More than 1500 trade unionists from 161 countries gathered at the Berlin City Cube on Sunday for the opening ceremony of the 3rd International Trade Union Confederation World Congress.
The hosts were two young union leaders, Florian Haggenmuller and Debora Aleo. Key speakers included ITUC President Michael Sommer, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Administrator of the United Nations Development Program Helen Clark, and professional footballer Abdes Ouaddou.
Mr Steinmeier said inequality is a threat to security and the counterweight is strong unions, while Ms Clark told the audience via a video message that unions are indispensable in the fight for a just world.
There was a celebratory atmosphere, save for widespread condolences offered to the families of more than 270 Turkish miners who died in an accident in Soma on Tuesday.
ITUC general secretary Sharan Burrow described the Congress as “the Global Workers’ Parliament” with the aim of “building workers’ power and taming corporate power”.
Eighty-four percent of global respondents say that ‘ordinary citizens’ do not have enough influence in global decision-making, according to the ITUC Global Poll 2014. The poll, conducted in 14 countries with a combined population of 3.7 billion, showed:
- 68 percent think their government is doing a bad job at tackling unemployment.
- Four out of five people (78 percent) believe the economic system favours the wealthy, rather than being fair to most.
- More than half rate the current economic situation in their country as bad.
ITUC president Mr Sommer said “we want to see global governance that respects human dignity and the dignity of work,” and described austerity measures taken in the wake of the global financial crisis as “the wrong prescription for the wrong diagnosis”.
Mr Ouaddou put a personal face on workers’ rights. The Moroccan was playing as a professional footballer in Qatar when his club refused to honour the terms of his contract. He tried to lodge a complaint but instead was intimidated and prevented from leaving the country.
“A union-free Qatar is a very bad place to work. Every worker has the right to join a trade union if he or she so wishes,” Mr Ouaddou said.
“As former captain of my national team, I understand the importance and meaning of leadership, of team work and solidarity. I realized that these values were firmly entrenched in the democratic trade union movement that is the ITUC.”
The Congress is focused on “Building Workers’ Power” and will conclude on Friday.
The ITUC represents 325 national trade unions, making it the largest democratic organization in the world.