May Day 2023: collective action for a new social contract

On the first of May, working people across the world celebrate more than 150 years of collective action through their trade unions building secure, sustainable lives and delivering social justice.

It is also a moment to reflect on the enormous challenges to people and the planet, challenges that can only be overcome with a vibrant trade union movement at the heart of the economy and society, and a new social contract to build a just and sustainable future for all.

However, tens of millions of people are directly confronted by the brutal realities of armed conflict, including Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Multilateralism and the vital instruments and processes that aim to ensure peace and common security are under existential threat. The world faces the converging crises of massive inequality, climate change, erosion of democracy, threats to public health and the prospect of unregulated technologies exacerbating division and exclusion.

Solidarity, peace, equality

As the largest organised democratic force in the world, the global trade union movement is indispensable in overcoming these challenges and working for peace. Strengthening solidarity in times of crisis is essential for creating a fairer and more humane world.

The pathway to that world, and a fundamental foundation for peace, is the new social contract. There is no lack of resources, but a lack of political will to overcome oligarchy, to reform taxation and to invest in public services and a sustainable future.

It is through trade union action that we can create the necessary democratic accountability to re-shape the global economy. This means action on:

  • Jobs, to reach full employment by creating 575 million new jobs worldwide through investment in care, green jobs and infrastructure and formalising informal sector employment.
  • Wage rises, with living minimum wages to reverse the decades-long decline in the share of prosperity going to working people and to ensure a dignified life for all and revitalise economies.
  • Rights, to guarantee workers’ organising and bargaining rights, ensure safe and healthy work, safeguard against discrimination and forced and child labour and build a sustainable world through just transition.
  • Equality, to guarantee equal pay for women and men and challenge racism and homophobia.
  • Social Protection, to invest in coverage for the three-quarters of the world’s people who are fully or partly denied this basic human right starting with a global social protection fund.
  • Inclusion, to remove the colonial structural framework of the world’s financial and trade systems that deny prosperity to billions of people.

Unions across the world are taking action to address the cost-of-living crisis. In response, rather than engage positively in social dialogue, many governments are further restricting the fundamental right to strike. We will continue to defend the right to withdraw our labour to ensure decent work and to secure justice and freedom.

As we recall the great struggles fought and won by working women and men over so many decades, we recommit to building workers’ power through organising and exercising that power to build a world founded on equity, solidarity, democracy and mutual respect.

The dreams and aspirations of trade unions in the past became reality through collective action and it is time for the current generation to turn the aspiration for a world that puts people first into a reality.