ITUC 4th World Congress opens in Copenhagen

A jubilant display of sound and colour, complete with indoor pyrotechnics, made for an exhilarating launch to the “Global Workers’ Parliament”.

Over 1200 trade unionists, representing workers from 132 countries, gathered for the opening ceremony at the Bella Center in Denmark’s capital. They were greeted by a celebration of the global labour movement featuring artistic performances inspired by the regions of the world.

Speakers included Prime Minister of Denmark Lars Løkke Rasmussen, the Lord Mayor of Copenhagen Frank Jensen and International Labour Organization Director-General Guy Ryder.

Lizette Risgaard, President of host LO-Denmark, welcomed participants and set the tone for the week ahead, reminding delegates, “We are – and always will be – the global trade union movement. We are the world’s biggest peace movement, based on international solidarity and cooperation. I am convinced that this Congress will deliver strong political messages. Messages that provide answers to many of our global challenges.”

The Prime Minister of Denmark Lars Løkke Rasmussen challenged the ITUC World Congress to go further than changing the rules, asking: “Why not change the world? What if we were able to make a world where unions and employers work closely together to ensure the best possible balance between rights and responsibilities? What if we created a society where every citizen had a fair chance regardless of race or origin? What if we could build a future where education and healthcare are free of charge and where all are entitled to economic and social support in the case of a lost job, illness or disability?

Furthering the welcome, Lord Mayor Jensen referred to the transition that the city of Copenhagen has been undergoing. Holding it up as an example of what can be achieved through ambition and determination, he noted: “The green transformation is a global agenda. But to deliver on it requires local action and local leadership. The same is true for the fight for workers’ rights and a fair society.”

ITUC President João Antonio Felicio said: “The ITUC has grown in numbers and strength. We must continue growing and building workers’ power to face the challenges ahead and not be mere spectators in political power disputes. We are here to stay – all over the world people are fighting for their rights and we are here to defend them.” He paid tribute to the diversity of the movement and stressed the centrality of cohesion, declaring: “This is where our strength comes from. The strength of international solidarity. The strength of unity.”

Speaking to the challenges facing social justice and the world of work, ILO Director General Guy Ryder warned of the economy’s failure to generate jobs and improve people’s quality of life. He highlighted that “the growth of real wages, at 0.8%, was the lowest since 2008. That means that globally we are still on a path to greater inequality and social injustice with everything that implies.”

During the World Congress, four debates to shape the future policies of the ITUC will take place under the themes of Peace, Democracy and Rights; Regulating Economic Power; Global Shifts – Just Transitions; and Equality.