Development Education and Awareness Raising: does it matter for trade unions?

On 22nd of May, at the EU Parliament session in Strasbourg, a round table titled “Do Europeans care for the rest of the world?” took place, hosted by the Polish MEP Filip Kaczmarek. The debate, facilitated by the DARE Forum, focused on the coincidence between “solidarity” and “mutual interest” in a globalised world. The roundtable was followed by a call for the MEPs to sign the Development Education and Awareness Raising (DEAR) Declaration and for the European Commission to increase the funds available for DEAR.

Having a global vision of development, being aware of the interdependence of factors and processes in development, understanding the causes and the effects, participating and engaging in, based on the values of human rights and social responsibility: this is what defines DEAR. And it is also what it means today to be part of the trade union movement.

In fact, a successful bargaining for the interest of workers today cannot happen without having knowledge of the links between this bargaining (in a certain country, in a certain area, in a certain company) and the contemporary situation of other workers bargaining in other parts of the world. No more short-seeing is possible today for trade unionists.

Until fifteen years ago, development cooperation was a matter for the unions from the North that, in a spirit of solidarity, but also a bit paternalistic and charitable, did projects to "help" and “support” unions and workers in the South, collecting money from Northern workers through activities of development education and fund raising. Today DEAR is not limited to the dissemination of information around development issues and a top-down approach, but it is addressing the global issues of injustice and inequality by using strategic advocacy actions.

Today, to take part, actively and jointly, to a process for global development is the only way in which the "stronger" workers and the "weaker" workers (North and South have lost enough of the original connotation) can obtain better terms.

But in the meantime, globalisation, cross borders re-location of enterprises, capitals mobility from one area to another area, financial crises involving also provident funds, competition for jobs and working conditions, informal economy and social dumping: all these factors could undermine the trade union movement.

Nowadays a worker (particularly a low wage worker) has to face the contradiction between being a worker and being a consumer: “with my salary I need to buy cheap goods; but goods are cheaper if they are done where the cost of labour is cheaper, and if I buy cheapest goods I will encourage who is keeping low the wages…” The only way out of this trap is through the understanding of causes and effects of global issues.

Especially the trade unions in the former-called “transition countries” or middle-low income countries are the most exposed to the contradiction, where bargaining for raising the wages, for improving working conditions, could bring to dis-investment of foreign capitals.

To give instruments to trade unions for understanding and better managing the challenges of globalization for the workers should be a matter for “capacity development”, and DEAR activities can help in building a more assertive membership, in influencing decision makers and policies and in dealing with the media.

Article by Gemma Arpaia, ISCOS