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  Issue No 83 Official Organ of LaborNet 09 February 2001  




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Letters to the Editor

Unions and the WEF: How should unions bridge the divide?

What a great opportunity to encourage workers and unionists to support the call for a global strike against corporpate tyranny on May 1.

ACTU leader Sharan Burrow attended the WEF meeting in Davos, along with 8 other trade union representatives from around the globe, in an effort to `convince' the corporate profiteers that they need to pay more attention to workers rights. Burrow and her colleagues are presenting talks to the WEF meeting in Davos with titles like Partnering for the Future and Addressing the Backlash against Globalisation.

During S11-13 in Melbourne, Burrow was also proselytising to the global elite while the majority of us were outside demanding to close down the WEF, WTO and IMF, cancel the 3W debt and to defend union, environmental and human rights against corporate tyranny. Of course we also bore the brunt of the physical violence from the state.

The APEC monitoring group in New Zealand circulated a cyber protest demanding that the trade union officials inside the WEF reject the offer to "eat, drink and parley with the international exploiting class". They called upon these union officials to reject attempts at cooperating with the WEF and join the more radical elements demanding change. The outside protesters opposing the WEF,that included New Zealand Trade Union Federation President Maxine Gay, were subjected to police and military attack.

The APEC group pointed out that thousands of people have vowed to continue the anti-globalisation momentum from Seattle to Melbourne, Seoul, Prague and Nice in protests designed to isolate the WEF and its ideology. They charged the union officials attending the WEF with breaking solidarity and playing into the hands of the exploiters.

Token discussion with the corporate chiefs and their bureaucratic lackeys are not the most pressing task for unions and their elected officials, especially when their fine words don't even bother to actually challenge or oppose globalisation. More than this, the international union grouping held informal dialogue with international organisations and expressed their willingness to work with governments and employers to bridge the divides. This flies in the face of the most basic of union training that warns against holding meetings with bosses behind closed doors and without clear outcomes, let alone the clear message from the movement that these bodies should be rejected.

The International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU) media release on Davos demonstrates why their attendance is futile. It admits that a social compact around worker and union rights was agreed to in Copenhagen 6 years ago but complains that none of the protocols have been adhered to. Burrows and her colleagues seem to believe that reminding the companies of the moral imperative is all that is needed. The main threat made by Burrows in her speech to the WEF was that unions would play the consumer card by attacking the corporate image of companies that continue to be socially irresponsible.

Burrows soft language denies the reality for the vast majority of the working class that neo-liberalism and IMF style austerity means life or death. 140 unionists were killed last year and some 12,000 sacked for daring to take up the struggle for the right to organise. Workers are locked in dormitories or unsafe factories and paid unsustainable wages. Women workers are subjected to harassment and sometimes rape just to keep their jobs. An enormous range of governments ban or hinder the formation of unions at the behest of the corporate chiefs. As many as 300 million children under the age of 14 work in intolerable conditions.

In pointing the way forward the ICFTU call for fairer access to world trade, fairer income distribution, an end to the irresponsibility of some multi-nationals. How is this going to happen? They ask for inclusive decision-making, more dialogue between global unions and global corporations and bigger input from trade unions.

WEF spokespeople claim that they want to be seen to be listening. The operative words in their statement are "seen to be". The WEF and corporate leaders have no intention of responding to the muted words of the trade union officials who attend their forum. The WEF are extremely particular about even who they are "seen" to listen to. It is no coincidence that they ensured a clamp down on protesters or potential disrupters from even getting close. The growing mass mobilisations are the real threat. It is the fear of instability and a radical understanding among wider layers of workers that has caused the WEF and related bodies to even pander to talk of human rights and concern for the most exploited.

In her paper titled "Unions in Transition" Burrows went on to suggest that the majority of Australian employers "are respectful of union and democratic rights". What about the long list of companies that have syphoned off worker entitlements before going bust? And the employers that have established shelf companies to avoid workers rights? How does she explain the extensive use of contractors and outsourcing to avoid the cost of permanent workers and union rights? What about the companies that employ casuals and migrant labor for similar reasons? What about all the exploitative call centres with intense monitoring? Is she aware of the increasing use of lock outs to force workers into line?

Burrows and the ACTU are so far removed from working reality that it is only through our own decisive action that change will occur.The lesson to draw for activists is to more vigorously build the next actions planned for May 1as a way of encouraging involvement and to take this message back to our own workplaces and unions so we generate activism around other issues that link into the movement.

Melanie Sjoberg (Coordinator Unionists Against Corporate Tyrrany)


*   View entire issue - print all of the articles!

*   Issue 83 contents

In this issue
*  Interview: Dispatch from Davos
ACTU President Shahran Burrow reports back on the trade union movement’s presence at last week’s meeting of the heavyweights of global capital.
*  Unions: After the Gold Rush
Recent mass sackings at high-profile e-businesses are beginning to expose the flimsiness of the ‘jobs for all’ predictions made on behalf of the sector.
*  Economics: The Other Davos
While the world’s business leaders met in Davos, a very different gathering was taking place in Porto Alegre, Brazil. Pat Ranald was there.
*  Politics: While We Were Snoozing
As we lay in our banana chair through summer the political world kept turning with a new man in the White House. Here’s what we missed while we were off the air.
*  History: Federation Day, 1901
One hundred years after Australia became a nation, Ralph Sawyer relives the original Federation Day through the eyes of Billy Hughes.
*  International: Burma: The Struggle Continues
As the internatinal community moves to bring Burma to account, APHEDA - Union Aid Abroad is working on the ground.
*  Review: Inside the Journopolis
In his new book, Rob Johnson brings the infamous Cash for Comment Affair to life.
*  Satire: Families Demand Longer Work Hours
A new report confirms the long held suspicion that employees who reduce their workload to spend more time with their spouse and children just end up annoying their families even more.

»  Union Busters Target Call Centres
»  Workers Take Message to World Bank
»  Korean Worker Bashed for Questioning Wages
»  Steelworkers Draw The Line
»  Sartor Thanks Workers for Games by Outsourcing Jobs
»  Outworkers Still Waiting for Action of Sweatshops
»  Workers Casualties in Wentworth Fire Sale
»  Fantastic Win for Furniture Workers
»  Billions Spent on Mine Takeovers
»  No Guarantees on Orange Jobs
»  M5 Project- Worker Pays the Price
»  Forum: Organising Youth in a Hostile Workplace
»  Western Sahara Marks 25 Years of Waiting
»  Action as Australia Considers WTO Ties

»  The Soapbox
»  Sport
»  Trades Hall
»  Tool Shed

Letters to the editor
»  Cavalier Attitude to Cricketers
»  Unions and the WEF: How should unions bridge the divide?
»  Botsman's Ivory Tower
»  Volunteering a Modest Proposal
»  Well Done, Workers Online

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