Introduction of Theme Report « Now the People » by ITUC General Secretary, Guy Ryder, 2nd ITUC World Congress, 22 June 2010

Delegates, Observers, Guests,

Let me add my own words of welcome to all of you, and of sincere thanks to Ken Georgetti and his colleagues at our host the Canadian Labour Congress.
You have come from every part of the globe. And working people in every one of your countries are living the consequences of a crisis we should properly consider the first generalised crisis of the globalised economy.

Yesterday Sharan outlined the nature of the crisis and its consequences. I won’t repeat what she said. But it is worth underlining that its impact has not been uniform. For some – generally those closest to the epicentres of financial collapse - the effects have been simply devastating. Others further from this have felt much less severe or shorter lived disturbance.
So it is that Europe remains gripped by a sovereign debt crisis of still uncertain consequences and quite dramatic social tensions. The US has its own 11 million jobs hole, still to be filled and Japan struggles still to break out of long term stagnation.

Yet most of Asia, led by the rapidly growing powerhouses of China and India has taken the role of the locomotive for renewed economic growth – just like Brazil, emblematic of that part of the Americas which continues to show its capacity to grow.

And when it comes to Africa, I am reminded of the answer I got when I asked the President of ITUC-Africa how his continent was living the crisis – and he replied by reminding me that Africa’s crisis did not begin the day that Lehman Brothers fell but that it was permanent and dramatic – and so it is a challenge to our common responsibilities and solidarity wherever we came from.
So Congress, let us begin our Congress by recognising that the journey from the crisis (however it is hitting our own international organisations and countries) to global justice is one we all take together and that we must all work together to achieve. This Congress faces numerous challenges. One of them is competing with the excitement of the World Cup in South Africa. The big difference between what happens there and what we have to do in Vancouver is that in South Africa one country will win and all the others will go home defeated. For us as trade unionists either we are all going to come out as winners over the crisis or we will all lose together.

Vancouver has to be part of our global strategy for victory. Now it truly is the moment for the people to prevail for the fundamental change in globalisation which the ITUC was founded to help bring about.
Yesterday, in Sharan’s Presidential address, in Ken’s welcome we already heard outlined many of the things we must do. The first part of the report I present to you now and which we must being to debate today sets out the six key challenges which I believe we must rise to if we are to move on from crisis to global justice. The second addresses the “how” part of the question – how can we make our new trade union internationalism an effective instrument for the changes so desperately needed.

And those two issues – the “must dos” and the “hows” - are prefaced by a series of thoughts which basically bail down to the following:
That this crisis, for all the terrible suffering it has inflicted – mostly on those with no responsibility for it and least able to bear the burden – offers real opportunity for fundamental change. Even conservative political leaders, at the worst depths of the crisis, were competing with each other in their rhetoric calling for an end to past injustice and irresponsibility, for a different path of globalisation, for action to ensure this crisis never happens again. (Harper status quo) But their voices are becoming more muted as they recover from their panic at the prospect of complete financial meltdown. The old speeches about the dangers of over-regulation and the need for fiscal vigour are being heard again. The exit strategies now being implemented in many of our countries look a lot like business as usual – but much worse.

There is one thing we can be sure of. The financial markets and actors whom we can thank for creating this crisis are pushing just as hard as they can to bring back the ancien regime of speculation. They are not obstructed in the least by any moral inhibition. Witness their gleeful return to the culture of multi- million bonuses while working people suffer the appalling consequences of crisis. Theirs is the disdain of those who think themselves too big to fail for those they regard as too small to matter. Our job is to show them we are not so small, and together we need to push forward even harder than they.
And Governments have to play their part too – they need to demonstrate that they will not cede to the intimidation tactics of finance and they can begin next week at the G-20 in Toronto. More and more they have to show that – as Mr. Papandreou said yesterday – that democratic process – the people - will decide, not the power of finance. Basically it’s that, or what Lenin nearly foresaw a century or more ago: the gradual disappearance of the state to be replaced by the Dictatorship of the Monetariat.

This is the context in which our six challenges need to be met. And I want to suggest that we need to act on all of them, and to do so now – because they are urgent but also because the uneasy feeling is that the window of opportunity is closing. We are truly at that tipping point Sharan highlighted yesterday – forward to global justice or back to what we have already lived through.


The task naturally, inevitably begins with jobs – decent work for all. The worldwide jobs deficit didn’t begin with this crisis but it has added 34 million to the victims of unemployment. The question is what happens next: endemic permanent mass unemployment in our societies, engulfing a lost generation of young people in particular – or a rediscovered commitment to work for all? For that to happen we need a radical change (I should say the overthrow) of the neo-liberal mindset (long shared by the IFI’s by the way) that the jobs you get are these that market fundamentalism deliver: you won’t get less – but you can’t ask for more.

We don’t need to take the exit strategy that leads us there. We need entry strategies to a quite different approach for jobs and it is the ILO’s powerful agenda for decent work.

That agenda takes in as well the second “must do” before us, the one that addresses the return to equity and justice in labour markets.
Being shut out of the labour market may be the greatest of all injustices. But working in conditions of denial of fundamental rights – above all the rights to organise and bargain collectively; working in conditions of permanent precarity and insecurity; working in the hostility of the informal economy; working for so little pay that it provides neither a family nor an individual with the basics of a decent existence. That is intolerable injustice on the grand scale. And it is reality. Workers income at the historic lows of the 1930’s. More than half of our fellow workers in vulnerable work – that’s what we have today. And make no mistake. Whatever we think about it, there are many who are all too happy to keep it that way. Many of them are from the world of finance. They are easy to recognise. They are the ones who count their millions on the way to the bank as we count ours in the dole queues. Generally we do not hold them in very high esteem. Yet the irony is that with our taxpayers’ money – billions and billions of it – we have paid to save their skins in the massive bailouts of the last two years. We know why that happened – why it had to. But this was a contract. We paid for their undeserved survival on the understanding that they would not go back to their old ways. Financial regulation – real, powerful, international – would prevent their compulsive recidivists heading straight back to their favourite gambling tables where millions of dollars could be won, but millions of jobs have been lost too. Closing the casino was part of the deal.
But so far it hasn’t happened, and so far as I can read the signs, the hesitancy and weakness of Governments faced with the renewed assertiveness of finance capital means that it may not happen at all – unless we make the difference.

Nowhere is this truer than for the international tax on financial transactions. We need that tax. To dampen speculation, to raise the money to meet desperate need. There are plenty of good arguments for it and no good ones against it – although plenty of bad ones are made. But the one that could still win is the simple one of greed and self-interest.

Part of the crisis before the crisis was climate change. We didn’t give this much attention four years ago in Vienna, but we’ve done a great deal since, particularly in Copenhagen at the end of last year.
That change came both because the reality of climate change has become so obvious and immediate, and because as an international movement we have been able to move off the defensive positions resulting mostly from the fear that we had to chose between protecting the environment and protecting our jobs to today’s ITUC support for a green jobs agenda and a just transition to a low-carbon sustainable future that can combine both objectives. Going green with more decent work can be a reality. If you listened to the mayor of Vancouver you will understand that. But it is not a “convenient truth” that this will happen automatically – it has to be worked for everywhere as it has here.
They told us that the Copenhagen Conference could not fail – and then it did. But the road to global justice has to be a green road and the ITUC cannot fall into the trap of believing that this is business that can be put off until after the crisis – it is one part of getting out of the crisis.

Equally, there must be no question of sacrificing shared commitments to world development to the needs of fiscal rigour. Times are indeed tough. But that cannot justify reduced resources for development or abandonment of the millennium development goals. For two reasons: the very basic one of solidarity which this room at least understands, but also the fact that we need strong growth and rising living standards everywhere to help lift us together up from the crisis.

Part of changing globalisation is to have it open up the development paths so far denied to many countries in the developing world, many of which have lived under the dominance of the neo-liberal agenda for more than half of their independent history. There is a real sense in which true and full economic sovereignty will come only when that dominance is finally broken.
And taking that longer perspective should remind us too that ever since globalisation appeared from the political and technological upheavals of the 1980’s trade unions have been arguing for effective instruments for its governance, the types of instrument we take for granted in the national policy-making. The types of instrument needed to give globalisation a social dimension, to make it fairer, to make it sustainable.

Well, for the most part we have not succeeded. But the crisis has put the issue of governance of globalisation back on the table – with of course the attendant danger that it may just as quickly be removed from it. The idea of a Charter on Globalisation, the framework for strong, sustainable and balanced growth are the most concrete initiatives so far. They are not perfect but we must fight for them, to keep alive our claim that globalisation cannot be driven by the forces of the market and nothing else.

These, I believe are the key challenges for our movement and for the ITUC over the next four years. And I think it is right to remind ourselves that if you bundle them all together, what is at stake is the cause of peace in peace in our world, intimately linked as it is to the cause of social justice. Our world is not just and it is not at peace. And let me say here that of the many conflicts taking an appalling toll of human life around the world that which continues to blight the Middle East is particularly in our minds. As trade unionists we need to make a trade union contribution to its resolution along the lines we have long sought to do.

I am conscious that what I have put before you looks ambitious but I want to suggest to you that this international agenda is, and must be part of the work and challenges of each of our organisations everyday in each of your countries.
Our task here in Vancouver is to establish our programme for global justice but also to say how we are going to equip the ITUC to achieve it and then commit to ensuring that our Confederation is truly the instrument of effective representation of working people in the globalised economy that it need to be.
That is what part II of the report is about and I will have more to say about it when we come to discuss that part later in the week.
So let me say just a couple of short things now.

The first concerns the experience of the last four years. We came together in Vienna, two historic traditions of world trade unionism and a strong current of independent trade unionism with high ambition but also, let’s be honest, some doubts. These doubts focused on whether our new organisation could truly bring together the diverse traditions and sensitivities of our movement in a single organisation. Whether unity and pluralism could be combined and reconciled and our Confederation become the strong and visible organisations workers need. I appealed to you them to make your first duty of solidarity to each other – so that our organisation could remain united and strong.
And you have. And thank you for that. Because if you had not made the same commitment to the unity and effectiveness of the ITUC that you made to its creation we could not have advanced as we have.

But, and this is my second and final point, I really believe that the task of building our new internationalism, making the ITUC what it must be, has really only just begun. Part II of the report sets out what the next steps can be: in our relations with other world and regional trade union organisations; in delivering solidarity; in strengthening our development cooperation work; in cooperating with political and civil society allies and above all in closing the gap between national and international work (which I believe to be crucial particularly with regard to the organising and bargaining agenda).

But the truth is that this ITUC, this internationalism, will go just as far as you our affiliates are ready to take it. No further. So wherever the 3rd ITUC Congress meets in four years time, and the moment comes to assess how far we have come along the road from crisis to justice, the result will depend on how much you have been ready to give to your International and how successful your International has been in translating your needs into effective action.

This is history still to be written. And I hope that what is written in this report and the debate on it will contribute to the ITUC’s job of making it a history of the people – better than what went before.

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