The Text of an Address by the President of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), Comrade Ayuba Wabba, mni to the 18th Congress of the Italian General Confederation of Labour (CGIL)
I bring very warm greetings from Nigeria and from my own national centre, the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), as well as felicitations from the global trade union movement and the organization of which I have the honour to have been elected president, and greetings too from the General Secretary, Sharan Burrow and her team.
I am very delighted at the privilege of being the newly elected president of the ITUC, and proud also to have received the support of the CGIL and your outgoing General Secretary Susanna Camusso.
The ITUC has over 200 million members who are affiliated to about 331 national centres around the world. We have set ourselves the challenging but vital target of 250 million members by the time we meet again in 2022. We need your help to reach that target – in Italy as well as in the many countries around the world where the CGIL has influence. The international solidarity of the Italian unions is legendary.
We need those members partly so that we can protect them, but also because of the increased strength that more members provide to protect themselves and protect other workers who are unable to benefit directly from membership of the ITUC.
Because, sisters and brothers, we face the most challenging circumstances globally for two generations.
Given the resurgence of neoliberalism, dictatorship, even fascism, our world is fractured and people feel very insecure. The extremes we battled in the last century and defeated are again the battles of today.
Whilst we must analyze the challenges we face honestly and critically, we must also commit ourselves to action to create better work and a better world. I believe you call that “pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will.”
Fundamental rights are under attack in many countries, certainly in every region. The levers of the global economy are in the wrong hands. The global economic system and current model of globalization disproportionately benefit capital owners. The consequences for billions of people are poverty, insecurity and the loss of hope and trust.
Given paucity of investments to produce a recovery that benefits workers, workers and their unions are extremely challenged. What can we do to help ourselves and to help working people and their families?
2019 marks the 100th anniversary of the ILO. The ILO has been our bulwark against exploitation and greed. Uniquely among the bodies of the United Nations, it gives workers a voice that is respected.
The ILO also developed the instruments and the institutions that helped us build workers’ power. We used the ILO to challenge discrimination, tackle slavery and child labour, and promote trade unionism, collective bargaining and the right to strike.
Yet now, after a hundred years of existence, the ILO and fundamental workers’ rights it is based on are threatened as never before.
Our rights to bargain collectively, the right to strike, even freedom of association are under attack by greedy employers and governments who put profit before people. These attacks have a cause and a result.
Inequality is at historic levels and wages are not keeping pace. Some 84% of the world’s people say minimum wage is not enough to live on. More than 70% of the world’s people have little or no social protection.
Tax systems have become less progressive and the re-distributive power of governments have diminished. The result is that one percent of people now control over half of the world’s wealth.
All of these go side by side with the consequences of technology and the further erosion of direct employment and decent work.
We must, as your conference document says, tackle precarity and pursue a new development strategy.
That will require pressure on employers – especially through collective bargaining, and on politicians, who must regulate the global economy and create the space for unions to bargain with employers and give workers a voice and a say.
Migration and refugees
In my own country we face poverty, conflict, insecurity and corruption. Many of our people flee the place they were born to seek a better life in Europe, and are all too often turned away at gunpoint, prevented from landing, treated with utter disrespect.
We understand that working people can be fearful of the impact of migration, especially when migrants are used by greedy employers to undermine wages and safety standards.
But we neither understand nor accept the actions of some politicians – whether they are part of the elite or pretend to populism – who use those fears to promote division, to stoke racism, to demonise both the migrants and those brave people’s representatives who apply human decency and respect to the problem.
I have been inspired by the trade unionists of Europe who proclaim that “refugees are welcome” and I reiterate our trade union demand for unity and fairness rather than exploitation and division.
No to complacency: a new social contract
Your country – and Europe more broadly – faces social, economic and political challenges.
As ILO’s Future of Work report said last week, there is no room for complacency. A spectre is now haunting the world. Continuing precarity, low wages and growing inequality threaten to foster the sort of populism and conflicts in Italy, USA, and many parts of the planet.
We must reinvigorate the social contract that allowed unions to create a better life for working people.
But remember that we do not face these threats alone.
At the ITUC Congress in Copenhagen last month, the global trade union movement came together around four pillars that will frame our work in the next four years.
We pledged to support a strategy based on peace, democracy and rights, especially at the workplace. We must not fail our colleagues in countries like Turkey, Palestine or Brazil, where peace and democracy are under threat.
The ITUC and member organisations like the CGIL have demonstrated their support for the Brazilian unions resisting a right-wing coup and demanding that Lula is freed from his unjust imprisonment.
We insisted on the regulation of economic power and the redistribution of wealth and influence.
We demanded a just transition in the face of climate change and the digital revolution. We must make sure that working people are put first, not profits.
And we pledged our support for more equality, which I know is one of the main demands of your conference.
All of that will require political struggle, but it must also mean social dialogue and bargaining. Bargaining for equality and redistribution, bargaining for justice and just transition, bargaining for shorter working weeks, better pensions, safer working lives. These conditions don’t exist in too many countries and there we expect tri-partite dialogue but in its a sense Government must respect ILO standards and protect their people.
We want to build workers’ power so that we can change the rules, at work, in society, and in politics.
And, as trade unionists, committed to global and practical solidarity, we want to do it together!