Economics: Super Seduction
Interview: Bono and Me
Unions: The Eight Hour Day and the Holy Spirit
Technology: From Widgets to Digits
Education: Dumb and Dumber
Health: No Place for the Young
History: The Work-In That Changed a Nation
Review: Dare to Win
Poetry: Labor's Dreaming
The Locker Room
Morals Beat Hasty Retreat
Uncounted Cost Of Asbestos
Voting Farce Expands
I Beg To Differ
Bono and Me
Interview with Peter Lewis
In the past week you've shared a stage with Bono and locked into your hotel during a political uprising in Nepal, is this an average week for the leader of the international union movement?
It certainly shows the extremes of the role. There's no question that the issue of poverty, probably underscored both those experiences. In Davos we launchedi GCAP - the global call for action against poverty. Three of the seven G7 governments - Britain, France and Germany - supported this call at the WEF along with Mbeke from South Africa and Lula standing with the unions and civil society at the WSF in Brazil. We are finally starting to build a global alliance around the eradication of poverty. In Nepal it would be a victory to get a minimum wage of US$1 a day. The struggle for democracy is of course a precondition for union freedom and we fear for those union sisters and brothers who are being arrested as we speak.
Thus there are clear links betwen both those extreme examples of the life of a global union movement leader.
What was Bono's depth of understanding of the issues?
I am a little suspicious of celebrity activism but I have to say discussing the issues with Bono left no question that he has a depth of understanding that's quite extraordinary. He has established his own foundation, and has been a voice for social justice for fifteen years or more now. So you can't really put him in the box of the stargazing moment. He's solid and if we are determined to generate jobs and eradicate disease and poverty for working people the whatever works! I've got no doubt, despite the fact that I have to admit to enjoying the time we had in his company and what woman wouldn't - that he is genuine and thus we welcome his weight being added to the cause.
On a serious note: congratulations on your election. What are your priorities for the ICFTU over the coming 12 months?
There are moments when I think that this has to be one of the craziest decisions I've made yet. Yet its like anything in the union movement - if there's work to be done, and you're colleagues see that you've got a role to play, then its very hard to say no. It's a huge honour of course but it's also an enormous challenge. I've said publicly that I'm still somewhat daunted by the challenge, but we do have a lot to do. We need to build a new international. Now that's exciting because not many institutions or movements like ours get a chance to build a new beginning on the strength of our history yet with 21th century principles of inclusion - women, diversity across continents and indeed races. That's a challenge, but I think it's going serve the cause of global unionism well at a time when we must be more united and much more strategic. In addition we are committed to a global unions council with international industry unions; the GUFs. This kind of union is the only answer to tackling the multi-nationals and corporate globalization in the interest of working people.
How does your experience as an Australian trade unionist and official shape your international agenda?
: Australia's unions faced the issues of economic restructuring; we took a lot of pain in the 80s and 90s. We understand the importance of skills, of skills classification, to both the wages and the opportunity for working people. Productivity is only achieved when it is the result of skilled workplaces and innovation that drives prosperity shared by working people not by exploitation. We live in a capitalist society and our roles have always been to civilize capital at a national level. The task is now to ciivilise capital on a global level and that requires strong unions; unions that organize effectively. We are building our capacity on the back of a proud history and that is recognized and respected internationally. The strength of the women's movement within unions, the concern for indigenous peoples rights and the multiculturalism of our workplaces all provide a strong foundation.
The issue of global labour rights has been on the agenda for years - what is required to actual see a result in terms of incorporation into trade agreements.
We've got to work on two fronts; we have to continue to push for a new set of global rules that underpin a fair trading environment. Investment and profits must work for working people in the form of job creation. Where profits are generated on the back of misery for working families because there's no labour rights and this no collective bargaining and no fair distribution of wealth it is not acceptable. We need a new set of global rules based on a respect for international law including ILO core conventions or labour rights. But we're also going to have to take our own action. In respect of the global corporates. What we do nationally in terms of bargaining with companies, in terms of running corporate campaigns we have to do globally. So building global bargaining tables, building alliances through the union movement - across the employment base of multi national companies is essential. That's the challenge.
If you look at Qantas we saw the argument that went about offshoring jobs to London, Qantas is a global company and employs working people around the world. In order to protect standards in Australia, but also in Thailand and London, we have to start looking at how we have global bargaining tables. I could give you endless examples like that, but if my leadership does nothing else, it will force the argument about taking the union movement as we know it nationally and making the international union movement operate on a global scale.
Now that requires us to be very conscious that while you've got the big corporates, you've also got supply chains. Look at Walmart, the biggest retail chain in the world, it only employs something like 2,000 workers in China directly but it employs 6 million in EP zones through the supply chain. So every time we bargain globally, or nationally we have to actually be conscious that there are workers in our supply chains that we need to organise, to be aware of them, to make sure that to the extent we can, we are influencing decent work for them; that is wages and conditions that meet international standards.
We are told that China entry into the world economy will be a defining moment for this century - is this something for Australian workers to fear?
I don't think fear's the answer, fear's never the answer, China is a reality. What we have to do is work out how we manage the rapid growth of the Chinese economy, both in the context of an international economic and a union environment where we're seeking to look after the rights of working people. But we also have to be aware of its impact on Australia and Australian workers.
The public debate around the China/Australia free trade agreement is critical but its only part of the picture. The biggest impact on Australian manufacturing is actually the capacity for cheap products to be imported out of China now. Our trade imbalance is growing astronomically. So what do we have to do? Well first of all we have to figure out how you can work to make the rights of working people in China a reality and that again comes back to corporate strategies around multinationals.
We've got a major symposium on China next week and my paper will argue three things. One, we need to pursue of course, labor rights and strong clauses in any trade agreements, but we also need to go back to look at the international standards that underpin the commitments out of the Singapore WTO0 discussion. With the New Zealand trade union movement it is critical that we establish a permenant forum that regularly assesses the impact of globalization and in this case trade with China. We need also to put up the tests for this government that will determine whether the Chinese economy continues to be a threat and in what sectors to the lives of working Australians. We also need to understand where there are opportunities rather than focusing on only one side of the equation.
A lot has been written about the global response to the tsunami - what is your take and can this goodwill be harnessed in other productive ways?
Well it was terrific to see the generosity that existed both out of Australia but also globally and I think in a way the response at Davos to the need to eradicate poverty, was deeper on the back of this tragedy. People are ahead of their politicians and that's probably always been the case. Where people actually demonstrate that they're concerned about something, that they want something done about an issue and that they are prepared to stand up themselves for a set of decent values then politicians have to listen.
With the IR agenda of the federal government emerging daily, how significant is the outcome in terms of global labour relations?
With John Howard's unfettered power in Parliament we are potentially facing the wholesale dismantling of the IR system that we've known for a hundred years. If that's the case then what is it that we need to establish as the basis for people understanding what this means for Australian workers. It means that unless we can maintain a commitment, both of Australian workers and Australian public to choice and democracy as the basis for justice at work, then the core challenge is for us to stand up for collective agreements and in the process each other.
There's a global dimension to this, given that never before has Australia needed international support in the way that we will do this year. We have been proud to stand in solidarity with the workers in other countries trying to develop rights based on international law, and that is just where we will stand in the face of the Howard agenda. There's an enormous generosity from our international colleagues. As you saw during the Hardie's case when we asked our Dutch colleagues to stand outside the AGM, they did it. When we asked our American colleagues to take industrial action in Orange County around the asbestos issue, they did it. There's enormous generosity and enormous respect for the Australian movement that is ironically why we should be proud of my own election. It is an acknowledgement of the strength and the history of this movement. But now it is on the line.
I'm confident that working Australians, whether they are union members or not actually do understand the value of collective agreements, of being able to stand up for each other. I'm not so sure that politicians have thought through the ramifications of what it might mean to take on the very basis of democracy in our workplaces, that is the choice of an individual contract or a collective agreement. If we are faced with that choice because the legislation is dismantled, I will back workplaces right across Australia to determine that they want to stand for each other and that means that they will stand for collective agreements.
So it's going to be a tough year but you have to be optimistic, at one level, that we get a chance to demonstrate that commitment to a common humanity - the same commitment that we saw as a result of the Tsunami tragedy and demonstrate it in the context of what we believe should construct fair workplaces.
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