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From newsdesk@igc.apc.org Wed May 24 18:48:34 2000
Date: Sat, 8 Apr 2000 23:19:55 -0500 (CDT)
From: IGC News Desk <newsdesk@igc.apc.org>
Subject: LABOUR: Trade Unions Ponder Future of Movement
Article: 93247
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Copyright 2000 InterPress Service, all rights reserved.
Worldwide distribution via the APC networks.

Trade Unions Ponder Future of Movement

By Gumisai Mutume, IPS, 6 April 2000

MEXICO CITY, Apr 6 (IPS World Desk) - Trade unions of the future need to be made up of younger members and more women, able to turn to the Internet to mobilize, and represent a global, diversified membership if they are to be effective, unionists agree.

As the world's trade unionists wind up a weeklong conference of the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU) in South Africa, attention is being drawn to the role of labour unions in a globalising world and how best unions can enhance their relevance.

One solution, according to the Belgium-based ICFTU is to bring in younger faces into the trade union movement, give women greater representation, directly engage multinationals and make use of new information technologies such as the Internet.

"An important focal point for action to meet the fears and insecurity people have in a rapidly changing world is the workplace," notes the ICFTU. "Unemployment and poverty create fertile ground for the enemies of democracy."

ICFTU Youth Officer, Marieke Koning says "if millions of young people remain out of work, and outside the union movement they will be the lost generation of workers, and the lost vitality of the trade union movement."

The ICFTU represents 125 million workers around the world and is holding its 17th World Congress in Durban, South Africa (Apr 3-7) to devise strategies to tackle the economic and social impact of globalisation on its members.

In the developing world, youth unemployment averages 30 percent, a situation which unions blame on the current economic recession and on structural adjustment programmes that have resulted in job losses in many countries.

But the challenge is how labour movements will reach out and assist job creation in a world where 3 billion of the world's 6 billion people survive on less than two dollars a day and 900 million are either unemployed or underemployed

Increasingly questions are being raised about the effectiveness of trade unions in an era where industry is reaping the rewards of globalisation, chasing cheap labour across borders and exploiting export processing zones where union power is diminished.

Last year, an ICFTU annual survey cited 119 countries for violations of trade union rights.

Although women now make up 39 percent of trade union membership worldwide, they are still almost invisible among the higher ranks of union officials. Slogans such as: "trade unions need women just as much as women need trade unions" are yet to be put to practice the ICFTU concedes in a statement.

Another neglected sector of workers is migrant labour, now numbering more than 120 million worldwide and increasingly facing the scourge of racism and xenophobia. Gay and lesbian workers are a first for the ICFTU which says its is, albeit cautiously, "increasingly taking on the concerns of gay and lesbian workers".

People with disabilities, if they have a job at all, are confined to low-paid, precarious work, older persons are excluded sometimes prematurely from working life and, in many developing countries, often deprived of any social protection after their working years. They all represent new challenges that trade unions of tomorrow must deal with.

Discussions at the conference were held on ways of establishing international codes of conduct, consultation agreements and strategies for the representation of workers globally through, for instance the creation of international trade union networks.

"It is no exaggeration to say that this watershed congress will shape the future of the trade union movement and must meet expectations of our constituency and the progressive movement," says Congress of South African Trade Unions general secretary, Zwelinzima Vavi

"We must emerge from this congress with a new sense of purpose, mission and a vision for the trade union movement in the 21st century. In shaping this vision we must take stock of the past to defend and secure the future."

For starters delegates urged the ICFTU to begin mobilizing "progressive forces internationally" to develop an alternative strategy around a new trade and financial world order, democratisation of international multilateral institutions such as the International Monetary Fund and building a social movement in the South to articulate a new development path.

"We cannot continue down the track of increasingly deregulated national economies towards a growing unregulated global economy," International Labour Organisation (ILO) director-general Juan Somavia told the congress.

"We have to expose as a lie, the idea that all we can do is adapt to globalisation. It is not true. Monetary, trade and macroeconomic policies which shape globalisation can be changed by the policy makers."

The congress takes place against the backdrop of the massive anti- globalisation protests at the World Trade Organisation summit in Seattle last year and also follows the global economic crisis triggered by the East Asian collapse in 1997.

"It is no secret that workers need to build a strong trade union movement and develop strategies to bring the 'new workers' into the fold," says Vavi. "There is a new mood of resistance to the current world order, which is beginning to emerge. This creates an historical opportunity to challenge the 'globalisation paralysis' which has gripped the world over the last decade.



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