to another to take advantage of cheaper labor costs or laws which make it difficult or impossible for unions to organize.

To address such challenges, labor activists have long argued that it is necessary to organize across borders to both "level the playing field" and ensure that labor markets are not competing against one another on a "race to the bottom." While multinational corporations operate globally, they have always preferred to deal with national labor groups.

"The logic of globalization is that international action should become a much bigger part of national unions' thinking," said Guy Ryder, the ICFTUs general secretary.

The merger decision came as the International Labour Organization (ILO) reported this week that half of the worlds workers some 1.4 billion people are trapped in grinding poverty, unable to earn enough to lift their family incomes above the US$2 a day poverty line.

The ILO's "World Employment Report 2004-2005" also found that 185.9 million people who were unemployed in 2003 represent the "tip of the iceberg" of the what the UN agency called "the decent work deficit," since more than seven times that number of people are employed but still live in poverty.

At the same time, the report found that of the 2.8 billion people who were employed globally in 2003, about half were living on less than $2 a day and some 550 million were living on less than the $1 day.

This vast labor pool more than 10 times greater than the total union membership that will now come under one global federation underlines the difficulty unions face in trying to organize for higher wages. Nonetheless, ICFTU officials believe that a global organizing strategy is increasingly essential.

"In a political and economic climate in which 60 million children in India are exposed to forced labor and 32 percent of Albanians between 6 and 17 years of age work, the planned unification will help trade unions to more effectively represent workers in the industrialized and developing world," the ICFTU said this week.

This conclusion was underlined by various speakers at this week's conference. "We cannot afford to have two heads to serve one body," said Adams Oshiomole, a representative of Nigerias powerful union federation, while Sally Hunt of Britain's TUC recalled that "for 50 years, we have been letting bad employers and bad governments get away with far too much while we disagreed with each other."

The global labor movement has essentially been split three ways over the past almost 60 years. The ICFTU, by far the largest world trade federation, was created by Socialist and Social Democratic unions in 1949 after the World Federation of Trade Unions (WFTU) was essentially taken over by Communist affiliates. Many of those affiliates joined the ICFTU after the Cold War.

The WCL, which was created in 1920 as the Federation of Christian Trade Unions and then reconstituted under its present name in 1968, has been closely tied to Christian Democratic parties in Europe and Latin America.

Now, Lets pile on the mustard & ketchup!


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