International Confederation of Free Trade Unions

Sixteenth World Congress of the ICFTU

The global market - trade unionism's greatest challenge


Chapter 1: A world of widening divisions

Chapter 2: Building solidarity, attacking poverty, creating jobs

Chapter 3: Strengthening the voice of working men and women through international trade union solidarity


Trade unions are one of the most important social movements underpinning democracy. Workers' right to freedom of association and thus to take collective action lies at the core of all human rights because it creates the means by which all other rights are asserted and defended. For over a century and a half, trade unions have fought for the right to decent pay and conditions for men and women at their place of work and for improved social welfare through, for example, health care, education and social security. Generations of struggle for basic democratic rights at the workplace have created in the ICFTU a free trade union organization that now embraces 127 million men and women in 136 countries in all five continents. We are the largest single international movement advocating social justice, equality and human dignity. But our movement is now under attack on a global scale and with an intensity never before experienced in its history.

Unions at national level are seeing much of what they have achieved being undermined by global financial and industrial decisions. The need for an effective national, regional and international trade union response is greater than ever before. The 1996 Congress of the ICFTU is therefore of historic importance for trade unionism as our affiliates define what policies and strategy are needed to meet this global challenge. International solidarity in the 21st century will have to be more than a rhetorical slogan. Communication barriers that in the past made the international work of trade unions a specialist activity have to be swept away. We must develop new methods of organization to give a fresh dimension to international solidarity. And it is essential that the ICFTU re-examine its own structures, including the role of its regional organizations, and its interaction with the International Trade Secretariats, the Trade Union Advisory Committee to the OECD, the European Trade Union Confederation, the World Confederation of Labour and other international union bodies. We need to change and equip ourselves to reshape the features of the emerging international economic and social order.

The world in which we and our members work is changing dramatically. Competition is global and intensifying, bringing a new level of insecurity to developed nations and increased poverty to much of the developing world. Over one-fifth of the world's population survive in conditions of abject poverty and more than 700 million working men and women are not productively employed. Social inequality within and between nations is increasing and is a root cause of the numerous conflicts that threaten to sweep away restored or newly-won democratic rights and the fragile foundations of international cooperation against unemployment and poverty. And we must never forget that many of the world's citizens are still oppressed by dictatorial and authoritarian regimes that continue to deny, often by violent means, freedom of association and other basic human and trade union rights.

This report analyses working and living conditions around the world and the impact of "globalization" on the lives of working people and their families. It also traces some of the key features of the global market economy whose power is challenging the ability of even the world's strongest nations to manage their development and improve the well-being of their citizens.

It aims to provide an objective assessment of what, in today's setting is necessary to provide a more efficient service to affiliates; and to identify the ways in which international action can help to focus the strength of our movement on the people and the issues which are driving forward the process of globalization.

The report first looks at the main issues facing workers and their trade unions. It then seeks to show the underlying causes of inequality and insecurity in the world of work, and identifies the major pressure points that unions can use to bring about progress, with particular emphasis on the international arena. In the final section, the report draws out the implications for the ICFTU and the international trade union movement of these findings, and makes recommendations to Congress.

It signals the determination of trade unionism to fight again to defend the principles that have won so much for working people. These principles are as relevant in today's world of global competition as they were at any stage of our history. Our movement was founded to fight injustice and to ensure basic human and economic rights of working men and women and their families. The report attempts to capture the widespread frustration that unions increasingly sense that globalization - for all its potential to spread prosperity - has been hijacked by the representatives of wealth and privilege in order to pursue their narrow interests.

Although it is aimed at trade unionists, we believe that the report will also provoke reflection in many other quarters. The World Social Summit in Copenhagen in March, 1995, confirmed that there is a global social crisis which must be tackled by new action within and between countries across a wide range of policy areas. Without a strong, free trade union movement able to express the aspirations of working people and negotiate with employers and governments to find solutions, social tensions will worsen with disastrous consequences for the world.

Bill Jordan

ICFTU General Secretary

Chapter 1: A world of widening divisions


Africa: a rich continent living in poverty

Latin America: the legacy of the debt crisis

The underside of the Asian miracle

Central and Eastern Europe - after the revolution

Chronic unemployment and growing inequality in industrialized countries

The global division of labour: the changes - the consequences

The changing world of work


The gap between the rich and the poor is widening all over the world. In 1960, average income per capita in the least developed countries was just under 10% of that in industrialized countries. By 1990 it was down to just over 5%. The World Bank says that income levels in sub-Saharan Africa have fallen by 0.7% a year over the last twenty years while average incomes in industrialized countries grew by 2.0% a year. Over the last ten years, the highly paid within the industrialized countries have seen their incomes rise faster than the average, while a growing underclass of families who depend on insecure, low-paid jobs or social benefits has lost out.

The total number of people living below the poverty line has increased substantially, with a significantly higher proportion of women among the poor than men. The feminization of poverty is closely linked to the substantial increase in female-headed households and the feminization of low wage work, as well as lower educational levels in some regions and gender biases in the allocation of productive resources.

Our societies are becoming increasingly polarized between those who have the wealth or skill to gain from global integration and those who remain trapped in poverty without productive employment. Free-market ideologists believe that the vast numbers of low-paid jobs will gradually become better-paid through investment and productivity. However, the opposite is happening. Rationalization and restructuring are causing the disappearance of secure decently paid jobs and world unemployment is rising. There is still deeply entrenched discrimination against women in many countries, and child labour is on the increase. And ominously, world growth rates are stuck at levels which allow little or no scope for the poorest countries to expand their way out of poverty. Neither is growth in industrialized and transition countries being translated into more employment. The fundamental problem is that the over-riding objective of organizing production to meet basic human needs is not being achieved as a result of governments' infatuation with market-oriented policies.

To reverse this disastrous development, governments must actively pursue policies that create new jobs and raise the levels of health, social security, education and training in their countries. A partnership approach is required where government, employers and trade unions can agree local, national, regional and international strategies to handle the change needed to meet the pressure of competition that global trade and investment is bringing. A prerequisite for unions to take up the responsibilities of partnership is that governments and employers recognize the rights of workers to representation by their own freely chosen unions. Where dictatorships or anti-union governments and employers reject the contribution unions are ready to make to the consolidation of a civil society, partnership is impossible.

Africa: A Rich Continent Living in Poverty

Africa is the world's abandoned continent. Of its total population of 660 million, over 300 million survive on incomes which are barely above abject poverty. Yet of the $80 billion of private foreign direct investment in the developing world in 1994, only $4.5 billion went to Africa. Despite more than a decade of structural adjustment programmes, average income per head at $520 is still below the level of 1975. Seven out of ten Africans live in rural areas and depend on small-scale farming and local supply industries for work. Six out of ten African women are illiterate, and the primary school system still reaches fewer than two thirds of African girls. Thirty per cent of African children under the age of five are below the weight they should have reached for their future healthy development.

Women make up a particularly vulnerable group in the labour market in Africa. They have been hard hit by the deteriorating economic situation and the impact of structural adjustment programmes and devaluations. The majority of women still work in subsistence agriculture, often unremunerated, working long hours with little improvement in productivity or technology. The small minority of women working in the modern sector, often in public services, have been particularly affected by layoffs following restructuring or privatization. The combination of rural and urban poverty and lack of opportunities has led to an intensification of the already existing disparities between women and men and to large numbers of women being forced to take up informal sector activities in order to survive.

African cities are expanding at 6% per year, which is the fastest urban growth rate in the world. Poor farmers, who with their families make up over 80% of the total numbers living in extreme poverty, are still moving in vast numbers to the burgeoning shanty towns which surround most cities. Many are migrating across national borders to do so. The jobs they find are almost all in the informal sector following the cut back of employment in the public sector and in the few large commercial, often state-owned, enterprises. Two-thirds of all urban workers are in the informal sector and urban unemployment has doubled since the 1970's to reach between 15 and 20%. Real wages in manufacturing have fallen sharply during the 1980's with an average annual decline of 12% recorded in 15 countries for which the International Labour Organisation has reliable data. Current structural adjustment policies are failing to meet basic human needs or reduce the burden of debt and thus have not put Africa on to a path of sustainable economic growth.

Against this bleak economic background, the newly-established democracies face enormous problems in containing the tensions that threaten their survival. The most optimistic forecasts for the recovery of the African economy suggest that the total numbers living in poverty will not start to fall until well into the next century. During that period, 60 million young African men and women will have begun the frustrating task of looking for some means of sustaining themselves. AIDS will have infected 20 million and at least four times that number will have died of preventable diseases. On top of that, the continent's food shortage is projected to more than triple by the year 2000. There is a clear danger that further progress towards building democratic institutions may be arrested amidst a slide into large scale social dislocation and a reversion to the corruption and repressive rule that has held back development for so long.

The Informal Sector in Africa

Informal Employment as % of urban Labour Force

Benin: 72.6% Burkina Faso: 60.2: Burundi: 45.1% Congo: 36.9%

Cte-d'Ivoire: 60.8% Gabon: 21.8% Ghana: 38.3% Guinea: 61.2%

Madagascar: 22.7% Malawi: 23.0% Mali: 32.9% Nigeria: 65.1%

Niger: 68.5% Rwanda: 47.2% Senegal 44.3% Togo: 60.4% Zaire: 6.2%

Average Africa: 5.9.0%

Source: ILO.

Trade unions, which for much of the time since independence faced significant interference from their governments and even, in some cases, outright control, played a key role in many countries in the move towards democratization. They now face a new crisis as their former strongholds in sectors like teaching, transport and the civil service are undermined by privatization and public sector cuts. With ICFTU help, they are fighting back and also taking on the immense challenge of recruiting members in hitherto unorganized sectors. And although some governments have made new efforts to assert control over the trade union movement in their country, trade unions remain the most organized and democratic bodies in Africa. In many cases, they have developed proposals for national action to turn around a generation of economic decline. Any examination of the national economies on this troubled continent would conclude that involvement of trade unions and respect for their rights are essential for any sustained economic and social development. In fact, Africa has given us an example of trade unionism at its very best: the role played by the South African trade union movement in the struggle against apartheid. It was the unions and their members who played the key role in bringing down the regime with the support of the ICFTU and the ILO. South African unions pursued a strategy of bringing a peaceful end to apartheid and thus making reconciliation and the establishment of democracy possible. They are showing the same commitment in the struggle to build the new South Africa, and are able to do so because the democratically-elected government is basing its labour law reforms on ILO Conventions.

Realizing Africa's potential requires a strengthening of democracy to remove the barriers which African women and men face to working their way out of poverty. International support should focus on policies targeted to increase employment and wages, raise levels of education and health and remove the burden of debt placed on the present generation by corrupt military and one-party dictatorships. The African trade union movement has a key role to play in designing and implementing policies that will command the widespread support needed to break free from past patterns of development. A narrow focus on deregulation and privatization does not address the fundamental issue of establishing confidence in the role of public authorities that for too long were the tool of self-aggrandizing elites that exploited national, tribal and international cold war rivalries to survive. Respect for human and trade union rights is central to any successful strategy for reform and recovery in Africa.

Latin America: The Legacy of the Debt Crisis

Latin America has struggled to emerge from the debt crisis of the early 1980's but it remains a region of extremes of poverty and wealth. Brazil is the world's second-largest market for private jets, while 47% of the population live in extreme poverty. Over one and a quarter million children under five are malnourished and more than three million primary-age children are not in school. Large numbers of them have been abandoned to scavenge on the streets, and become victims of murderous gangs. Yet levels of taxation on the highest incomes are according to the United Nations Development Programme and the Inter-American Development Bank the lowest in the world.

Real wages in Latin America have recently started to recover after declines of between 5 and 20% but they are still below the levels of 1980. The minimum wage level is now only three-quarters of its previous value. Official unemployment has risen to 10% and more in several countries of the region, while in the informal sector, urban employment has risen to over 18% with a comparable decline in regular work. As the devastating 1995 Mexican economic crisis showed, the region's workers are still highly vulnerable to the ebb and flow of short-term speculation. Despite the desperate need to strengthen purchasing power of the low-paid, and for social investment in education and housing, the foreign exchange markets punish any slipping in the austere budget targets set by governments and the IMF. It means that the vital measures needed to boost social stability are constrained by policies aimed at reducing financial instability. If the international financial institutions really want to help the continent find a sound basis for recovery, they should work to reduce the heavy debt burden that still hinders all efforts to sustain growth, and place more emphasis on improving the tax system rather than squeezing essential social spending.

The battle to survive in Brazil's urban jungle

Brazil has the world's biggest income gap between rich and poor, soaring unemployment (Sao Paulo alone has 1.14 million unemployed) and a complete absence of any welfare system. The minimum wage halved over the 1980s and now stands at 64 dollars a month, which incredibly is 33% lower than it was fifty years ago. Infant mortality in Brazil stands at 58 children per thousand, which is more than ten times the level in industrialized countries. For many of the children who make it through the perilous first years of life all that awaits them is a constant battle to survive on the streets where every night organized gangs of killers try to hunt them down.

Brazilian streets are, for some, paved with gold. A recent study found that the informal economy, including prostitution, drugs and illegal gambling moves around $490 billion a year - more than the country's entire gross domestic product. A nationwide phenomenon, the underground economy is most visible in Rio de Janeiro, which has up to 200,000 stalls (or camelbs as both stalls and stallholders are known) and Sao Paulo, which has an estimated 160,000 - five times the number of shops. Camelbs are just a fraction of the informal economy. Nearly 40 per cent of the workforce of Rio is involved in "non-regulated activities", whether transport, repairs or running illegal lotteries.

While some people make their fortunes from the informal sector, the condition of the overwhelming majority of workers was well summed-up in a report by the ILO Director-General: "Informal sector producers and workers are generally unorganized (although informal local associations of those engaged in specific activities may exist) and in most cases beyond the scope of action by trade unions and employers' organizations. Being unorganized, beyond the protection of the law and working at very low levels of productivity and income, they generally live and work in appalling, often dangerous and unhealthy conditions, even without basic sanitary facilities, in the shanty-towns of urban areas."

The ICFTU believes that governments must accept their responsibility to implement policies to improve conditions in the informal sector. To this end government should provide training, small-scale credits and infrastructure such as electricity, water and buildings at the same time as promoting the application of labour standards and social protection. In this way, they can succeed in the long-term objective of incorporating this sector into the formal economy - in other words, "formalizing" the informal sector.

(Source: ORIT and ILO)

Even though many women have higher educational levels than men, they are still concentrated in low-paid occupations. Women have been more affected by restructuring and cut-backs in the public sector than men with a large proportion of them taking up insecure jobs in the informal sector. There is also a growth of part-time work for women. Women make up the majority of workers in the maquiladora sector (for example in Mexico 77 per cent) where trade union rights are restricted and conditions of work unregulated.

Capital flight has been a persistent problem for the region and led governments to follow policies designed to bring back and keep thedollars of the wealthy elite of the region. The flight of labour to North America, Europe and the "maquiladoras" is an equally dangerous phenomena that has failed to attract similar priority. Whole families are dependent on the remittance of earnings by young women and men who perform low paid, dirty and dangerous jobs far from their homes. The twin objectives must be to protect migrants from discrimination and exploitation and to create jobs and a secure environment in their countries of origin.

The trade union movement in Latin America remains strong and is steadily overcoming a legacy of political division. However, its role in society is still questioned, despite the return to democratic government in many countries. Traditionally, and largely as a result of the long history of state involvement in the economy, governments sought to centralize industrial relations through extensive legal codes which, in theory, obliged employers to offer decent wages and conditions. Although often ignored or only implemented with the discretion of the government, the codes were in effect a form of centrally negotiated contract of employment for most formal-sector workers. With the progressive withdrawal of government intervention in the economy through privatization and deregulation, there is growing pressure to weaken the content and coverage of labour codes. This is a major cause of concern to unions, since those who push for reform are mainly hostile to unions.

Maquiladoras: new concentration camps of Central America

The "new concentration camps" is how one trade unionist described Central America's "maquiladoras" or Export Processing Zones (EPZs) where over 200,000 mostly women workers are employed making clothing and other consumer goods for markets in the United States and Europe.

In Guatemala maquiladora workers are paid between $1 and $2 per day for 9-10 hour days. Sometimes they are forced to work as long as 18 hours. At the Lucasan factory in Guatemala, workers are locked in the factory from 8.00 a.m. to 8.00 p.m. six days a week. At other factories workers required to work until midnight have been locked in the factory until they begin to work again early in the morning. When large orders come in, workers are given amphetamines so that they can work 60 hours without stopping. Threats and verbal abuse are common and plant supervisors beat women workers for simple mistakes, for lateness or even for talking with co-workers. Sexual abuse by their bosses is one price many women pay to keep their jobs. The factories have few windows or ventilation fans and no protection against chemicals or dust. Exits are usually locked.

The factories are often located in sheet-metal structures which are easy to dismantle and transport. They can be moved from one free trade zone to another or even from one country to another. That is exactly what happens when the owners want to avoid obligations to creditors, to the government and to their workers. Changing the officially-registered name of the company is frequently done for the same reasons.

Even thinking about a union can cost a worker his or her job. Taking steps to form a union can have more serious consequences. Workers seeking are followed, transferred, dismissed, harassed, beaten, and are even threatened with death. Sometimes they just disappear - murdered for wanting a union. The following cases were reported to the ICFTU during the course of a few months last year.

February 28, 1995: Deborah Guzman, a trade union leader at the maquiladora factory where she worked was abducted, blindfolded, bound, drugged, beaten and held until March 5. During her captivity she was forced to make telephone calls to her husband, another trade union leader, with the warning unless he resigned from the union she wouldn't be coming back.

March 19, 1995: The body of Maquiladora union leader Victor Alexander Gomez Virula was found in a ravine three days after he was reported as missing by his union. The authorities refused to act. After the body was found other leaders of the same union, including its General Secretary were followed by vehicles with darkened windows and no license plates.

March 29, 1995: Adela Agustin, member of the executive committee of another maquiladora union was attacked, beaten and left on the ground. This followed death threats from company management where she worked.

May 17, 1995: Florde Maria Salguero de Kaparra, a union organizer for the Guatemala food workers' union, who had testified before the US Congress on worker rights violations in Guatemala's maquiladoras, was forcibly abducted, drugged, raped and beaten. Since then she has received anonymous phone calls by someone asking if she liked "her little present".

Source: ORIT

Some governments have sought the cooperation of the trade unions in various types of Social Pact designed to stabilize inflation and reduce balance of payments deficits. But employers in many countries are prepared to hire thugs to kidnap and kill courageous local union representatives and the judges and lawyers who try to defend workers' and peasant farmers' basic rights.

The region is suffering from an epidemic of export processing zones or "maquiladoras" where workers' rights are abused daily by footloose enterprises that mainly supply the North American market. This "slash and burn" style of capitalism destroys stable economic and social development, and is trapping many communities and whole countries into a cycle of exploitation. Even after the restoration of democracy, government in many countries is dominated by the interests of the wealthy families and the multinational companies. Corruption is rife in the private sector although publicity is usually only thrown on abuses in the public sector by media companies that have a greater interest in what they obscure than reveal.

Reversing these trends requires a reorientation of the role of government to make the public services and political parties much more independent from narrow business interests.

Governments need to bring pressure to bear on employers to play a constructive role in the social partnership needed to ensure sustainable growth. Centralized bargaining can ensure that wage growth is consistent with overall economic and social policies aimed at securing recovery and tackling poverty and unemployment. At the same time a gradual shift to local level bargaining would help both unions and employers to agree on changes at the workplace aimed at improving working conditions and productivity. Neither is possible unless union organizers are protected from violence and victimization. Both governments and employers must recognize the essential role of unions in getting to grips with the underlying causes of social conflict which threaten the fragile recovery of the region.

The Underside of the Asian Miracle

The Asian region has achieved consistently faster growth than any other part of the world for ten consecutive years - yet it has more people who can be classed as absolutely poor than anywhere else. Over one and a half billion people in the Indian sub-continent, China and Indonesia survive on less than a dollar a day. With India alone having to create about 7 million jobs a year to meet the expected growth of the labour force, economic growth of over 5% per year is essential to reduce the numbers of people living in extreme poverty.

Wages have risen by an average of 5% per year during the 1980's, according to the ILO, in a number of East and South-East Asian countries as the proportion of workers engaged in agriculture falls and manufacturing and service employment rises. However, this rapid shift from rural areas to the cities is producing enormous problems including a substantial backlog of investment in the infrastructure needed to support a modern urban and industrial economy. The so-called Asian miracle has been largely built on the rapid growth of mainly light-assembly manufacturing industries producing for export, and a steady increase in agricultural productivity. Most of the region's proliferating export processing zones have been deliberately created to prevent union organization as an incentive to investors.

Young female labour has been the cornerstone of export-oriented industrialization. Foreign investors have been able to take advantage of the low pay and manual dexterity of these women workers. The share of women in manufacturing employment exceeds 80 per cent in some countries, especially those with the fastest economic growth. These industries have generated unprecedented employment opportunities for women which are an escape route from rural poverty. But working conditions are frequently long, arduous and dangerous. Few of the women keep these low paid jobs much beyond their twenties because employers fire those who marry and start a family. Many are also physically worn down by the pace of production, exposure to hazardous substances and injuries derived from the repetitive nature of their work. This "sweatshop path to development" leaves in its wake many casualties and undermines longer-term development.

In South Asian countries, the majority of women workers still rely on agricultural employment with unpaid labour on family land alternating with seasonal wage labour.

As in other regions, Asian women have been more adversely affected than men by privatization and the down-scaling of the public sector. There has also been a growth in home-based production and sub-contracting.

Trade unions in most countries in the region have had to function in a legal framework which is controlled by government. Unions representing skilled workers managed to secure a degree of security in employment and real wage increases for their members. However, organizing the unskilled has been actively discouraged through intimidation by employers who are protected by laws which fail to protect workers' right to organize.

By comparison with other developing regions, the East and South-Asia Asian business community is characterized by a generation of strong business patriarchs who have not simply exported profits to overseas banking havens, but have reinvested in expansion. But the traditional culture of deference and duty which pervades employment relations in Asia, and discourages independent trade unionism, is starting to break down. A new generation of professionally trained managers is taking control. Companies are beginning to compete for internationally mobile investment capital on the newly emerging stock markets of the region. The new generation of Asian workers is also increasingly asserting their rights to independent representation and non-discriminatory treatment by management. Governments are now confronted by the reality that a more open law-based and democratic society is essential to development.

The major exception to this pattern is China, with one fifth of the world's population. The Party and the Army know that democratization will end their authoritarian grip on the main levers of power, but to contain social tensions requires a rapid pace of growth and, for them, the encouragement of the private sector. The resultant unstable alliance of a police state with rapacious capitalism is not only an explosive social and political mixture but also means destructive competition for neighbouring countries that are trying to move along a democratic path to development. Increasing reports of industrial unrest indicate that the new Chinese government model of a so-called "socialist market economy" is being questioned by working people within China, as well as international groups like the ICFTU concerned about the abuse of human rights.

Child labour: rescue operations

"People refuse to talk. Someone's getting there before us. When we arrive at a factory, they always seem to have been tipped off, and any children there may have been, have disappeared" complains Mercedes, a journalist for a private television station in Manila, working on a documentary on child labour. There are between three and five million child workers in the Philippines estimates Alejandro Apit, director of the Kamalajan Development Centre, the KDC. Created in 1992 with the support of UNICEF and the International Labour Organisation, the centre was initially supposed to concentrate on research into child labour and promoting "awareness" (or Kamalajan in Tagalog, the official language of the Philippines) of the problem. Very quickly, the organization turned into an action group, even winning the support of the Labour Minister, and the national bureau of investigation, the NBI.

It was the discovery of ten child slaves in the country's largest sardine factory, Highlands Sardines, that triggered the process. "We had heard there were children in the factory. We knew they were isolated from the others and that they could not leave" reports Alejandro Apit. The KDC decided to send three young adults to get themselves hired by the firm. After a week they established contact with the children. "They were under 13, and we could hardly believe what they told us" recalls the director of KDC. The story of the children at Highlands Sardines seems to have been taken straight from the pages of Charles Dickens' blackest novels. Hunted down by recruiters in the south of the country, in Mindanao, the children are taken to Manila or Quezon City. The recruiter gets a commission and is reimbursed the cost of transporting and feeding the children. The money paid to the middleman becomes the debt owed by the young recruits to their future employers. The debt continues to grow and will probably be passed on to their children.

"At first they were promised 23 pesos per day (barely one dollar) but 25 pesos were deducted for food. They never saw a single peso while they were at Highlands. Their skin was yellowed, they had to sleep on sheets of cardboard, seven to a tiny room that led onto a narrow corridor. If there had been a fire, they would have burnt to death." Employed as fillers, they had to cut the sardines and put them in tins. By the end of the day their hands were covered in blood. Apit contacted the Labour Ministry and set up the first rescue operation. A reluctant Highlands doorkeeper opened the gate when the NBI officer showed his card. Half an hour later all the children were out. "Some of the adult workers begged us to take them too" commented Alejandro.

The KDC has carried out another ten rescue operations since then, releasing hundreds of children. They are taken to rehabilitation centres and gradually sent home, with a little money and assurances that they will go back to school. But the KDC first helps them get damages from their slave drivers, defending their case in the courts. "Later these children swore they would help us save others" assured Alejandro. Thanks to a meeting organized in Manila by the ICFTU and its affiliate the TUCP, Mercedes the journalist and Alejandro Apit the organizer will get help for the children to carry on breaking down the wall of silence.

Source: Free Labour World

Central and Eastern Europe - After the Revolution

Five years after the fall of the Berlin Wall it is generally recognized that the transition from the Communist system and the process of reform and adjustment needed for Central and Eastern European countries' full integration into the world economy will be much longer and more difficult than expected. Most transition countries were compelled by the IMF and World Bank programmes conditionalities to concentrate foremost on stabilization measures coupled with privatization including of essential public services. Often even the most elementary elements of commercial law and reform of social security were left to a second phase. For workers, the bitter prize of overthrowing the old regime has too frequently been wage cuts, unemployment and attempts to marginalize trade unions. According to official statistics, unemployment in most countries is over 10%, as many as half are without a job for more than a year, older workers and women are dropping out of the labour force and an unquantifiably large number of people are going into unregistered work. At the same time there has been a sharp rise in the cost of health, education, housing, energy, transport and other essentials. On top of that the collapse of many of the old companies which previously provided large local nets of social facilities negatively influenced the social stability of families. Poverty has increased dramatically.

Alongside this poverty, there are those who have managed the transition to their advantage. The lack of an adequate legislative framework for privatization has enabled a new class to emerge and enrich themselves, often exploiting the connections and financial privileges of the old nomenclatura. They have emerged as controlling shareholders of the most profitable banks, privatization and investment funds and companies, staying however away from the official nationwide negotiation mechanisms. Multinational companies in some Central and Eastern European countries have become a strong lobby and in general have sought to avoid recognizing and bargaining with unions. Conspicuous consumption of this "new elite" has added to a pervading sense of social dislocation, frustration and mistrust. Trade unions have persistently warned of the gaps in legislation, weakness in the representativeness of the employer organizations, the disillusionment of the electorate and of growing instability. It is only now that some governments and the main international institutions and agencies are belatedly waking up to the social dimension of the transition.

Women in Central and Eastern Europe continue to have a high attachment to the labour market. However, women have been more severely affected by unemployment than men. Women tend to be concentrated in light industry and services which has been a factor in their favour, although often in low-paying sectors and jobs. Male employment has growth faster than female in some new service sector activities such as banking and tourism. Another development affecting women's labour force participation has been the closing down of child-care facilities as a result of the dismantling of state enterprises.

Trade unions in the region have in general accepted the necessity of large-scale reform, including privatization. In contrast, both domestic and international private investors have shown a generally hostile attitude towards free trade union organizing. Trade unions have all too often been excluded from any influence on the pace or scale of change and the implementation of accompanying inadequate social programmes to help those worst affected. This has created numerous clashes with governments, particularly over the effects of austerity budgets, erosion of welfare and social services, ill-thought-out plans for privatization and the failure to establish sound relations of social partnership and dialogue. The opportunity for governments to build a broad base of popular support for reform has in most cases been wasted, setting back recovery, weakening confidence in newly-won democratic constitutions and greatly undermining democratic revolutions' hopes and expectations. All this, even in more sombre colours, also expresses the situation in the new states that emerged from the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Chronic unemployment and growing inequality in industrialized countries

The global social crisis has now reached into the world's most advanced economies. The high levels of unemployment of the early 1980's recession have fallen at an agonizingly slow pace. In Western Europe in particular, they are still above 10%, and they are on the rise again in the USA and Japan. Average wages in the biggest economy, the USA, have been stagnant for a decade, and are actually dropping for the lowest paid and least skilled. With rising numbers dependent on social security and welfare benefits, many governments have cut back the level and the coverage of payments to the poorest. Government education and health spending in many countries have also been cut back.

In contrast, tax cuts for the wealthy and get massive pay rises for top executives have widened the gap between rich and poor for the first time in half a century. The dividends of growth have not trickled down to the bottom third of society. All these pressures have fueled the growth of racism and xenophobia, with right-wing extremists, deeply hostile to workers' and unions' interests, winning sizeable numbers of votes in local and even national elections.

For those in work, insecurity has intensified and widened its scope. It is commonplace for some of the most skilled including management to be facing redundancy and few new job prospects. Throughout manufacture and service industries short-term, part-time and sub-contracted employment are on the rise. All this has especially affected women, whose wages are an increasingly essential part of most families' income. The massive redundancies mainly hit larger manufacturing and other companies where unions negotiated good pay and conditions, whereas most new jobs are in the relatively small service-sector companies, which are harder for unions to organize and notorious for inadequate pay and conditions. The days when a public sector job offered security have also long gone. Today, governments throughout the industrialized world are privatizing or contracting out public services and applying rigorous pay disciplines to those workers who remain under their control.

While changes in industrial structure and the labour market have favoured the growth of women's employment in service activities, the bulk of the new jobs tend to be "atypical", often precarious forms of work, such as part-time, casual and home work. Men and women still have different participation patterns in the labour market and there is a gender gap in all countries in occupations, skills and pay. For example, part-time jobs are extremely segregated with between 60 and 80 per cent of these jobs being taken up by women. Different values continue to be attached to men's and women's jobs. Most female-dominated occupations are characterized by low status, poor remuneration and limited potential for skills acquisition, promotion or training.

Poverty in the land of plenty

The gap between rich and poor is vast in the United States - and recent studies show it growing faster there than anywhere else. Three-quarters of the income gains during the 1980s went to the top 20 per cent of the families, who now control more than 55 per cent of all wealth. The rest - 80 per cent of all American households - get to split the rest. The richest one per cent of the households in the United States now control about 40 per cent of the nation's wealth - twice as much as the figure in Britain, which has the greatest inequality in Western Europe. In Germany, high wage families earn about 2.5 times as much as low wage workers; the number has been falling. In America the figure is above four times, and rising.

The standard of living of the average American worker continues to decline. The real wages of American production workers have dropped by 20 per cent during the past 20 years, as millions of decent, well-paying jobs have disappeared. Between 1947 and 1973 the median paychecks of American workers more than doubled - and the bottom 20 per cent enjoyed the biggest gains. But since 1973, median earnings have fallen by about 15 per cent, and the bottom 20 per cent have fallen the furthest behind. More than 40 per cent of all earnings gains have gone to the richest 1 per cent.

In the United Kingdom, almost seventeen years of Conservative government have produced a society in which poverty and inequality is rising and standards of education and health care are getting progressively worse. The share of wealth owned by the top 10 per cent of the population rose from 50 per cent to 53 per cent between 1976 and 1989. This reversed the previous fifty-year trend for wealth distribution to become more equal. The top 1 per cent of the population (about 600,000 people) each owned more than 250,000 ($450,000) in 1989. The income earned by the top 10 per cent rose by 62 per cent between 1971 and 1992 while the income of the poorest 10 per cent fell by 17 per cent.

An international comparison of share in consumption by the top 20 per cent over the bottom 20 per cent in the developing countries shows that in India the rich consume 4.5 times as much as the poor, compared with 4.9 times as much in Indonesia, 7.3 times in Jordan, 13.6 times in Mexico, 15.6 times in Zimbabwe, 26.1 times in Tanzania and an incredible 32.1 times in Brazil.

Source: AFL-CIO, UNDP, New York Times, Independent

Many right-wing governments have chosen to attack labour laws which specify the minimum conditions for employment contracts. Minimum wages, severance pay and notice of termination have been particular targets. In some countries, notably the UK and New Zealand, governments have made major changes to industrial relations laws to weaken unions and collective bargaining. Free-market politicians argue that these measures are essential if industrialized countries are to price the unemployed back to work, or obtain the labour flexibility that world competition now demands. However, after a decade in which wages have grown at a slower pace than productivity and profit rates have recovered, there is no evidence of sustained job growth and increased competitiveness in those countries where free market anti-union policies prevail.

In contrast, many other OECD countries are drawing on the strength that social partnership can bring to the difficult task of balancing economic and social policies. In more than two-thirds of the 25 member states of the OECD, governments have turned to unions for support in establishing an overall agreed framework for pay rises as a key element in policies to stabilize inflation, the exchange rate and the budget. A number of "social pacts" also contain accompanying measures to encourage employment growth, through training and other active labour market policies.

The Global Division of Labour: The Changes - The Consequences

Of the 2.5 billion working men and women worldwide, 1.4 billion live in developing countries where each person has an average yearly income of less than $695. Three out of five workers in the least-developed countries work on the land, mostly on their own small farms. A further 22% work in the informal sector. Only 15%, mainly urban factory and service workers, have employment contracts. In the middle range of developing countries, nearly half of the workforce have formal wage-paying jobs in industry and the services. Fewer than a third remain in agriculture and about one in five is in the rural and urban informal sector. In the industrialized countries only 4% work in farming activities, 27% are in manufacturing industry and 60% have service sector jobs. The vast bulk have employment contracts, although in some countries self-employment is on the rise. Worldwide, unemployment totals 120 million but about 600 million more are estimated to have no regular work or income for most of the year.

Over the last three decades there has been a steady fall in the still predominant share of agriculture in total employment and a rise in the proportion of service sector jobs. Industrial employment has fallen marginally from 19 to 17% of all jobs. Over the last thirty years, it has fallen sharply from 37% to about 26% of the total in industrialized countries, and has risen in developing countries from 11 to 14%. Most of this expansion has been in East and South-East Asia where industry now accounts for 18% of total jobs compared with 9% in 1965. There are now more manufacturing workers in the developing world than in the industrialized countries, many of whom work in export processing zones.

The global labour force is projected to rise by a further 1.2 billion over the next thirty years. If poverty is to be reduced, priority must be given to increasing the productivity and incomes of the developing world's poor farmers. Liberalization of agricultural trade should help this process but only if it is accompanied by a major effort to tackle problems such as land reform, transport and discrimination against women who do the bulk of farm labour in the developing world. But the sheer scale of the developing world's unemployment problems means that hundreds of millions of jobs would need to be created to prevent a social disaster. To achieve this in a world where the industrialized countries already dominate about half of world output requires more positive international measures than currently exist to ensure a balanced and sustainable pattern of world growth.

Industrialized countries will be faced with job-creation problems. Currently they are turning their attention to trade with the faster-growing developing Asian economies, in particular, to meet the demand for capital equipment such as machine tools. For some time, nevertheless, trade between the industrialized countries will account for the bulk of their export production. However, as the Uruguay Round trade liberalization measures are put into effect, coupled with the elimination of controls on the movement of capital, the already intense competition for markets is likely to heat up. In industrial countries, unemployment is rising amongst low-skilled and relatively low-paid male workers, who have traditionally found work in the manufacturing sectors that are most exposed to increased competition. These countries face a major challenge in creating new jobs and in equipping workers with the new skills they will need. If growth falters in the industrialized world or fails to spread beyond the East and South-East Asian region in the developing countries, the industrialized nations' own jobs crisis could worsen.

Governments in those countries which have implemented free market measures, such as wage and social security reductions, claim that jobs have been created as a result of their policies. The results so far are that there is growth in jobs that are insecure, part-time or temporary and have low pay and poor conditions.

In the USA and the UK, there is additionally disturbing evidence of widening pay gaps between the unskilled and higher-income groups. This failure of the free market solution was the main issue before the 1994 Detroit Jobs Summit. The industrialized countries were confronted with the "diabolical dilemma" of mass long-term unemployment or the creation of a new large under-class of working poor. Both options are socially and politically dangerous; both create a massive waste of human resources and fertile ground for anti-democratic extremist politicians and organized crime. Of equal concern is the trend for some right-wing politicians in government to try to distract attention from the disastrous effects of their free market policies by scapegoating foreigners and the institutions of international cooperation.

Wages around the world

Net hourly wages in US dollars

Tokyo: 15.3 New York: 12.8 Frankfurt: 11.3 Montreal: 10.1 Stockholm: 8.6

Paris: 8.5 Milan: 7.3 London: 7.1 Seoul: 5.0 Singapore: 5.0 Johannesburg: 3.8

Panama: 3.1 So Paulo: 2.7 Mexico City: 2.6 Budapest: 1.2 Manila: 1.1

Caracas: 1.0 Bombay: 0.8 Lagos: 0.5 Nairobi: 0.4

Average of 12 occupations, weighted according to occupational distribution.

Source: Union Bank of Switzerland, Prices and Earnings Around the Globe.

A common world policy for economic growth is a necessity for the creation of more jobs and better employment outlooks for the present and next generation of wage earners. But economic growth as we know it causes problems in the field of the environment. Increased use of natural resources and further pollution of the land, water and atmosphere will not only cause problems for this generation, but will also have an impact on the outlook and possibilities for the generations to come. Governments therefore have the obligation to incorporate rules and measures in a world policy of economic growth that will secure a sustainable and ecologically sound development. These rules and measures should guarantee that wage earners at their work place will not be exposed to dangerous substances and hazardous working conditions. The same guarantee should be secured for the environment at large. Trade unions cannot and will not accept that workers around the world are exposed to inadequate environmental standards as a result of competition.

The globalization of the economy and the technology revolution has helped create a network of small and medium-sized subcontractors and outproducers (with a growing proportion of production taking place in homes) in areas that range from printing and publishing, through garments and footwear, to automobile parts and microchips. Telework and offshore data processing are also increasing (for example the transfer of Swissair reservations to India). This means that more and more workers are not covered by standard labour legislation and are not entitled to social guarantees by the state or formal employment benefits such a minimum terms and conditions of work and social security coverage. A large proportion of workers involved in sub-contracting do not know who the ultimate employer is, often a multinational corporation. These workers also remain invisible, and are not counted in labour statistics, nor recognized as workers. They are also very difficult for unions to identify and to organize. The precarious nature of these jobs is underlined by the continuous search by investors and manufacturers for lower and lower production costs. When countries improve wage levels and working conditions, manufacturers move production contracts to countries with cheaper labour and less stringent labour legislation.

Learning the lessons of the Bhopal tragedy

How many people died in the Bhopal gas leak and its aftermath? How many were injured? What are the long-term medical consequences of the worst industrial disaster in history? What are its lessons for the trade union movement as it prepares for action on environmental protection in the post-Rio era? These are questions that deeply concern trade unions. On December 3, 1984 a cloud of methyl isocyanate gas (MIC) escaped from the Union Carbide pesticide plant in Bhopal (India) killing at least 2,500 and injuring 200,000 people. There are now reports from Bhopal that 25,000 may since have died as a result of the leak. Large-scale illnesses caused by the gas leak are continuing. For many of those poor slum dwellers who survived the night when the 40 tonnes of MIC and other toxic gases escaped from the storage tank, life has become hell - completely debilitated and ravaged by the long-term inimical effects of the noxious gas.

Bhopal is synonymous with the absence of concern for the welfare and safety of workers and people in the surrounding community. It also underlines operations of unregulated multinational companies who are indifferent to the inadequate protection they provide for the most vulnerable people in the developing world. From the Kader fire in a toy factory in Thailand to the many industrial disasters in China, it has been the workers who have paid the price of globalization with their lives. The large multinational companies (MNCs) with an aggregate sales of over US $5 trillion must, like all employers, recognize their responsibility to provide adequate safety and health systems for the protection of their workers.

The ICFTU and ICEF investigated and published a report on the Bhopal disaster. The ICFTU also published a report entitled "Is there a Bhopal near you?" which elaborated 14 trade union principles for the prevention of chemical disasters worldwide. One of the most important and widely accepted principles identifies the meaningful participation of workers and their representatives as a prerequisite to proper management of occupational health, safety and the environment. This, together with the involvement of the community - an "Open Door" policy - could have prevented the Bhopal tragedy.

Subsequent work by the ILO included the Convention and Recommendation on Safety in the use of Chemicals at Work, adopted in 1990. In June 1993, the ILO adopted a further important instrument, the Convention on Prevention of Industrial Disasters. In addition, the OECD countries have reached agreement on new international guidelines for chemical accident prevention, preparedness and response. These were developed with the participation of trade unions.

In India itself, pressure from INTUC, HMS and other trade unions led the government to revise the laws governing occupational health, safety and the environment. All National Joint Committees of unions and employers for industries such as steel, coal, chemicals and petroleum now take binding decisions over occupational health, safety and environment issues and all national wage agreements have this as a major component.

Source: ICFTU

Pulling back from such dangerous trends in both the developed and the developing world will require politicians to acknowledge that changes in the global division of labour cannot be left to the arbitrary forces of the market. And in order to ensure that the purchasing power of workers increases in line with the growth of productivity, particularly in developing countries, unions must have the right to organize and bargain collectively. Furthermore, there must be a global campaign to get across the message that investment in education, health, transport and other vital elements of growth must be increased by directing developed country budgets away from military expenditure and towards more and better-targeted aid policies. International support provided to countries in both the developing and transition countries must open up space for a more durable recovery less dependent on exports and international financial markets and more geared to long-term investment in creating employment opportunities for the poor. Such support should also be targeted on those countries that respect basic workers' rights and are developing systems of democratic accountability that prevent the wealthy and powerful from corruptly siphoning off scarce taxpayers' money intended to alleviate poverty.

Industrialized countries must work together to raise and sustain growth rates and avoid the danger that uncoordinated policies based mainly on preventing any increase in inflation will lock the world into a period of prolonged low growth which will condemn more of the next generation to poverty. They will also need to put more resources into helping workers displaced by changes in technology and trade to acquire new skills and jobs.

The Changing World of Work

The challenge facing trade unions in the era of globalization of trade is to ensure that the need to make enormous and rapid changes in the nature of work and the labour market are achieved without compromising the goals of full employment and social justice. We have to convince governments that it is essential to act urgently to increase and spread more evenly world economic growth. The wholesale deregulation of labour markets increases the problems countries face in adapting to change. Problems are solved where governments and trade unions and employers collectively focus on the strengthening of labour market institutions so that support is offered to individuals and communities through training and job-creation schemes.

Rapid technological and commercial change is having a dramatic impact on marketplaces the world over. Old systems for the mass production of standard products are being replaced by methods that allow shorter production runs of more differentiated products. Companies are focusing on how to reduce the stocks they maintain of both components and finished products through careful planning of "just in time" delivery systems. Similarly, they are aiming to reduce costs by reducing the number of defects in final products, often by shifting responsibility for quality monitoring from supervisors to production workers through techniques such as quality circles. Specialized services are being sub-contracted to outside suppliers. This revolution in production techniques and managerial practices affects both manufacturing and service sectors and the public services, and whilst further advanced in the industrialized countries, is spreading rapidly, especially in the faster growing developing countries.

It will be at the workplace where trade unions must prove that the achievement of workers' aspirations and company success are inseparable, and at the workplace where trade unions will be able to demonstrate the value of partnership in meeting the challenge of change at company level. A major target for the ICFTU in the years ahead is to ensure that the basic human right to join a union and to negotiate collectively with one's employer is universally accepted as a cornerstone of policies for positive economic change.

These changes at the work place are having a major impact on workers who are looking to their unions to devise new methods of bargaining to deal with the new problems and opportunities they create. On the one hand, the move away from standardized, simple job tasks to processes that enable workers to take more responsibility for the products or services the company sells does open up scope for more interesting and rewarding jobs. On the other hand, such jobs tend to be relatively small in numbers and many workers are being pushed into short-term highly insecure contracts with small service suppliers. With increased pressure on government budgets, public sector workers are facing very similar issues of how to redesign jobs so that a better quality of service is provided at the same time as dealing with the insecurity provoked by contracting out and privatization.

Some unions have been able to negotiate new style collective agreements adapted to a management philosophy of employee involvement in a wide range of issues that can include the design of the working system and even customer relations. However, such agreements tend to cover an ever diminishing group of 'core' workers in a few leading companies, leaving unions with the difficult task of trying to organize and provide an increasingly individual service to large numbers of workers scattered in small service companies. In addition, the so-called "de-layering" of management has resulted in major changes in the way companies take decisions making it harder for unions to find where the appropriate managers with which to negotiate are located in a web of interconnected subsidiaries often spreading around the world.

For workers the phenomenon of globalization is changing the whole structure of their contractual relations with their employers in many different ways. It is also changing the role of the state and thus the tripartite relations between government, employers and unions. As a result unions face the challenge of finding new ways to influence and shape the now international environment that affects the labour market and new ways of bargaining with employers who are less interested in standardized collective agreements that fit into standardized systems of production.

However, one basic feature of the new global division of labour remains the same. The individual worker is still at a considerable disadvantage in his or her relations with an employer unless able to call on the collective support of other workers through a trade union. Many companies recognize that this power imbalance undermines the relationship of trust and cooperation that is essential to the new systems of work organization and strategic planning needed for success in a competitive global market. Others fear a dilution of managerial control or are unprepared to undertake the long-term investment in changing managerial practices that a genuine "team work" approach requires. Collective bargaining involves elements of conflict and cooperation. Employers and employee interests are different and while unions prefer to avoid disputes they always have to be ready for a struggle. Unions and many companies also know that the most effective forms of labour-management cooperation are those developed between a strong union and innovative management committed to the long-term success of the business. The basic human right to join a union and through the union bargain for a fair return for one's labour is thus a foundation stone for constructive competition in the world market. One of the major new challenges facing the trade union movement is to secure the role of unions at the work place in the framework of rules that governments set for the functioning of the global economy.

Commitments of the UN World Summit for Social Development

Commitment 1: We commit ourselves to create an economic, political, social, cultural and legal environment that will enable people to achieve social development...

Commitment 2: We commit ourselves to the goal of eradicating poverty in the world, through decisive national actions and international cooperation, as an ethical, social, political and economic imperative of humankind...

Commitment 3: We commit ourselves to promoting the goal of full employment as a basic priority of our economic and social policies...

Commitment 4: We commit ourselves to promoting social integration by fostering societies that are stable, safe and just and based on the promotion and protection of all human rights, and on non-discrimination, tolerance, respect for diversity, equality of opportunity, solidarity, security and participation of all people, including disadvantaged and vulnerable groups and persons...

Commitment 5: We commit ourselves to promoting full respect for human dignity and to achieving equality and equity between women and men...

Commitment 6: We commit ourselves to promoting and attaining the goals of universal and equitable access to quality education, the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health and the access of all to primary health care...

Commitment 7: We commit ourselves to accelerating the economic, social and human resource development of Africa and the least developed countries...

Commitment 8: We commit ourselves to ensuring that when structural adjustment programmes are agreed to, they include social development goals, in particular eradicating poverty, promoting full and productive employment and enhancing social integration...

Commitment 9: We commit ourselves to increase significantly and/or utilize more efficiently the resources allocated to social development...

Commitment 10: We commit ourselves to an improved and strengthened framework for international, regional and subregional cooperation for social development...

Source: United Nations

Chapter 2: Building solidarity, attacking poverty, creating jobs

Social development and market liberalization

The corporate agenda for global trade and investment

International labour standards and the global market

Basic international labour standards

Convincing world opinion for the social clause

Universal labour standards and cultural diversity

The role of trade policy in eliminating child labour

Developing countries stand to benefit most from a social clause

Reform of the international financial system

The integration of international economic and social policies

Social Development and Market Liberalization

The world economy is growing much too slowly to create enough jobs or to make a real impact on poverty. Prospects for Africa are bleak; Russia and many countries of Central and Eastern Europe as well as the republics of the former Soviet Union are yet to emerge from a period of steep decline; the recovery in Latin America looks fragile; and the industrialized countries are stuck with high unemployment. Only in the fast-growing Asian economies are jobs being created at a rate that stems the spread of poverty; but in the rest of Asia, there are millions going hungry, millions living in squalor. A new approach to global economic policy is desperately needed _ but the world's most powerful governments seem locked in the stranglehold of the all-powerful financial markets.

In response to this global crisis, the Copenhagen World Summit for Social Development, the largest gathering of political leaders in the history of the world, committed the UN and its Member States to attacking poverty, building solidarity and creating jobs. What is now needed is an economic strategy to achieve these objectives and which translates the promises of more co-ordination of national policies into action. The Mexican financial crisis and the Barings Bank collapse, highlighted the urgency of the Summit's deliberations. The governments' promises to deal with social priorities it identified must be kept. Free market dogma, motivated by greed, is inducing a political paralysis that has to be exposed as serving only the interests of powerful elites while undermining social development.

The actions of all the big players on the world economic scene - the main industrialized countries, the IMF, the World Bank, the OECD - indicate a deep ideological commitment to market liberalization and monetary stability. Because most developing and transition countries depend on IMF programmes based on these rigid theories, they must toe the ideological line. In part this reflects the way right-wing politicians and economists have run the G7 countries since the late 1970s. But real power lies with the money markets. Governments are reduced to providing a kind of maintenance service, raising or lowering interest rates as the market demands.

The bitter prize for tearing down the Iron Curtain

The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) predicts that it will take 35 years for Eastern European incomes to reach even half the level of the average Western incomes. Although the rate of growth in the Western European countries has not been high, in Central and Eastern Europe the level of production and employment has contracted significantly in every economy in the 1990s. With the atrophy of the old planning systems in the 1980s, the rate of growth had already dropped sharply. After the democratic revolutions of 1989-91 and the start of transition to a market economy, living standards for most of the population have fallen still further due to the collapse of the old mechanisms and the painfully slow emergence of new institutions and organizations.

The ILO estimates that the real figure for Russian unemployment is almost certainly over 10%. In Bulgaria, where the real minimum wage was halved in 1991, by mid-1992 73% of households had incomes below the social minimum. In Poland over 50% have incomes below the poverty line. The minimum wage now provides for 20% of basic subsistence needs in Russia, 24% in Albania, 61% in Estonia, 64% in Hungary and 70% in Poland. Output in the transition countries is expected to have fallen by -8.3 per cent in 1994 and -2.1% in 1995. In most of the transition countries, enormous problems of unemployment and poverty are largely ignored by both national governments and international agencies. According to UNICEF, death rates went up 12% in Bulgaria and 32% in Russia between 1989 and 1993 due to the spread of diseases and a rise in deaths from accidents, poisonings and murder.

The real incomes of the Russian population dropped by a further five per cent during the first half of 1995 with the result that the number of Russians with income below the subsistence level has reached 46.5 million - 31 per cent of the population or every third Russian is poor. The nominal average monthly pay during early 1995 did not exceed 360,000 roubles. During this period the 10 per cent most affluent section of the population received 38 per cent of national income while the 10 per cent of the people in the low income bracket received just 2.3 per cent.

Emigration has been triggered by economic instability and the steadily falling living standards of the overwhelming majority of Russia's population. About 60 per cent of the persons leaving Moscow for abroad are degree-holding specialists. Over 4,000 researchers have emigrated in the last two years to the US alone. The annual damage caused to the countries of the former USSR by this brain drain, according to UN calculations, runs to $50 billion.

Source: EBRD and ILO

The reliance on interest rates is a result of the financial deregulation during the 1980's, as well as a political decision to put priority on low inflation before low unemployment. Slashing controls on capital movements has created the world's first truly global market. About $1000 billion moves through this market every day _ far more than the combined reserves of all the major central banks. There is little Central Banks can do to keep exchange rates at levels that reflect economic reality. This means that even big companies have to play the market to make sure they don't lose money through shifts in exchange rates. Their financial strategy is skewed towards short-term speculation, rather than long-term investment.

Governments too are locked into this time- frame. Faster growth would cut unemployment and reduce deficits in the medium term, but governments are terrified of how the speculators might react to any short-term boost to the economy through tax cuts or expenditure increases. Soothing the speculators has meant deflationary policies which have held back recovery, choked off the growth in jobs, and fueled inequality all over the world. Different political parties have tried to deal with this in different ways. Some have tried to protect the most disadvantaged from the harsh effects of budget austerity. But none has broken the strait-jacket of the international finance markets.

The persistence of large amounts of external debt for many developing countries, and in particular the least developed countries, constitutes an obstacle to efforts to stabilize their economies. Every child being born in these countries is born into debt. It is utopian to try to resolve the problems of these countries, including the consequences of the globalization of the economy, without finding solutions to the problem of debt.

Unions have had to face the fact that changes of government have made little difference to macro- economic policy. Economic globalization has seen to that; one in seven share deals around the world now involves someone from outside the country, so governments can't reintroduce capital controls because it would hurt exports and investment, and cut jobs. Acting against exchange rate instability, and going for growth _ the only way to create jobs and cut poverty _ demand concerted action from the big three economic power blocs of North America, Japan and Europe. And it also needs a broad basis of support in developing countries if the social priorities defined by the Copenhagen Summit are not to be sidelined by financial pressures.

International union partnership supports local organising

On July 22, 1994 workers at the Bibong Apparel Corporation in the Dominican Republic won the first collective agreement in the long history of that country's Export Processing Zones (EPZs). On November 22, 1995 workers at the Bonahan Apparel Company, another factory in a Dominican Republic EPZ, signed a collective agreement following a successful and legal strike. Both victories were made possible by the courage and tenacity of EPZ workers, and by an extraordinary example of international trade union cooperation.

An international partnership, consisting of the ICFTU-affiliated National Confederation of Dominican Workers (CNTD) and its affiliate, the Federation of Free Zone workers (FENATAZONAS), the ITGLWF and its inter-American regional organization FITTCC-ORI, the AFL-CIO, its American Institute for Free Labor Development (AIFLD) and two AFL-CIO affiliates which have since merged to form UNITE, developed and implemented a well-planned and coordinated organizing strategy.

The strategy was based on applying pressure to targeted companies and the government in direct support of aggressive organizing on the ground by trained organizers followed up with trade union education of new members. The partnership contributed support for union organizers, legal assistance and other technical advice and training. The organizing campaigns were supplemented by pressure on the US-based corporate customers of the targeted companies and by the use of the worker rights provisions in the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) section of US trade law. After being threatened with losing its trade privileges, the Dominican government reformed its labour code so as to allow trade unions in the EPZs. In the organizing campaign at Bibong, the threat of GSP sanctions forced the government to enforce its new code.

The threat of GSP sanctions in the Dominican Republic campaigns show how social clauses in trade agreements would work. The purpose was not to suppress exports but to protect workers. Where international trade rules create a positive environment for unions, grassroots organizers have a chance to start improving working conditions. Partly as a result of this experience, the ITGLWF, and the AFL-CIO have established committees within their governing structures to promote strategic approaches to international organizing and solidarity.


The Corporate Agenda for Global Trade and Investment

With companies now able to move capital and production at will around the world most of the key decisions about trade and investment are taken by private business. A hundred of the most powerful transnational corporations (TNCs) account for about one-third of all foreign direct investment (FDI). Both directly, and through the chains of sub-contracting and distribution which they control, they have a major impact on jobs and incomes world-wide. By the end of 1993, the sales of foreign affiliates of TNCs totaled $5.8 trillion, exceeding the $4.7 trillion of exports of goods and services. About one third of all international trade took place between affiliates of the same company (intra-firm trade). In 1993, FDI grew twice as fast as trade, and, since 1991, it has exceeded domestic investment in both transition and developing countries.

Both the accumulated stock of FDI and its annual growth are very unevenly distributed. Companies based in developed countries accounted for 97% of the total stock of FDI. Three-quarters of this is invested in developed countries. In 1993 and 1994, transnational investment in developing countries grew rapidly _ but over 80% of the increase went to China alone. Of the remainder, the vast bulk went to nine countries (Singapore, Argentina, Mexico, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Nigeria). The 47 poorest countries in the world received only 0.7% of total world investment by TNCs.

Official development assistance fell in 1994 both in total and as a proportion of industrial countries' GNP. At just over $56 billion in 1993, it is running at about three-quarters of TNC investment in developing countries, with about half going to sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. In addition, FDI is only about one-third of all private investment in the developing countries. Deregulation and privatization have generated a major increase in cross-border investment in stocks and shares. This investment is dramatically changing the speed and scale of private and often speculative capital flows, but it is concentrated on about a dozen mainly middle- income countries in Asia and Latin America. Although, a decade after the onset of the debt crisis, banks are still not lending any new money, a small number of countries and a larger number of developing country companies are issuing bonds on international finance markets. As the Mexican crisis of December 1994, showed, much of this type of investment can leave as rapidly as it arrives, not least because it includes a substantial component of returning flight capital.

Trade patterns also show a similar concentration on the large industrial country markets and a number of dynamic newly industrializing countries. Africa's total exports represent about 2% of the exports of industrialized countries and are estimated to grow at a paltry 2.5% in 1995. By contrast, Hong Kong, South Korea, Singapore and Taiwan, with total annual exports six times larger than the whole of Africa, are increasing their exports at 11% a year on top of two decades of double-digit expansion. Countries exporting primary commodities have failed to expand their export earnings not least due to a long running weakness in most commodity prices. Countries with high rates of saving and relatively low foreign borrowing that have expanded into manufacturing, often through attracting TNC investment, have performed much more strongly. As a result, not only have their exports to industrialized countries grown but also their imports. For example, US exports to developing countries grew by 12% each year between 1990 and 1993 but by only 2% per year to the recession-hit industrialized countries.

With both trade and investment growing faster than global output, more jobs now depend on the global market. TNCs have linked the main consumer markets in the industrialized countries to a relatively small number of rapidly expanding East and South East Asian countries. Initially, TNC investments and sub-contracting deals in this region were almost exclusively aimed at export production. Now, local consumer markets are expanding, prompting a further wave of investment and a sharp pick-up in imports. With the prospect of this boom spreading to China, India, Vietnam and Asia will rival Europe and North America as a focal point in the global market by the early part of the next century. Latin America's recovery from the debt crisis is still fragile and highly dependent on developments in North America. Like Central and Eastern Europe, it has not attracted the same scale of private investment as Asia. Despite a brief period of optimism after the Israeli/PLO peace deal, the Middle East remains marginal to all but the oil TNCs' global plans. And the poorest African countries with their large numbers of subsistence farmers are in danger of being left behind completely.

Union-busting in Pakistan

Pakistan's trade unions, which organize a mere 6% of workers, suffer from systematic denial of the right to organize through government and employer collusion. A blatant recent case concerns a four-year struggle to form a trade union at the Korean-owned multinational company Daewoo Motorway Construction Project. The authorities granted Daewoo an exemption from labour law in May 1992 as part of an investment incentive package. Late in 1992 the ICFTU-affiliated All Pakistan Federation of Labour (APFOL) assisted Daewoo workers in creating the Awami Labour Union. On 21 December 1992, an application for registration was made to the Registrar of Trade Unions. He delayed its acceptance and, supporting Daewoo's anti-labour stand, appealed to the Labour Appellate Tribunal to block registration.

Daewoo immediately initiated vicious repression of organizing efforts with the arrest and dismissal of union members and officers. Jailed workers were frequently tortured by police to coerce them into leaving the union. A court ruling early in 1993 found that Daewoo was obliged to respect the nation's Industrial Relations Ordinance (1969) which grants the right to organize, and ordered reinstatement of the dismissed workers. However, in February 1993, the Government of Pakistan declared the Daewoo project an essential service and consequently exempt from trade union organizing. The APFOL then initiated litigation against Daewoo. Intimidation, repression and dismissals continued as the case dragged on in the courts. By the end of 1994 over a thousand workers had lost their jobs and dozens more were victims of police violence.

During 1993 the ICFTU and IFBWW made a complaint concerning the Daewoo case to the ILO's Committee on Freedom of Association, charging the Government of Pakistan with violations of freedom of association (Convention 87) and the right to collective bargaining (Convention 98). The June 1994 ILO Governing Body requested the Government of Pakistan to register the Awami Labour Union without delay. It also asked for an investigation of the Daewoo Corporation's anti-union tactics.

A long-awaited court ruling in November 1994 revived the APFOL case against Daewoo by requesting the local labour court to reconsider registration, but new legal delays and appeals again frustrated justice. On 27 March 1995 the Punjab Labour Court decided in favour of legal recognition, stating that "the union shall be registered within the shortest possible time." Once more delaying tactics were employed by Daewoo, abetted by the authorities. Since then, Daewoo's company thugs and police working together deny the right to organize through threats and beatings. By early 1996 there was still no specific court order authorizing a trade union for Daewoo workers. Unions fear that Daewoo and the authorities will continue to put up these legal "obstacles" until the motorway construction project is completed, but do not intend to give up their fight for union freedom.

Source: All Pakistan Federation Of Labour(APFOL), International Federation of Building and Woodworkers and ICFTU

Many of these changes in the global market happened before the signing of the Uruguay Round multilateral trade agreement or independently of these negotiations. In many ways, the GATT negotiations represented an attempt by the big TNCs to secure their commercial links in the emerging markets of the developing world and make use of more open global labour markets. Even before the provisions of the Uruguay Round have been implemented, talks are underway on new agreements covering financial services and the rights of foreign investors. The business agenda is being powerfully promoted by armies of professional lobbyists and "think tanks" in the major capitals and at the new World Trade Organization (WTO). The TNCs are also pushing governments to accelerate the process of trade and investment liberalization through regional pacts such as APEC, ASEAN, the Mercosur and NAFTA, as well as through bilateral deals between the major industrialized countries and their key partners in the developing world. This TNC-driven global integration is widening social divisions within and between countries _ and damaging the very investment climate which companies are seeking to improve. Building on the ICFTU's successful effort to launch a global social agenda at the Copenhagen Summit, how can the international trade union movement make sure that workers' concerns are an integral part of the new international legal framework for trade and investment?

International Labour Standards and the Global Market

In the fifty years since the adoption of the UN Charter, governments seem to have forgotten what international co-operation is for. In San Francisco in 1945 when drafting that Charter, they reflected more deeply on the principles that would encourage governments to co-operate at world level to address world problems. Among the UN's central objectives as defined in its Charter are:

  • "fundamental human rights"
  • "equal rights for men and women"; and
  • "to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom".

Within the UN system, the International Labour Organization, the only global forum with tripartite representation, has developed an international code of labour standards for Member States to use as guiding principles for their own legislation. For the ICFTU, the ILO's core standards are fundamental to ensuring that the pressure of competition in the global market does not lead to a vicious downward spiral in conditions of work and life.

The question of linking these standards to the process of further trade liberalization set in motion by the new Multilateral Trade Agreement through a social clause is among the most controversial facing the new World Trade Organization. However, up to now, the debate on the social clause has been dominated by those with a vested interest in keeping standards low. The ICFTU's job is to try and get across the real message about the social clause:

  • i) that certain international labour standards which constitute basic human rights for workers should be included in a social clause. We are not advocating a global minimum wage _ but we do want to stop governments trying to gain competitive advantage through repression, discrimination, and exploitation.
  • ii) such a social clause will open markets; increase growth, create jobs, and share out the benefits of trade more fairly.
  • iii) linking workers' rights to trade through a social clause is a step-by-step procedure which must be open, fair, and multilateral; and which must allow problems to be resolved through negotiation.
  • iv) sanctions should be reserved only for those countries who reject or refuse to implement the standards in the clause.

Corporate Codes of Conduct: filling the credibility Gap

One feature of the new international division of labour is the efforts of major manufacturers and retailers to deny or to disclaim any responsibility for the exploitative working conditions in the sub-contractors which make the products bearing their brand names. Growing public awareness and pressure from consumers' organizations, trade unions and human rights groups has made this more difficult. In recent years a number of companies, primarily in clothing, footwear and retailing and mostly in the United States, have adopted Codes of Conduct on the treatment of workers in manufacturing plants that they claim apply not only to the plants that the companies own but also to the plants of their suppliers and sub-contractors. But many of the codes seem to be only public relations exercises and lack credibility.

Most codes contain pledges to observe internationally recognized labour standards such as bans on forced or child labour, other standards, such as the right of workers to join unions, are usually left out. However, the codes make much of promising to obey national labour laws. Because in many of the countries where the manufacturing is done have very weak laws or run export processing zones where laws are not applied, this can be a major loophole, enabling companies to avoid applying internationally recognized standards and best practice. Furthermore, most codes of conduct do not come with any credible plan to put them into practice and lack any independent means to verify that they are being observed. More often than not, the workers the codes of conduct are meant to protect have never heard of them. Whether they have codes or not, companies, determined to avoid their responsibilities, continue to brand those demanding the end of exploitation with being protectionist.

The protectionism charge was turned on its head in a recent union-led campaign that resulted in a company agreeing to take real responsibility for the working conditions under which its products are made. When workers at the Korean-owned Mandarin clothing factory in El Salvador sought to put an end to harsh and degrading treatment that included being forbidden to talk while working, beatings and sexual abuse, their attempts to form a union were brutally suppressed. In the course of a vicious anti-union campaign over 350 mostly women workers were fired.

In the United States a pressure campaign directed at Mandarin's biggest customer, the US retailer, The Gap, was mounted by trade unions, religious, consumer, women's and student's organisation. At first, The Gap, which is one of the largest apparel companies in the world, sought to deny that its sub-contractor was guilty of exploitation and human rights violations. In the face of overwhelming evidence that the charges were true, and in the face of mounting pressure including from shareholders and politicians, the Gap announced that it would pull out of El Salvador. But the campaigners demanded that the Gap reconsider this decision and instead use its influence to ensure that worker rights were protected.

The Gap agreed to remain in El Salvador, to translate its hitherto ignored code of conduct into the languages of the 47 countries where clothing is produced for the company and to make sure that the code is posted prominently in each factory. The Gap also accepted responsibility for the working conditions where its products are made and agreed to the independent monitoring of its sub-contractors by a third party.

Source : International Textile, Leather and Garment Workers Federation

Basic International Labour Standards

The ICFTU wants a Social Clause to be based on the seven core ILO standards:

  • Conventions 29 and 105 on the abolition of forced labour;
  • Conventions 87 and 98 on the rights to freedom of association and to bargain collectively;
  • Conventions 111 and 100 on the prevention of discrimination in employment and equal pay for work of equal value; and
  • Convention 138 on the minimum age for employment (child labour).

These standards are amongst the most highly ratified of the ILO. Nearly 100 states have ratified at least five of the seven. They are not just industrialized country standards; they constitute the most accepted standards in the world for the following reasons:

  • They assert the right of workers to form and join unions and to negotiate wage levels that are fair and appropriate for their country's level of development.
  • They outlaw forced labour or slave labour, which prevent workers from having any say in where they work or in the terms of their employment.
  • They seek to end discrimination in employment which stops particular groups of workers such as women, from benefiting from trade growth.
  • They seek to end the commercial exploitation of children, and will lay the foundation for a programme of aid aimed at communities and families who depend on child labour to survive.

Universal adherence to the seven basic ILO standards would prevent the most extreme forms of exploitation and cut-throat competition. It would not end developing countries' comparative advantage; but it would establish a process by which wages and working conditions could gradually be improved as trade increases. This would encourage the growth of consumer markets, stimulating both domestic and foreign investment and, most importantly, employment. It would help to ensure a more balanced expansion of world trade and a smoother process of adjustment to changes in the global division of labour.

The ICFTU must work to bring about the inclusion of a social clause in the WTO and similar international agreements, The text of the clause should be along the following lines:

"The contracting parties agree to take steps to ensure the observance of the minimum labour standards specified by an advisory committee to be established by the WTO and the ILO, and including those on freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining, the minimum age for employment, discrimination, equal remuneration and forced labour."

Convincing World Opinion for the Social Clause

The aim of the social clause is to ensure that

the promotion of trade goes hand-in-hand with enabling workers to exercise their basic rights. It would strengthen the political authority of the WTO and break, rather than build, barriers to world trade. It would be a means of solving disputes that, if unresolved, might increase pressures for protectionism. And it would serve to promote the access of developing countries to world export markets.

The social clause directly addresses the behaviour of those TNCs that play one country against another in the search for cheap labour and low standards. The ITSs have been responding to increasing requests from trade unions in host countries in coping with these irresponsible TNCs. ITS have made a number of significant breakthroughs and have been able through negotiations with TNCs in the home country to introduce new and better ways of working, including training, better wages and industrial relations leading to increased productivity. But such companies face unfair competition from anti-union, standard-cutting TNCs. As part of its campaign for a social clause, the international trade union movement needs to develop increased co-operation with responsible TNCs in order to promote mutually acceptable standards of a kind that a social clause would embody.

Trade unions and the future of Asia-Pacific cooperation

Born in Canberra in 1989, the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum has been described as the regional economic organization that represents the world's fastest growing region. Its uniqueness and its potential leverage on the world economy derive from the magnitude of economic activity in the region. APEC member countries account for 46 per cent of world exports (up from 37% ten years ago), 38 per cent of world population, 53 per cent of world production and 42 per cent of reserves.

APEC covers 18 countries and territories of Asia and the Pacific, including some Latin American countries bordering on the ocean. It has steadily grown in prominence since 1989. While it originated as a consultative forum to encourage closer regional cooperation, in 1994 at the Leaders' Meeting in Indonesia APEC leaders adopted the Bogor Declaration, including plans for completely free trade and investment in the region by the year 2020. However, the economic and political diversity of APEC countries raises a large question-mark over the realization of such an APEC free trade area. Fears that APEC could turn out to be a trade bloc could well be premature, for there exist very different perceptions among APEC members of its role. In terms of economic and social development, the APEC region stretches from some of the most highly developed countries in the world to low-income, more agrarian countries. It further comprises both long-established democracies with a proven record of support for trade union and other human rights and dictatorships like China where free trade unions are effectively outlawed.

In September 1995, the ICFTU organized a Conference in Australia for affiliates in the APEC region. This established the ICFTU Asia Pacific Labour Network, with the objective of working for a social dimension to the APEC processes with arrangements at different levels for regular consultation with trade unions. The Conference statement, "The Role of Labour in the Asia Pacific region", emphasized that in order to achieve the APEC objective of broadly shared economic growth, APEC should seek to eliminate exploitation, discrimination and repression in the work place and maximize the contribution that working people and their freely chosen trade unions can make to growth and improved international cooperation. RENGO then organized a meeting for a delegation from the ICFTU Asia Pacific Labour Network with Prime Minister Murayama of Japan, the host of the 1995 APEC Leaders' Meeting, in October 1995. In response, Prime Minister Murayama undertook to do his best to reflect the trade unions' proposals in the APEC Leaders' Meeting in Soak in November 1995.

It will no doubt be a long-term endeavour to incorporate a labour role and a social dimension into the APEC process. The next Leaders' Meetings are to take place in the Philippines in 1996, Canada in 1997 and Malaysia in 1998. The ICFTU, in conjunction with the host countries' unions, will devote attention to ensuring that labour and social matters are brought onto the agenda for those meetings and to achieving a high profile for the ICFTU Asia Pacific Labour Network over the coming years.

Source: ICFTU and APRO

A joint WTO/ILO Advisory Body could oversee the implementation of the social clause. At regular intervals, or where there was a complaint, the joint body would review how the seven core ILO standards were being applied. The report would show that either the standards were being followed or that certain changes in labour law and practice were needed. In the latter case, the report would make recommendations to the country concerned on the changes required and, if necessary, the ILO would offer to help countries reach these objectives.

There would then be a further report after the government had had enough time to take the necessary action. This second report could show that the country was now in conformity with the specified standards; or that the problem had not yet been solved but progress was being made; or that the government had failed to co-operate.

If progress was being made another report would be prepared in a year or two.

If the government concerned was clearly ignoring the ILO's recommendations, it would be warned that it had one year to co-operate.

If there was still no movement, the matter would be referred to the WTO Council for consideration of measures designed to ensure a constructive response from the government concerned.

Such a step-by-step procedure provides all the elements of transparency, predictability and objectivity that an effective multilateral system requires. It builds on the established competence of the ILO. It also provides adequate time for problems to be solved by dialogue. It avoids the danger of heavyweight trading powers trying to dictate terms for market access to small countries. And it is even-handed. All countries would be subject to equally close scrutiny by reference to universal standards. In all cases, fully transparent procedures would be used which would leave no opening for misuse for protectionist purposes. An internationally-recognized set of minimum standards enforced through the social clause would be a much more certain way of avoiding protectionism than the growing use of bilateral arrangements.

Universal Labour Standards and Cultural Diversity

The Conventions of the ILO contain a built-in flexibility which makes them applicable to all countries whatever their level of development. The ILO does not attempt to impose a rigid global harmonization of labour laws but rather examines whether the effect of laws and practice ensure that its main principles are applied. The same would be true of the standards proposed by the ICFTU for inclusion in the social clause. There can be no compromise on the principles those standards embody; but how they are translated into law and practice will have to vary according to the institutions and customs of the country concerned. The notion that the social clause threatens national cultures is a myth created by vested interests. In fact, it is the pervasive commercialism of the free market that is the real threat. National cultures cannot survive where people have no power to control the market for their own and their community's benefit. The social clause would effectively empower the people and their communities to maintain their cultural identity.

The Role of Trade Policy in Eliminating Child Labour

The international community has an obligation to help poor countries escape from the poverty that forces children out to work; and to help fund the education programmes that will get them back to school. But the first step requires tough laws banning employers from using children as cheap labour. The social clause will ensure that those countries genuinely embarked on a path of reform aimed at protecting their children from exploitation and abuse are not undercut by countries that are less scrupulous.

Developing Countries Stand to Benefit Most from a Social Clause

The ICFTU position - and that of all independent and democratic trade unions - is that the lowering of standards and the denial of rights and exploitation at the workplace should not be allowed, and that this principle reflects the interests of workers in developed and developing countries.

Abolishing child labour on the North-west frontier

For a study of 40 children who work in the brick kiln industry on the outskirts of Haripur in Pakistan, the All Pakistan Federation of Labour (APFOL) interviewed children and their parents at their work site. Guarded by the factory owners, the families live in isolated camps away from the rest of society. They are all bonded labourers - in other words, they are owned by the factory owner and have to work until they have paid off the debt with interest they owe to him. Security is so tight surrounding these families that while he was trying to get into the camps, the APFOL representative was shot at three times and injured in the leg.

Bonded labour is prohibited by the Pakistani Constitution and a special Bonded Labour System Act was passed in 1992. However bonded labour still persists and the feudal landlords and factory owners continue to operate the system openly. Few bonded labourers ever manage to pay off their debts and as a result children are often born into slavery.

APFOL are opposed to bonded labour and the exploitation of children and are organizing a project with these 40 children, with financial support from RENGO in Japan and LO Norway. The project has paid the children's debt, so they are no longer forced to work as bonded labour and they are being sent to school. APFOL hopes to increase the number of children covered by the project to 100 in 1996.

Although the project's main aim is to make sure the children are educated, it also hopes to make the children and their families aware of their situation as bonded labourers and to encourage them to form organizations for the brick workers.

Source: APFOL and ICFTU

We believe that the ultimate strength of an internationally accepted social clause is that it would protect those developing countries that seek to improve workers' living standards, against competition from countries that continue to allow exploitation of workers.

Industrial countries would benefit from a social clause too. A more balanced development of consumer markets around the world would generate further growth but would not end the need for labour market adjustments. These adjustments would be easier to justify against the background of a common set of core principles for the treatment of workers. Further growth of world trade would also open up new employment opportunities both in industrialized and developing countries.

Reform of the International Financial System

There is a major debate going on about the international financial system. The second Mexican debt crisis; the persistence of adjustment problems in Africa; the need to support the countries of Central and Eastern Europe as well as the republics of the former USSR; the increased risk of major bank failures and the threat that exchange rate volatility will weaken sustained recovery in the industrialized world _ all these point to the clear need for drastic reform. So far, the G7 finance ministries have resisted calls for change but with the danger of more big shocks looming, the pressures are mounting.

The ICFTU's aim is to seek to influence the IMF and the World Bank to introduce:

  • new criteria for evaluating the benefits to society and the economy of investment in social programmes so that expenditure in these areas is given priority rather than being the target for damaging cutbacks;
  • an international foreign exchange tax on short-term speculation, with the revenues to be used to boost aid to developing countries;
  • new regulations to curb the "casino culture" of the derivatives and other high-risk markets;
  • an increase in the IMF quotas for lending to countries with balance of payments problems so that market reforms can be introduced without social disruption while maintaining growth;
  • an increase in the IMF's Special Drawing Rights coupled with a new scheme to borrow from strong currency countries so that developing and transition countries can build up reserves to insulate them from short-term shocks;
  • increased monitoring of the fiscal and monetary policies of major surplus and deficit countries to anticipate problems which could have damaging effects on employment and social protection, coupled with stronger procedures to encourage co-ordination of policies for growth;
  • a new approach designed to provide increased and longer-term financial support to countries that respect human and trade union rights, reduce military spending and shift resources to investment in education and health and other productive and job-creating activities;
  • closer and institutionalized co-operation between the IMF, the World Bank and other key international development agencies such as the ILO and United Nations Development Programme; and
  • improved dialogue between the IMF and the World Bank and trade unions both at national and international levels.

Failure to co-ordinate has locked all countries into a pattern of restraint despite the fact that there is no global shortage of capacity or resurgence of inflation. The ICFTU's proposals are meant firstly to stop national governments exporting their problems by relying on other countries to lead a recovery in growth. Co-operation and co-ordination between countries is essential to ensure that a broadly-based expansion is achieved which prevents large and unsustainable payments imbalances and exchange rate fluctuations.

A second aim is to dampen speculation by making it more costly to the financial traders and to reduce the risk of large-scale financial collapse.

Thirdly, the ICFTU package would encourage governments and the international agencies to tackle the underlying social problems which are usually at the root of financial tension. It would support democratic governments who aim at structural adjustment with social justice and the creation of viable jobs.

Democratic governments cannot shirk their responsibility and surrender their citizens to the arbitrary forces of the free market. In a much more open world economy and a labour market which is also global, governments need to establish a new institutional framework for public policies to ensure that market outcomes are socially just. Such a new approach must be based on much closer international co-ordination, and the recognition that the strengthening and expansion of democracy is essential for sustainable development.

The Integration of International Economic and Social Policies

The UN Social Summit demonstrated that trade unions are not alone in questioning the direction in which global market forces are leading the world. At a time when many industrialized country governments, and their electorates, are preoccupied with their own social problems, it is vital to show that global solidarity is a necessary part of the measures required to create jobs and eliminate poverty at home as well as in the developing world. The market solution for the well-off to the growth of poverty is to offer them private security guards and put up high fences around their property. A similar isolationist solution to the world's global social crisis would be disastrous.

The fundamental battle is to ensure that the principles of democratic government are not undermined by the market and that working men and women are able to influence their own futures. Nowhere is this more acute than at the workplace. Trade unionists live out the reality of the global market. They see its tensions and its dangers, as well as the potential it holds for enlarging the opportunities of the millions who live on the margins, struggling for the basic essentials of a decent life. A global economy driven solely by unrestrained market forces must be rejected in favour of economic co-operation and social solidarity.

Pathbreaking agreement with multinational on equality and workers' rights

In 1988 the General Secretary of the International Union of Foodworkers (IUF) and Director of Human Resources of Danone signed a "Common Viewpoint" which pledged both management of the transnational company (TNC) and the trade unions representing Danone employees to work jointly in four areas: Training and skills development, access to company information by trade unions, promoting gender equality and trade union rights.

Since the adoption of this pioneering agreement, the company has met annually with trade unions, grouped under the banner of the IUF. Progress has been made to flesh out the meaning of union-management co-operation in each of the four areas through a series of "framework agreements" reached internationally but whose implementation is left to bargaining at either the national or local levels. In 1989 "framework agreements" were reached spelling out the minimum social and economic information that workers and their trade unions would need in order to understand their respective divisions of the company, and providing an agreement on equal treatment between men and women which pledged the formulation of an action plan and joint initiatives to achieve this goal. In 1991 the IUF and Danone announced the development of joint training programs and in May 1994 the IUF and Danone signed a historic charter on trade union rights in which Danone agreed to guarantee the full exercise of recognized trade union rights throughout all its operations.

Experience has shown that local managements are not always prepared to put into practice many of the innovations in the framework agreements and that progress made at the local level is not always reported to the IUF. Nor have all trade unions taken advantage of the opportunities provided by the framework agreements. For instance, although the company employs a high proportion of women in its manufacturing facilities, only a few women's committees have been established at workplace level and few have been established within the unions. Nevertheless, the agreements have led to concrete programs with respect to equality and training at the local level and they are steps that build the international industrial relations that trade unions will need to meet the challenge of TNCs. The lesson is that agreements between trade unions and TNCs reached internationally increase, rather than decrease, the importance of local trade union organizations.

Source: International Union of Foodworkers

Our experience shows that laws are needed to prevent the powerful and wealthy from exploiting the less advantaged. Private investment does not remedy the failure of markets to provide basic necessities to the bulk of society. People are not commodities to be bought and sold. They demand a say in their lives and the future of their communities. Markets have to operate in an institutional framework established mainly by governments but also by civic organization like trade unions which balance a broad range of social aspirations with the commercial interests of business. The rapid pace of globalization and the dominance of the free-market dogma has opened up a huge gap between the ability of national governments to deal with the adverse effects of the market and at the same time to adjust to fierce competition for investment.

The ICFTU's response to the increasing tensions caused by this imbalance between social and economic policy is our programme for building global solidarity. Its key elements are:

  • linking trade to workers' rights through the WTO and the ILO;
  • working with union centres to build a national consensus for the implementation of the conclusions of the UN Social Summit;
  • reforming the international financial system so that money can be put into development programmes aimed at creating jobs and reducing poverty;
  • campaigning for more aid to developing countries, especially for programmes to extend and reform education and health care;
  • strengthening the ILO, international labour standards and the principles of tripartism;
  • fighting for a social dimension in the economic adaptation of the transition countries;
  • eliminating child labour and;
  • working with affiliates to ensure active union participation in the implementation of the Platform for Action adopted at the UN Beijing World Conference on Women.

Chapter 3: Strengthening the voice of working men and women through international trade union solidarity

The continuing struggle for workers' rights

The trade union vision

Strengthening trade union influence at international level

Organizing strategies - the no. 1 priority

Grassroots organizing with a focus on women and youth

Organizing in the informal sector

Strengthening international labour standards

Building union strength in the developing and transition countries

Trade union and the transnationals

Managing change

Organizing and bargaining in a global market

Globalization's challenge: strengthening the icftu

The Continuing Struggle for Workers' Rights

The political map of the world has changed dramatically in the last ten years, and trade unions have played a significant role in that change. In many countries, through the years under totalitarian rule, the international solidarity organized through the ICFTU provided vital support that helped trade unionists fighting for freedom. ICFTU affiliates can be proud of the work they did. The scale of the change we helped to bring about is enormous: about a quarter of the world's workers now live in countries which ten years ago were governed by military dictators or were totalitarian one-party states.

While the independent and democratic union movement fought to bring the tyrants down, free marketeers queued up to do deals with them that delayed the breakthrough of democracy. Now they hail the fall of the Communist system and its imitators in the developing countries as a victory for the free market, when, in reality, it was a triumph of democracy's ability to give a freedom that could cope with a rapidly changing world over a totalitarian rigidity that could not. The free marketeers try to persuade new governments desperate for foreign investment that efficient social protection and strong trade unions are a threat to development. As a direct result of this pressure many trade unions are facing legal obstacles, harassment, and intimidation in the very democracies they helped to establish, and are anxious to protect _ and, at the same time, the struggle against dictatorship itself is by no means over. Economic and social uncertainty feeds authoritarian trends. The number one priority for the ICFTU therefore has to remain the promotion and defence of trade union rights.

The Trade Union Vision

Our vision of society is fundamentally different to that of the free market idealogues. Our objective is to help organize the use of the world's main resource - its people - to improve the general welfare of society and especially its weakest members. Market-based systems of production, exchange and distribution can help to achieve this objective, but only where they operate within a framework of laws and government policies that ensure that societies' goals are not damaged by powerful private interests. In recent years a resurgent philosophy of narrow individualism has exercised a strong influence over political debate not least as a result of the efforts of the business community to reduce the role of government policies and legislation in restraining the divisive effects of the pursuit of private profit. Trade unions believe this philosophy to be fundamentally flawed. An individual's sense of identity and self-esteem is determined by how they interact with others in society, and crucially through the work they do, not simply by how much wealth they can acquire. Material prosperity is important, especially to those who do not have the means to live a decent life, but people have a broader conception of values that can only be realized by working together for the betterment of their community and indeed for humanity as a whole.

Persistent inequalities between regions of the world

GDP per capita 1993 by region

Sub-saharan Africa: $520

East Asia and Pacific:$820

South Asia: $310

Developing Europe & Central Asia: $2450

Latin America & Caribbean: $2,950

High-income countries: $23,090

Adult illiteracy in 1990 by region

Sub-saharan Africa: 50%

East Asia and Pacific: 24%

South Asia: 54%

Developing Europe & Central Asia: 5%

Latin America & Caribbean: 15%

High-income countries: 1%

Infant mortality rate in 1993 by region

Sub-saharan Africa: 9.3%

East Asia and Pacific: 3.6%

South Asia: 8.4%

Developing Europe & Central Asia: 2.5%

Latin America & Caribbean: 4.3%

High-income countries: 0.7%

Source: UNDP Human Development Report 1995, World Bank World Development Report 1995.

Trade unions are people working together. Social organization based on a shared work experience is a natural response to an individual's desire to improve their own and their fellow workers' contribution to a better society. At the heart of our movement is the goal of human dignity - the sense of being a valued member of society because work is recognized as important, is fairly rewarded, safe and secure, and people are treated with respect at work. Mass unemployment and poverty are an intolerable waste of resources and a dangerous threat to social cohesion and, indeed, peaceful international relations.

When the pursuit of private profit through the unrestrained mechanisms of the market is elevated to the primary goal of public policy, the aims of improving the general welfare of society and especially its weakest members is inevitably compromised. Human dignity and social justice are sacrificed to the benefit of elites of the wealthy and powerful. And basic democratic rights, especially workers' rights, to form and join trade unions of their own choosing are undermined.

Our advocacy of trade union rights is therefore part and parcel of a wider debate over identifying the failures of the market and remedying them through the action of democratically accountable public authorities. We believe that many other social organizations share our values and concerns, including some sections of the business community that recognize the importance of balancing the innovative dynamism of private enterprise with the wider objectives of fairness, justice and democracy. With the advent of a global market economy this debate is now also global. The ICFTU is a focal point for unions in seeking to ensure that an alternative vision is forcefully argued of how the international community should organize itself to ensure that human endeavour is harnessed to the needs of the many and not the few.

Trade union leader left to die in Swaziland but survives to fight on

In recent years the authoritarian monarchy of Swaziland's King Mswati III has unleashed a systematic campaign to crush the nation's independent labour movement. Systematic government repression of the Swaziland Federation of Trade Unions (SFTU) began after a union conference in October 1993 proposed a 27 point programme aimed at improving workers' conditions of employment and promoting democratization of Swazi society.

To underline the need for dialogue on their programme the SFTU organized a mass strike on 21-22 February 1994. Police attacked workers outside numerous factories, seriously injuring many people. Official intimidation and violence continued throughout the year. SFTU General Secretary Jan Sithole was detained and interrogated on 22 July. Pressure on Sithole increased with telephoned threats against his life. Plain clothes police officers began monitoring union meetings and offering bribes to obtain SFTU documents.

On 13-14 March 1995 the SFTU called another mass stayaway to force consideration of the union's programme by a Tripartite Forum. A second strike was announced for 17 July. The government renewed its attack on the SFTU General Secretary, requesting that Sithole surrender his passport on the eve of his departure for the ILO June Conference in Geneva. It charged that he was not a Swazi citizen and initiated procedures to deport him. On 14 July 1995, three days prior to the general strike, the Prime Minister warned workers against any new mass actions as these had now become illegal under Swazi law. The same day, legislation was imposed under emergency procedures providing for a 10-year prison term or 100,000 rand (US $27,300) fine on anyone calling a strike. A new industrial relations bill, which would sharply curtail trade union rights, was reportedly being considered. On 29 August 1995, just one day before a SFTU ultimatum to the Tripartite Forum was to expire, Jan Sithole was kidnaped by a group of armed men. He was robbed of personal items and union documents and abandoned, locked in the boot of his automobile at a spot where a collision might easily have killed him. Fortunately his cries for help were heard by passers by some hours later and he escaped the death trap. In spite of official denials, the police are suspected. On 4 September the ICFTU requested the personal intervention of the ILO Director General to protect the lives of Swazi labour leaders.

Six senior SFTU officers were arrested and briefly detained on 17 November 1995 after attending a meeting with political opposition leaders to explore a common programme. Swaziland's long awaited industrial relations bill was passed by Parliament on 7 December 1995. It criminalizes the calling or organizing of strikes.

Denied the legal right to strike, workers are still fighting back against official repression aimed at crushing their movement. In January 1996, Sithole and a number of other SFTU leaders were again arrested but after a week detained in a remote jail were released following international protests coordinated by the ICFTU and its regional organization AFRO.

Source: ICFTU Annual Survey of Violations of Trade Union Rights.

Strengthening Trade Union Influence At International Level

Strengthening the system for the implementation of ILO standards therefore remains central to the ICFTU's work to defend union rights. 1995 proved to be a year when the value of sustained trade union effort brought results. Our campaign for an international social clause has helped to focus attention on the scandal of the persistent abuse of workers' rights. As a result of pressure from its Workers' Group, the ILO launched a campaign for the universal ratification of the core Conventions on human rights at the workplace as the centrepiece of the ILO's contribution to the UN Social Summit. The work the ICFTU put in contributed to the winning of a commitment from the world leaders at the Summit to promote respect for ILO Conventions. The World Bank, often seen as symbolizing the free market world order, shocked some of its supporters and critics when its 1995 report said that the right to join a trade union is a cornerstone of democracy, and that collective bargaining produces positive results for workers and employers. And at a meeting at the highest level, the UN has clearly stated that respect for basic workers' rights is an essential element for successful social development. The task facing the ICFTU and its affiliates is to build on this progress to make sure that the ratifying of ILO standards and the honouring of international commitments are delivered.

The ICFTU must and will continue to develop its network of contacts, and mechanisms with the ILO, other UN agencies, and the UN itself, so that it spreads to embrace and influence the ideas and actions of the IMF, the World Bank, and the World Trade Organization. In part this can be achieved by ensuring that trade union views are inserted at an early stage of the preparation of key policy initiatives. The receptiveness of international organizations to such views is improving as a result of the ICFTU's work at, and in the preparation for the World Social Summit, and its persistent lobbying of the IMF and the World Bank. Ultimately our influence at international level is a reflection of national affiliates' relations with governments and, in particular, those of the leading economic powers that form the Group of Seven. There is a direct link between the strength of unions at the work place and nationally, and the influence that the ICFTU can bring to bear at the international level. How unions develop and adapt to the new bargaining environment globalization has created, and the ability of their international organization - the ICFTU - to shape the framework of policies and rules that govern the functioning of the global market, are closely interconnected.

Organizing Strategies - the No 1 Priority

Every union has constantly to keep up to date its organizing strategies to meet the changing needs and aspirations of workers and the rapid pace of change in the labour market. There is no single model for success but some of the key elements identified by the ICFTU's affiliates are:-

* increasing the number of union members in establishments where unions are already organized and recognized by the employer;

* recruiting members in other subsidiaries or in sub-contractors of an already organized employer;

* retaining the membership of union workers who

* training union officers in organizing

* improving union information services to members and potential members so that workers know more about their union and what it can achieve for them;

* focusing union research services on finding out what workers expect from their job and what the union can do to help them achieve their goals;

* talking to employers to explain the advantages union representation has for improving employee relations and the success of their business so as to correct the myths about unions that have contributed to increasing managerial hostility to collective bargaining;

* building alliances with local community groups, political parties and others interested in improving workers' welfare;

* lobbying for improvements in the law and its enforcement to protect union members from discrimination, secure the legal standing of unions and promote union representation and bargaining rights.

Unions win rights for working parents in Europe

More and more women work but they still bear the main burden of family responsibilities. Parental leave aims at meeting the two objectives of a more flexible organisation of working time and a fairer sharing of family responsibilities between men and women by enabling the father or the mother to look after a small child for a relatively long period. In the interests of parents, children and society, most industrialized countries are now experimenting with different formulas for parental leave with various conditions of time and money. Combined with maternity leave, parental leave now amounts to one year in one quarter of industrialized countries, but can be as long as three years in Germany, Finland and France.

After the European Union failed to adopt legislation offering minimum requirements for parental leave, due to a veto by the British government, the European Commission decided to try a new approach opened up by the adoption of the social protocol to the Maastrict Treaty, outside the intergovernmental framework. The European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) and their counterpart employers' organizations (UNICE)) agreed to enter into negotiations at the European level with a view to adopting an agreement on parental leave as an important means of reconciling professional and family responsibilities which could eventually become European legislation.

Six months of negotiations led to a framework agreement which lays down minimum requirements designed to facilitate the reconciliation of parental and professional responsibilities for working parents. It entitles male and female employees to at least three months' unpaid parental leave, which can be taken at any time up until the child's eighth birthday, either all at once or in parts. This is an advance on the present system in most European countries, which stipulates that parental leave must be taken directly after maternity leave or at least within a fairly short period afterwards. The new agreement is applicable to every enterprise, no matter the size, with guaranteed social coverage (sickness, unemployment and pension insurance). The worker is guaranteed their own job or an equivalent job back at the end of the leave. There is the possibility of supplementary leave "for urgent family reasons", the duration of which is to be determined at the national level.

The agreement can be implemented at national level either through legislation or collective bargaining. It will be left up to individual governments to decide whether the leave is to be paid and how the system is financed. The first beneficiaries of the agreement will be the parents in the three countries where parental leave does not yet exist: Ireland, Luxembourg and Belgium. There will also be advantages for those in countries which already have legislation on the subject.

While the parental leave arrangements do not go as far as it would have liked, the ETUC has welcomed the agreement as part of the development of a real strategy for equal opportunities and treatment, as well as for the sharing of family responsibilities. According to the ETUC, to achieve this, it must no longer be automatic for parental leave to be taken by the mother; above all, the notion of the individual rights of both parents to parental leave must be established.

Source: ETUC

Grassroots Organizing with a Focus on Women and Youth

The strength and credibility of a union is founded on its ability to recruit and retain a significant proportion of a national, industry, or company workforce, and through representation and organization, obtain good pay and conditions from employers and a strong framework of social protection from governments. But the structure of industry, the structure of work, and the aspirations and attitudes of workers are changing. Unions have to modernize to keep up with these developments. This means looking at the way they prepare for collective bargaining, encourage participation in union activities, communicate with their members, and improve services to the members. It also means more inter-union co-operation to organize the unorganized, and looking for new levers of influence to supplement the more traditional roles of collective bargaining and lobbying. Two key groups of special importance to the future of our movement are women and youth.

Women in all countries are the largest group of marginalized citizens and workers, and, while there has been a steady growth in women's membership, unions are not recruiting them on anything like the scale they should be. Because the workplace is a key factor in improving the life chances of women, trade unions have a major role to play. Ending discrimination at work is an essential step in making the principle of equal opportunity a reality. Concerns such as equal pay for work of equal value, sexual harassment, provision of child care and parental leave are increasingly being treated as mainstream trade union issues. In some countries, unions have secured a significant number of improvements in women's employment and working conditions.

The need to harmonize work with family responsibilities is a key issue facing both women and men. Dual earner and single parent families are increasingly common. Most parents are forced to juggle household and family responsibilities with involvement in paid work based on male employment patterns. There is a need for a redistribution of household and family tasks to match the reallocation of employment responsibilities to both women and men. There is also a need to develop worker friendly flexible working patterns which are attractive to both men and women. Part-time work has done little to meet women's aspirations for employment nor to modify gender roles. New employment models need to be implemented which allow women and men to combine a career with family commitments while maintaining their quality of life, including career breaks and parental leave.

At workplace level, unions must strengthen their efforts to recruit women workers. Innovative methods of recruitment must be reinforced by organizational changes within unions to show women members that they are guaranteed the opportunity to participate in union activities, and to be elected to serve as union representatives, on policy-making bodies, and at executive level. The ICFTU has developed a whole range of positive action policies to improve the representation of women in policy and decision-making positions, for example, the ICFTU Executive Board now has five reserved seats for representatives of the Women's Committee.

The growth in youth unemployment across the world is a criminal waste of young ambitions, talents and hope, and one of the most serious indictments against the free-market system. In Latin America, five million of the fifty million young people in the workforce cannot find a job. By the year 2000 the ILO expects this figure will have risen to 6.5 million. In Africa, most young people do not find formal employment until they are 25. In most OECD countries, youth unemployment is higher than 15%.

When school's out in Norawy, the union start organising

"When I worked during my summer vacation, I was employed by a kiosk owner who made me work for 50% of the minimum wage for 10 hours a day. I didn't have any contract or any written agreement about the employment conditions. I know this is a severe violation of the country's labour standards, but what could I do? I needed the money to finance my studies".

This young man was talking to Wenche, who is taking part in her town's Job Patrol, organized by the Youth Committee of the local trade unions. She, along with the other participants, have been trained in labour law and about the regulations on collective agreements. Just before the summer vacation she was part of a group of young trade unionists who visited schools to tell students about their rights as future workers.

Now, during the summer holidays, the Job Patrol is visiting young workers at their work places, informing them about their rights, handing out standard employment contracts and helping those who are being exploited by their employers, like the young man in the kiosk. Workers are encouraged to join trade unions and so far nearly 90 new members have been recruited.

Public awareness about the situation is very important, so a media campaign is run during the Job Patrol to tell the public about the way in which young workers are being exploited.

Actions like this and similar ones carried out by affiliates in other countries are supported by the ICFTU Youth Committee.

Source: LO Norway

The trade union movement must lead the fightback against this scourge, and to do so, it must redouble its efforts to recruit and retain young people. Trade unions are now having to compete for young peoples' attention against a wide range of activities. But there is plenty of evidence that the young are still prepared to commit themselves to a cause. And trade unions have the advantage of meeting and getting to understand the aspirations of the new generation of young women and men at the work place. The movement must build up a cadre of young activists who can speak the language of modern youth, and win them for the cause of trade unionism.

Organizing in the Informal Sector

Most union members are workers who have an employment contract. And a large part of what unions do is aimed at establishing and improving the rules that govern such contracts either by agreement with the employer or through the law. But hundreds of millions of workers, mainly in the developing countries are working in the so-called "informal sector" where neither legally-binding private contracts nor statute law is enforced. For such workers the security of a contract which guarantees them payment for the work they do is a far distant dream. Landless agricultural labourers or building workers or domestic servants or the millions who toil in unregistered sweatshops are totally at the mercy of their employers or the gang-bosses who control this law-less labour market jungle. What they are paid, when they are paid, whether they keep the job, how long they work, is beyond their control.

A few courageous unions have managed to begin to organize in the informal sector and establish a limited degree of security and support for such workers, often through small cooperatives. They face the most difficult and dangerous problems in organizing and need the support of union members in the formal sector, both within their own countries and internationally. Most important of all they need the backing of local and national government to oblige employers to become legally registered and thus begin a step-by-step process of securing basic minimum conditions of work for the world's poorest people.

Women lead organizing in Burkina Faso

Ninety-five per cent of women in Burkina Faso are illiterate. It is very difficult for women to gain access to education and to paid employment; nor do they have the right to take out a bank loan. Female excision and polygamy are common practices. The mortality rate for children under five is 50 per cent, one of the highest in the world. There is also a very high rate of death in childbirth.

The ICFTU's affiliate, the ONSL, believes in the slogan that "educated women equals children saved" and since 1984 has been running literacy courses throughout the country. Women play an important role in the processing and marketing of agricultural products and their principal activities are weaving, pottery and small-scale trading. The ONSL Women's Committee, with the help of international solidarity funds, has now built in the capital Ouagadougou a centre with classrooms for literacy courses as well as workshops for weaving and soap-making and a health clinic.

Literacy training, education and the organization of women in the informal sector are the priorities of the ONSL Women's Committee. They see women's education as the best means of raising awareness of the need for organization and trade union membership. The literacy courses enable the women to keep an up-to-date record of their children's health. They are also receiving training in family planning and the dangers of female excision.

Source: ONSL and Free Labour World

International development agencies, like the World Bank, must also decisively reject the advice of those economists who believe the informal sector is some sort of miracle cure for unemployment and the adverse consequences of structural adjustment. It is a poverty trap from which few small businesses let alone their workers ever escape. The absence of any legal framework for markets to function creates a climate of insecurity in which corruption, intimidation and a gangster form of business culture breeds. There is now a widespread agreement that good governance is a key to successful development. The informal sector will be a constant brake on efforts to reform and modernize the role of the state in developing countries until the immense challenge of establishing basic legal rights for workers and enforcing them is addressed. Creating conditions for unions to organize in the informal sector is one of the key steps in such a strategy.

Ignoring the problems of workers in the informal sector in the drive to create a global market economy will exacerbate the problems of growing inequality within and between nations. International businesses must therefore also work with governments and trade unions to extend basic labour standards to the workers in the millions of subcontractors who are at the end of often long and international production chains that supply the major consumer markets in industrialized countries. A number of responsible TNCs are now adopting codes of conduct which specify basic minimum employment conditions. The ICFTU, ITS and their affiliates are increasingly active in negotiating and implementing such codes. This is a welcome development which has considerable potential not least because it links the growing concerns of consumers about the exploitation of workers to practical action to extend the benefits of world trade to developing countries' poorest citizens. Such codes are an innovative approach to organizing in the wild frontier of the global economy.

Strengthening International Labour Standards

The ILO has ensured that labour conditions and social policy are promoted as a bulwark against repression, discrimination and exploitation. Now it is under fierce attack from the advocates of free market neo-liberalism. Its international standards and the systems developed to promote their implementation were painstakingly negotiated through a unique tripartite constitution involving employers, trade unions and governments. It is the global parliament where economic and social problems can be thoroughly debated and solutions worked out to meet the different goals of its constituents.

The ICFTU has consistently argued that the ILO's role in the family of international institutions must be enhanced to meet the increasing tensions within and between nations that intensified global competition is provoking. The core of its work is the international labour code that its Conventions and Recommendations represent. They constitute a strong set of principles which all governments should use to guide their laws and practices in the social and labour field. Time and again the ILO has proved its value as a place where the international community can help governments, trade unions and employers find a basis for resolving disputes which at their most extreme can threaten social stability and have damaging effects on a country's international relations. The ILO's role in Poland and South Africa, to name only two cases, demonstrated its enduring relevance to the international community and especially to working people. The ICFTU will fight vigorously to defend the ILO and its international labour standards.

Building Union Strength in the Developing and Transition Countries

Most developing and transition countries face major obstacles on the path to development. Labour forces, especially in the developing world, are growing as more young people join the job market only to end up in the informal sector. Many countries are falling further and further behind in a world economy based on knowledge and skills because high foreign debt and stagnant levels of aid have caused reductions of investment in education and training. The IMF's and the World Bank's influence over economic policies leads to immense and immediate social costs, but uncertain and long delayed returns. In many cases, dictatorships and elites monopolize the benefits of any economic growth and maintain their privileged position through corruption and by repressing unions, even to the point of violence and murder.

Workers in developing countries constitute an ever-increasing share of the world's workforce, and, potentially, of union membership. The ICFTU must continue to work with trade unions in developing and transition countries to evolve further their independent structures, democratic decision-making procedures and build up an effective membership base with adherence to the criteria set out in the ICFTU Constitution. We must work with affiliates in industrialized countries to campaign for more and better-targeted international aid by convincing people that poverty anywhere is a threat to prosperity everywhere. And we must lobby to humanize the policies of the IMF and the World Bank, and campaign for an open world trading system based on respect for fundamental labour standards.

Grassroots democracy in action in Tanzania

Soon after Tanzania became independent, free trade unionism was abolished. The national centre was obliged to affiliate to the ruling party and became highly centralized. Collective bargaining largely disappeared. Trade union elections were controlled by the top ranking union and party officials - candidates had to be approved and politicians and people in managerial positions became high ranking trade union leaders. The general secretary of the national trade union centre combined his functions with that of being Labour Minister.

In 1991 it was decided, at a special trade union congress, to dissolve the national centre and to create a new democratic structure organized into one national federation. The new unions implemented an internationally-supported education programme on Reform and Promotion of Democracy. Activities started with a study circle campaign directed at the newly elected branch committee members. The study circles (i.e. the branch committees) held discussions of trade union democracy and the expected changes in the structural set-up of the union. They also discussed a first draft of their respective unions' constitutions and were encouraged to submit resolutions to their Constituent Union Congresses. Considerable work was also done to prepare budgets for the different unions so as to be able to determine what might be a suitable structure for a particular union from a cost point of view. The project further organized several workshops with the trade union leadership to prepare the new union constitutions.

1,897 study circle leaders were trained in 83 seminars. More than 20,000 study circle participants discussed and presented, altogether, 816 congress resolutions. The proposals contained in these resolutions were incorporated into the draft constitutions. The project also included preparations for the District and Zonal Conferences which were to elect the congress delegates of the different unions, since as a precondition for democratic elections it was important to make sure that the new election procedures were fully understood. These efforts resulted in the creation of 11 democratic trade unions.

A second study circle campaign was conducted with the intention of informing the general membership about how the new unions were intended to work. 284 local instructors were trained, who then trained 3,300 study circle leaders in local seminars. At least 31,000 members (of which 43 per cent were female) are reported to have participated in these study circles. With this decentralized method the total cost per study circle participant, including study manuals, instructors and study circle leaders' seminars and follow-up activities, was kept at just under $4.50.

In August 1995, the national centre had its constitutional congress and because the Tanzania Federation of Free Trade Unions (TFFTU). Follow-up project activities are being conducted by the ICFTU African Regional Organization (ICFTU/AFRO).

Source: AFRO and TFFTU

Trade Unions and the Transnationals

The development of trade union relations with TNCs, including at the level of the global corporation, is an important element of new union strategies to promote workers' interests.

Unions and TNCs are beginning to develop international systems for information exchange and consultation. An increasing number now meet regularly with ITS, mostly at a European level, but also on a world basis. This is a logical development for both unions and companies which should be encouraged. TNCs often play a leading role in the labour market which other employers subsequently follow. Building an international dimension to union relations with such companies is a vital element in securing the trade unions' role in a changing global market. The ICFTU will therefore need to be able to respond to the ITS in their efforts to establish international information and consultative councils and to strengthen union representation within TNCs. As leading actors in global integration TNCs too have wider social responsibilities. International rules to clarify and harmonize the commercial rules concerning TNCs, such as the OECD's initiative to develop a Multilateral Agreement on Investment and possible similar moves within the WTO, must be accompanied by a strengthening of the ILO Declaration and the OECD guidelines.

Managing Change

In a global market, all countries have to become skilful in managing change, especially in adapting work processes and the structure of employment. We know, but must convince others, that sound industrial relations and well-functioning tripartite systems for consultation are the best method:

  • for ensuring that the labour market responds smoothly and efficiently to change with the least social dislocation;
  • for achieving steady growth and competitiveness; and
  • for making tough choices about the distribution of scarce resources without destabilizing government budgets and within the restraints of global competitive pressures.

Trade unions must work to prove that an approach built on independent and democratic union involvement is infinitely more productive and profitable than an anti-union, conflict-based approach.

Organizing and Bargaining in a Global Market

The major factors that will influence the ability of trade unions in the 21st century to defend workers' rights and living standards effectively are:

  • the extent to which unions can succeed in recruiting and retaining members, particularly women and young workers both in the traditional and new occupations and sectors;
  • the capacity of trade unions to ensure that basic international labour standards are recognized and applied;
  • the ability of trade unions to organize and help workers in the informal sector;
  • the efforts of trade unions to convince workers all over the world that they are a positive voice ready and able to address their problems;
  • the ability of trade unions to develop their own strength so as to establish a countervailing power to match that of the TNCs, and ensure that they implement the international codes on corporate behaviour; and
  • whether unions are perceived by workers and the general public as assisting economic progress by their response to changes in technology and technique at the workplace in a world where market forces, privatization, and deregulation lay claim to being the driving forces of change.

Globalization's Challenge: Strengthening the ICFTU

These are the key priorities for unions in the 21st century which the ICFTU must target in its work as the voice of labour at the world level and as the leading trade union organization for the mobilization of international solidarity within our movement. Our XVIth World Congress will need to focus on how to reshape our activities and methods of work to address these issues.

The major role for the ICFTU in helping unions to recruit and retain members, is to work at the international level to change the climate of hostility to unions that has emerged in the last two decades. This report has argued that collective representation of workers from the work place to the international conference chambers is essential if the divisive effects of unrestrained free markets are to be stopped from destroying the social fabric of our nations and the democratic principles upon which good governance and peaceful international relations are founded.

The ICFTU will therefore have to continue to oppose those remaining anti-democratic regimes which outlaw the practice of free trade unionism. We will have to step up assistance to trade unions that are having to try to function under laws that inhibit freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining. We will have to focus attention on protecting union organizers and members from victimization.

Trade union education is a vital component in building up the strength of unions. A large part of the international solidarity assistance offered by ICFTU members is channeled to helping emerging unions develop their own education service. Most of this assistance is done through direct union to union contacts, with a significant amount organized through the ICFTU and the ITS. We must set up mechanisms to constantly review the effectiveness of such solidarity to ensure that successful techniques are spread and adapted to the specific needs of unions in different countries and sectors.

Trade unions organize to save the Environment and jobs

In the four years since the June 1992 United Nations Summit on Environment and Development in Rio, environmental protection has become a priority for the trade union movement and unions have broken ground with initiatives which highlight the involvement of workers and their unions. In the process, they have altered traditional workplace relations and have expanded their role in the community. Cases such as the following are illustrative of some of the breakthroughs:

chemical workers in Germany have concluded over 60 agreements that go beyond the mandate of works councils to provide workers with information, training, participation, and even codetermination on environmental matters;

an initiative by two public sector unions in Zimbabwe with assistance of the ILO involved communities in an extensive process of social research and social dialogue directed at environmental problems and services. Follow-up activities with local authorities, government and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are providing the basis for problem-solving and future programmes;

an Eco-Audit project carried out in 10 tourist enterprises in Finland is promoting sustainable development. It showed that involving employees through their trade unions improves economic efficiency as well as the environment;

the Laborers' International Union in the United States have developed a model for training and partnerships with contractors and government agencies for projects related to hazardous material removal, which is now being applied to Central and South America and Central and Eastern Europe;

the TCO in Sweden has launched the 6E, a guide for integrating considerations relating to the ecology and the work environment in everyday decision-making by everyone involved in the enterprise. 6E exerts direct influence on the market, instead of relying on authorities and legislation for success; and

the ACTU has joined with Australia's leading environmental organization to initiate a nation-wide program of partnerships with industry, governments and the community to identify and develop "green" jobs that either benefit the environment directly or provide a less harmful alternative to current practices.

At international level, the ICFTU has been actively working with NGOs and international agencies on campaigns that link health, safety and the environment in such areas as chemicals, eco-auditing, child labour, toys and international standards. It is working with international business groups at the UN Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD) to highlight the role of the workplace in meeting environmental objectives.

Source: ICFTU

An important part of the ICFTU's and affiliates' solidarity work is focused on adapting union policy to meet the needs of women workers. This is already producing successful results in terms of broadening union organization and helping affiliates to bring the benefits of union representation to women. Well focused international activities are an important means of enhancing the work of unions for women workers and thus of extending our membership base.

In order to maintain our strength in the 21st. century unions must ensure that young workers are brought into our membership now. Organizing young workers highlights the importance of unions moving with the times to make their methods relevant to the new issues at work and in society. Again international cooperation and solidarity is an important means for unions to spread and adapt the most successful techniques for organizing young workers and learn from each other about new policy responses to the global problem of youth unemployment.

International labour standards are an essential point of reference for trade unions the world over as they seek to change the social and political environment in which they work. Strengthening the ILO, and defeating the attacks which threaten its very existence, are therefore central to all the ICFTU's work. We must help unions to use the ILO's standards and create new mechanisms for pressurizing governments to observe them. The ICFTU's social clause campaign is a major element in this work alongside our efforts to keep governments to the commitments made at the UN Social Summit and ensuring that aid, and IMF and World Bank programmes encourage governments to base their development strategies on sound industrial relations' systems founded on ILO standards.

A three-pronged union strategy is needed to increase the ability of unions to organize and help workers in the informal sector. The elements are:

  • a major drive to increase primary education especially for girls so as to raise the skills and earning power of the world's poorest workers;
  • public work projects to build up the basic infrastructure for development in rural areas and the shanty towns, provide skills training, including for small businessmen, and ensure a basic level of earnings to help workers who have irregular or seasonal jobs;
  • the progressive extension of the application of labour laws.

The ICFTU will promote this strategy with the international development agencies and help affiliates to win the support of governments. The strategy also underlies our child labour campaign which addresses one of the worst aspects of the informal sector poverty trap.

The strong message to the ICFTU from affiliates all over the world is that workers feel increasingly insecure and concerned about whether they will keep their job and what pay they will get. They see rapid and continuing change all around them and are looking for help to find a way forward for themselves, their families and their communities. They often want to see change because it holds the prospect of a better life, but they also want to have a say in the process. And they are looking to unions to provide them with the security of having a voice to express their fears, aspirations and ensure that change leads to improved conditions of work and life.

Unions are responding to this message and are looking to the ICFTU to help them get a say in a process which is clearly driven by international pressures. In many countries the focus of concern about the direction of change is the programme of structural adjustment and reform inspired by the IMF and World Bank. The ICFTU and its regional organizations have therefore organized with affiliates a series of major conferences around the theme of the social dimensions of structural adjustment and regional integration. Their main purpose has been to create a platform for unions to debate with government and the international agencies the direction of national development strategy and the need for stronger social policies. They have proved to be a successful example of unions taking the lead in expressing widespread popular concern about the effects of national and international policies and the need for new policies to address the social consequences of change. These high profile public events have also helped unions to develop new strategies to increase their relevance to workers and attract new members and supporters. The ICFTU will now therefore need to review systematically with affiliates and our regional organizations how to link the services we can offer to the national strategies unions are developing to modernize and reposition their organizations to meet the challenges of globalization.

A similar exercise of review is also needed to increase union influence over the corporate strategies of the TNC. In recent years ITS have considerably increased their ability to bring together unions from different subsidiaries of key TNCs for discussion amongst themselves and sometimes with management of how companies are changing and the effects on workers. Unions are also increasingly aware of the value of well-prepared international solidarity support for organizing and collective bargaining. In some cases new methods of influence such as shareholder and consumer campaigns have been developed to support union objectives. The breakthrough in Europe of establishing a legal right to information and consultation with TNCs through European Works Councils will be a further catalyst for change. Together with the ITSs, their European industry committees, and the ETUC, the ICFTU will be examining how to build on this progress and establish a new countervailing union influence on the world of international business.

Both in terms of a union's role in national strategies for economic development and at the work place and within companies, unions are putting forward constructive proposals to show how union representation and collective bargaining is a key element in balancing the forces of competition with wider social objectives.

Unions are demanding a say in the management of change. Where this is refused, of course, with unions will have to be ready to use their strength to mobilize opposition to change that does not address and deal with the problems it can cause for workers. Nevertheless, a new role for the ICFTU, together with ITSs, is emerging of bringing together unions to exchange views and develop common policies on how to shape the way in which new technologies and new management techniques are applied and, in particular, how unions can organize themselves to promote employee involvement in companies. The starting point for such work is, of course, the recognition of basic union rights, but there is scope for the ICFTU to work with affiliates and the ITS to promote a positive message of the value and relevance of strong and independent unions to meeting the challenge of the global market.

European Works Councils: starting a new trend?

In a major breakthrough in international industrial relations, the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) won a long-fought battle for international, legally-mandated access to the management of TNCs when, in September 1994, the Council of Social Affairs Ministers of the European Union (EU) adopted a Directive "on the Establishment of a European Works Council or a procedure in Community-scale undertakings and community-scale groups of undertakings for the purpose of informing and consulting employees". This Europe-wide law applies to companies which have 1000 workers and at least 150 employees in two EU states, as a well as the three remaining states of the European Economic Area - Norway, Liechtenstein and Iceland. It does not however include the United Kingdom which, after blocking the Directive for years, opted out of the 1993 Social Protocol of the Maastricht Treaty, which provides for majority voting of laws drawn up by European unions and employers.

Even before the new law was passed a number of European TNCs, led by Volkswagen, had already negotiated European-wide works councils. Over 1200 companies are covered by the directive including at least 187 US-based, 32 Japan-based, and 109 UK-based TNCs. Now, EU Member states have until 22 September 1996 to transpose the terms of this Directive into national law. TNCs must then conclude agreements within three years after the negotiating procedures provided for in the Directive have begun, or risk having a works council imposed by the courts.

Many TNCs have already entered into negotiations and approximately 80 works councils had been established by early 1996. These include UK and Swiss representatives although there is no legal requirement to do so, but including delegates from Central and Eastern European countries has proved more contentious. The world's first world-wide works council has been established in the Swedish metal working company SKF. Generally the agreements reached establish works councils of about 30 members with regular annual meetings and provision for additional meetings. Many agreements cover all parts of a parent company, but some establish works councils by product category or division. Through the ETUC's European Industry Committees and the ITS, the negotiations have brought together trade unions which in some countries were part of rival national centres.

Although the EU contributes funds to assist in establishing works councils and, once they are up and running, the formal costs of the councils are born by the TNCs, trade union resources will also be needed. About 36,000 workers' representatives will participate in European Works Councils and require training and technical support. With a few TNCs trying to by-pass or reduce trade union influence in negotiating works councils agreements, a key issue is the role of international trade union organizations in keeping close links between the works councils and trade union structures. The Directive does not establish collective bargaining, but the obligation to consult means that management must take the views of its workers into account in a timely manner, and could be a step towards similar arrangements at a global level. Once TNCs start talking to unions in the new councils, framework agreements like that between the IUF and Danone may spread .

Source: ETUC

After more than a decade that has seen the avarice of unrestrained market ideas sweep across the world, years that have seen deregulation and privatization penetrate the policies of every government, no-one questions that the job we have to do is vast. Affiliates at the sharp end, who are increasingly aware that their problems are such they need to work with other unions in other countries know also that resources are limited. The incomes of many of them have been squeezed by recession at a time when new services had to be developed.

Logic and experience tells unions that affiliation fees needed to be increased to take account of inflation. These increases have had to be matched with a well thought out reorganization that both ensured careful control of costs, and radically improved the effectiveness of union work.

The ICFTU operates in the same tough and demanding climate.

It too must undergo a rigorous examination of every aspect of its structure. But it is essential that this be done against a policy mandate that gives the ICFTU a clear sense of direction.

The ICFTU's present stated objectives, together with the policy ambitions of the 1996 Congress, must be set out in the form of a focused set of targets for achievement, with progress being monitored by the Executive Board, and the next Congress.

The reorganization and re-equipping of the ICFTU must itself be a target of achievement that must be concluded over an affordable time-span. The aim would be to make sure that the ICFTU could deliver policy and campaign objectives through better co-ordination of information and effort within and between all levels of the international trade union movement.

Any reorganization would begin with an examination of the procedures that link the work of the Brussels headquarters with national centres, the regional organizations, the ITSs, TUAC, the WCL and the ETUC.

The strengthening of these contacts, essential as they are, will not of itself achieve our policy objectives.

National centres and individual trade unions have shown that it requires strongly focused campaigning to win union battles in today's harsh climate.

It is imperative that the role of the ICFTU's regional organizations be strengthened in a way that:

  • gives a regional dimension to international campaigns;
  • enlists international support for regionally initiated campaigns; and
  • avoids the development of regional policy that does not keep faith with Congress policy.

To be successful, ICFTU international campaigns would need to harness the expertise and experience of the ITSs, TUAC, the WCL and the ETUC.

One modern development that trade unions should not ignore is the rise of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to become powerful lobbyists internationally and nationally. The ICFTU should be ready to build relationships and alliances with those NGOs whose principles and practice do not conflict with trade unionism.

If our campaigns are to succeed, the ICFTU must become the communications hub of an international trade union network. To do this effectively, we must all use to the full the power of new information technology.

In addition, with the potential this technology now offers, the ICFTU can promote the sharing of successful organizational and campaigning ideas and practices of union organizations.

Again, this approach would be focused on those areas of most concern to today's trade unions, such as recruitment, and how to get more women and young workers involved in the movement.

Whatever shape our campaigns may take, whatever targets become our priority, at the heart of all we do, lie the fundamental objectives of the trade union movement:

  • defending union rights;
  • strengthening union organization; and
  • campaigning for the goal of full employment and a social dimension in all economic policies.

The ideals of trade unionism are timeless and more than a century has passed without ever diminishing the dedication of trade union activists. But there have been periods when all that we stand for and work for has come under threat. We are now in such a period. And the forces of greed that over the centuries have tried to stamp out the spirit of trade unionism are now more powerful that at any time in history. They have global ambitions that do not include trade unions. This is the greatest challenge that trade unionism has faced.