The ITUC General Council met in São Paulo last week and selected three global issues to focus on in the coming year.

Walton Pantland
A woman wears an End Corporate Greed T-shirt at a May Day rally

A woman wears an End Corporate Greed T-shirt at a May Day rally

The global trade union movement is tackling world issues head on, and developing a collective response. From climate justice to slavery, from growing state authoritarianism to organising domestic workers, unions have a strategy.

The general council of the International Trade Union Congress (ITUC) – the representative body of the world’s union federations, from the TUC and AFL-CIO to COSATU and beyond – met in São Paulo, Brazil, last week to decide on strategy for the coming year.

The ITUC represents 176 million union workers worldwide, making the decision-making process one of the biggest democratic exercises in the world.

Representatives of the world’s workers chose three main campaigning priorities for 2016:

Climate Justice and Industrial Transformation

This campaign aims to pressurise governments and global actors to restart the world economy with a massive just transition that will create tens of thousands of green jobs as we transform our infrastructure to deal with climate change. This would create jobs in the design, construction and maintenance of renewable energy, as well as in building a greatly enhanced, globally connected power grid. It would also provide work in public transport, and in improving the insulation of existing buildings, and would provide a massive stimulus to the world economy while helping to tackle the problem of climate change.

Taming Corporate Power in Supply Chains

Globalisation has allowed corporations to run roughshod over workers’ rights that took decades to win. Corporations play countries and companies against each other in a raise to the bottom that drives down wages and conditions, and leads to terrible industrial accidents like the collapse of the Rana Plaza textile factory complex in Bangladesh that killed more than a thousand workers. Making companies responsible for what happens in their supply chain – through legislation as well as union power – will help to prevent corporations from outsourcing their exploitation.

Eliminating Slavery

Hassine Abassi, GS of the Tunisian union UGTT, pledges to fight slavery

Hassine Abassi, GS of the Tunisian union UGTT, pledges to fight slavery

Closely linked to the problem of supply chains, is the fact that in the 21st century, much of the world’s wealth is still produced by slave labour. Although slavery was officially eliminated in the 19th century, there are an estimated 21 million slaves working in the world economy – from the bonded labourers in the brick kilns of India to migrant workers trapped in the kafala system in the Gulf and women trapped in domestic servitude. The campaign aims to highlight these facts and argue that it is completely unacceptable that any forced labour still exists in the world.

The Council also adopted work-plans on six priority areas –  Countries At Risk, Global Coherence and Development, Global Governance of Migration, Count Us In! (women’s representation at work and in unions), Domestic Workers and Organising.

The 10-12 October meeting opened with a message of solidarity and condolences to the victims of the bombing of the peace rally in Ankara, in which more than 100 people were killed and some 250 injured when a union-organised rally was targeted by terrorists.

The Council also marked the award of the Nobel Peace Prize to the Tunisian “Quartet”, and was briefed by Houcine Abassi, General Secretary of the UGTT, one of the Quartet members.  .

The meeting also discussed and adopted a report entitled “Freedom” which identified the alarming global trend towards the closing of democratic space and the consequences of this, including conflict and displacement of people, corruption, impunity and violent crime and inequality and attacks on workers’ rights.

A Resolution was also adopted opposing the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement, which would enhance corporate control.

Resolutions were also passed on violations of workers’ rights in Spain and attacks on democracy in Brazil.  A resolution on the International Development Agenda following the UN’s adoption of post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals was also adopted, including a commitment for the ITUC to support the “Global Deal” initiative launched by the government of Sweden. The global deal, which aims to be a worldwide New Deal, recognises the huge problem created by growing inequality, and the importance of creating quality jobs.

The movement grew by 4,400,000 when five new union confederations affiliated to the ITUC: NCST Brazil, CFTUI India, FPK Kazakhstan, and CESITP and CUT Paraguay.

The Council also received reports on the global economic situation and on ILO activities, along with reports from the ITUC Human and Trade Union Rights Committee, the Committee on Workers’ Capital, as well as briefings on activities for women workers including action to stop violence against women at work and in society.

Global Union Federations Education International and UNI reported on their respective campaigns for quality public education and for international security firm Prosegur to respect workers’ rights.

Three organisations, GFITU Iraq, CFTUK Kazakhstan and FTUz Uzbekistan were recognised as ITUC-associated organisations.


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Walton Pantland

South African trade unionist living in Glasgow. Loves whisky, wine, running and the great outdoors. Walton did an MA in Industrial Relations at Ruskin, Oxford, and is interested in how trade unions use new technology to organise.

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