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November 2010, Week 2

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Portside Labor <[log in to unmask]>
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Wed, 10 Nov 2010 20:07:19 -0500
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[INTRO NOTE: The following report is reprinted from
Issue No. 21 (October 28, 2010) of the International
Liaison Committee newsletter, in preparation of the Open
World Conference that will be held in Algeria on
November 27-29.]
"It's Necessary to Return to Trade Union Fundamentals"
-- Report on ITUC  Congress by Julio Turra (CUT-Brazil)
and  Tetevi Gbikpi-Benissan  (UNSIT-Togo), in their 
personal capacity

ILC <[log in to unmask]

It's Necessary to Return to Trade Union Fundamentals

(A contribution from trade union officers Julio Turra
(CUT-Brazil) and Tetevi Gbikpi-Benissan (UNSIT-Togo), in
their personal capacity. Both are supporters of the
International Liaison Committee of Workers and Peoples
and were delegates to the Second Congress of the
International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) in
Vancouver, Canada, on June 21 to 25, 2010.)

We were present -- as delegates from the Unified Workers
Central of Brazil (CUT) and the National Union of
Independent Trade Unions of Togo (the UNSIT) -- at the
Second Congress of the International Trade Union
Confederation (ITUC), the first since its foundation in
November 2006 in Vienna, Austria.

Let us remind you that this body was formed on the
November 1, 2006, as the product of a merger between the
International Confederation of Free Trade Unions 
(ICFTU) and the World Confederation of Labour (WCL), of
Christian origin. The ITUC represents 166 million
members in 309 organisations from 156 countries. During
its founding congress, the ITUC adopted statutes in line
with the framework of "democratic governance of
globalisation".

With nearly 1,400 participants (including nearly 1,000
delegates), the Second Congress opened with a special
guest. To our great astonishment, George Papandreou, the
prime minister of Greece, addressed the congress by
video from Brussels. Introduced by the chairperson of
the congress as "an old friend of labour", Papandreou
explained that he was compelled to apply the policy that
he was applying because "the right had led Greece to
bankruptcy". Papandreou's policies caused the sharp
reaction of Greek workers, expressed in several
demonstrations and general strikes, as these policies
attacked basic social rights and gains.

Amidst the applause coming from one part of the audience
(while another part waited, dumbfounded and in vain, for
a reaction from the Greek union leaders of the GSEE),
Papandreou reasserted his "respect for the trade unions"
and stated that he would work to reduce these rights "as
little as possible."

In the general discussions that followed (one or two
speakers for each union confederation, with five minutes
each), Michael Sommer of the Confederation of German
Trade Unions (DGB), who will assume the presidency of
the ITUC for the coming four years, said that
"Papandreou is not only the Prime Minister of Greece,
but is also president of the Socialist International"
and that "the SI parties in power are applying plans
against the rights of workers and against employment,
without challenging high finance and speculation." That
is why the ITUC is going to have to play, he said, "the
political role that the IS -- only a shadow of its
former self -- is no longer playing."

Apart from the thanks addressed to Guy Ryder, who is
leaving his position as Secretary General (he will be
replaced by Sharron Burrow from Australia, who will then
be passing on the presidency to Sommer), most of the
speeches defended "the democratic governance of
globalisation", the agenda of "decent work" and "green
jobs" and especially the need for trade unions to put
pressure on the IMF, the WTO and the G20, in favour of
taxing financial transactions (of the Tobin Tax type),
whilst others demanded taxes to supply the funds for
assistance to the victims of the crisis (the unemployed,
the countries of the South, etc.)

Few dared to do what a Tunisian delegate did -- and this
is to speak of "global capitalism". Instead everyone
hammered home the message that the enemy is "market
fundamentalism" (a total abstraction). Stress was placed
on the G20 being a "hope".

Sommer, who we already quoted, even held forth that the
ITUC should be "the voice of those who are not directly
represented by the G20" (but the results of the meeting
in Toronto several days later would be a disappointment
for the ITUC - see below).

In his speech, Brother Gbikpi-Benissan addressed the
congress and asserted:

"We in Africa, as on other continents where the
populations are being decimated by poverty, have been in
crisis over long decades now. From the beginning of the
1990s, we have warned that the face of Africa, smashed
to pieces by the consequences of the SAPs (Structural
Adjustment Plans) and the so-called ethnic wars, will
soon become the face of the world, if nothing is done to
stop the ravages of neo-liberal globalisation. That is
where we are today and 'budgetary adjustment' is not
very far from 'structural adjustment'.

"Among the six strategic priorities identified in the
report and the main resolution of the Congress, the last
two (a new model for development; the governance of
globalisation) appear -- correctly -- to be the most
difficult to achieve because they mean a frontal
collision with the very structures of capitalism.

"We are obviously pleased to hear speeches on the
Welfare State, on the 'consistency of policies',
speeches denouncing deregulation, liberalisation,
privatisation, 'market fundamentalism', employment
insecurity, informal economy, etc. But the African trade
union leader that I am cannot help but have serious
doubts. And to tell the truth, I am not the only one.
Can it be otherwise when we see Finance Capital, for
example, having been saved by public money, return to
its congenital perversions? ...

"For us, if the trade unions want to continue defending
the real interests of labour, isn't it primordial to
fight, step by step, to preserve the independence of our
organisations? In this regard, we are more than somewhat
preoccupied with the attempts at co-opting them, along
with the ILO also, into what is called the 'new
governance'?

"The ILO agreements must be ratified and respected. We
continue to demand the pure and simple cancelling of the
debt for our countries, not its reduction. We continue
to demand the increasing of public aid to development.
And, worldwide, in order to stop the appalling
destruction of jobs -- which we all denounce -- why not
fight all together for the pure and simple banning of
lay-offs? It is indispensable that we come back to the
fundamentals of trade unionism."

On the second day of the Congress, the guests of honour
were no less than the General Director of the IMF,
Dominique Strauss-Kahn (also introduced as an "old
friend of labour") and Pascal Lamy of the WTO, who is
one of the directors of the Davos World Economic Forum
(which gathers the multinationals who control the world
economy and the governments).

The room was half-empty for Dominique Strauss-Kahn's
speech, thus indicating the negative reaction of many of
the delegates -- particularly those from Africa, Asia
and Latin America -- to the presence, at a congress that
is supposedly for trade unions, of the head of a
multilateral institution of global capitalism whose
recipes, applied in diverse countries, have been a
disaster in terms of privatisation, attacks against
social rights and labour law, all in the name of paying
back the illegitimate foreign debt.

Also invited to the congress was the President of
Argentina, Cristina de Kirchner who, until then, had
never before mentioned the words "trade union" or
"working class". She stated that the IMF had destroyed
her country and that another policy was needed, one
which would strengthen the domestic market and see to
salaries.

A delegate from the Federation of Argentine Workers
(CTA) commented on this speech for us and said that it
"wasn't quite like that" and that the Kirchner
government had "taken measures against the workers and
their rights".

While the ITUC Congress was being held in Vancouver, we
noted that in Toronto, way on the other side of Canada,
10,000 demonstrators were mobilised against the world
leaders of the G8 and the G20. At the same time,
Canadian civil servant unions were organising
significant movements against the cutting back of
rights. Nonetheless, unperturbed, the leadership of the
ITUC went on preaching about the need to "democratise"
the IMF, the World Bank, the WTO, etc.

As to perspectives, several different leaders of the
ITUC asserted to the congress that measures -- which
they called "historic" -- would be adopted by the G20 in
Toronto, at the request of U.S. President Barack Obama,
against the speculators and the banks who were
responsible for the global financial crisis. What Obama
had actually announced was that he would pursue, on all
fronts, the permanent trade wars in favour of the
multinationals, who are mainly all U.S.-based
multinationals.

In fact, Obama declared in Toronto that, "Every economy
is unique" that "every country will chart its own unique
course" but "make no mistake -- we are moving in the
same direction"... meaning that all countries, even at
differing paces, must apply the austerity measures and
structural adjustment of the IMF in order to preserve
the interests of the U.S. financial groups.

The calls made from the podium by the leaders of the
ITUC in Vancouver for "regulation of the global
financial market", for the "democratic governance of
globalisation", of "assistance to victims of the
crisis", or for taking into account "those who are not
directly represented by the G20", etc., were not heard
at the G20 summit. All the talk at this G20 summit was
about the reduction of the public deficit. As workers
and trade unionists, we know full well what they mean
when they talk about "reducing the public deficit." They
mean the destruction of employment in the public sector,
attacks on social rights, employment insecurity,
worsening of mass unemployment, increased degradation in
the standard of living for workers and the peoples as
whole, the generalisation of poverty, etc.

This is what the governments, the multinationals, the
IMF, the EU, etc., are demanding in order to save the
capitalist system, as the crisis goes on in the
developed countries and economic growth, according to
the G20, is to continue to be sluggish in the future.
...

Yes, there is a need for returning to the fundamentals
of trade unionism. The trade unions were born to defend
the interests and the rights of the working class, today
threatened by austerity measures said to be
"compulsory". We must resist and fight back against all
attempts to be co- opted by the institutions charged
with the application of those measures. These are
policies that lead to the weakening and then to the
disappearance of trade unions by destroying the very
bases of their existence: the workers, their salaries,
their rights and their social gains.

Julio Turra (CUT, Brazil)
Gbikpi-.Benissan (UNSIT, Togo)

____________________________________________

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