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Now the People – from crisis to global justice

By Linda Forsythe


BC FORUM members attended a noon hour rally held outside the ITUC congress to celebrate International Public Service Day.

In late June, a historic conference that few people know about took place in Vancouver.

The International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) held its 2nd congress at the Convention Centre between June 21st and 25th. Trade unionists from over 180 countries attended and spoke to issues of global justice. Entitled Now the People: From global crisis to global justice, the congress offered delegates a chance to talk with each other as well as a chance to hear first hand from some of the biggest players in the world.

President George Papandreou of Greece spoke by video link about the situation in his country where conditions on loans include cutting jobs and wages of public sector workers. Heads of two of the biggest global organizations attended under tight security, entering and exiting through the garage. Pascal Lamy, Director General of the World Trade Organization (WTO) and Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) spoke to the gathering to explain their side of the crisis and to suggest that the ITUC and IMF act as observers in each other’s meetings. The majority of the delegates, union leaders or activists in their own countries, were having none of it. They know all too well what workers have been asked to pay for a crisis created by the insatiable greed of the corporate sector.

Finally President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner of Argentina, entering through the front doors, spoke to the audience. She described the crisis a few years ago in Argentina and how her government stepped in to create jobs that were paid decently. Her government’s belief was that the whole population needs to continue working and get paid a good wage in order to stimulate the economy. It seems to have worked for them.

The newly-elected Secretary-General of ITUC, Sharan Burrow, spoke to the seven priorities set by the congress. These included decent work for all which includes safe working conditions at liveable wages; the restoration and balance of working conditions to include higher levels of trade union organization and collective bargaining, a fight against informal work and an end to the gender pay gap. It also includes a demand for quality public services and healthcare for everyone which will help create more equitable and sustainable development globally. Green jobs and a green economy is now an important piece of the labour movement’s agenda.

Another priority calls for a regulated financial sector, an elimination of tax havens and taxation of financial transactions. The congress also called upon the global leaders to impose adequate governance on the process of globalization that presently is framed by deregulation, liberalization and privatization. And finally the congress called for a new development model in which the people of the poorest nations benefit fairly from the social and economic progress.

World peace was noted as a way to not only end the violence faced by millions throughout the world but as a way to divert finances to help pay for the changes. The rest can be paid for from the excessive profits of the banks and corporate sector.

Burrow ended her acceptance speech by stating, “…we all have special responsibilities for the most vulnerable and disadvantaged in the workforce, many of them young workers or women, and call attention to the needs of migrant workers and those in the informal economy. We must build stronger and truly inclusive trade unions that can respond to the unfulfilled needs of a massive and growing number of workers…”

It’s a shame that the media missed the opportunity to spotlight a different response to the global crisis to the people of Canada.

Linda Forsythe is a BC FORUM delegate to the Sunshine Coast Labour Council. She worked at the ITUC conference as a volunteer.

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