Open World Conference of Workers
In Defense of Trade Union Independence & Democratic Rights
A dossier of weekly information published by the
Geneva: Sixty-one workers activists and leaders from eighteen countries attended the conference to defend the independence of trade unions, held in Geneva on Saturday June 6 by the ILC. We are publishing in this issue the introductory report by Norbert Gbikpi-Benissan, Secretary General of the National Union of Independent Trade Unions of Togo. The other speeches will be printed in upcoming issues.
France: You will find below a letter from the Independent Workers Party of France to labor activists across Europe who attended the European Conference on February 7 and 8, 2009: " We who are fighting to break with the European Union, for the free and fraternal union of the peoples of Europe, launched four months ago a call for the unity of the workers' movement for the Prohibition of Layoffs. Is there anything more urgent than to draw a first balance sheet and continue and expand this fight?"
Palestine: We are publishing documents concerning the International campaign organized by Sawt El Amel, an organization based in Nazareth, for the reinstatement of the Arab railway workers in Israel and for the observance of Convention 111 against all forms of discrimination at work.
Honduras: We are publishing a communiqué of the ILC, which calls for the broadest unity against the military coup, to restore democracy and the right of the Honduran people to determine its own destiny.
Table of Contents
p. 1: Overview.
Sixty-one workers activists and leaders from eighteen countries attended the conference to defend the independence of trade unions, held in Geneva on Saturday June 6 by the ILC.
They even met a real "coup" in the preparation of the annual conference of the International Labor Organization (ILO) to join the global movement to a "Pact for Employment", in accordance with the decisions of the G20.
Five speakers presented reports to this introductory meeting:
We publish in this issue the introductory report by Norbert Gbikpi-Benissan, Secretary General of the National Union of Independent Trade Unions of Togo. The other speeches will be printed in upcoming issues.
True to its role of providing vigilance and alertness, the ILC is holding its 16th Annual Conference in Defense of ILO Conventions and the independence of trade unions in the context of an unprecedented radical change in the practice of the ILO; it is correct to speak of a coup.
Indeed, participants in the Conference can, for example, testify to the fact that the "proposal" of the ILO Governing Body -- as was noted at the top of the revised edition of the guide to the conference -- to make some changes to the agenda of this 98th session conference was not discussed at the Conference, but rather imposed. And what changes!
Allow me a moment to dwell on the most significant changes because they form the content of the coup and are at the heart of the alternative: the Global Compact for Jobs or the Defense of ILO Conventions; the independence of trade unions or their integration into global governance.
First change: The commissions -- which have been the bedrock for 90 years of the ILO work because they examine the implementation of conventions or propose new ones on the basis of discussions between the tripartite constituents -- would be in session only for two weeks; the third week would focus on the famous summit of the ILO on the global jobs crisis, which was proposed by the ILO Governing Body.
Second change: the same Board of Directors decided to propose the postponement of the planned discussion on employment and social protection in the new demographic context and also reduced the time allocated for general discussion about the realities at the heart of decent work. However, as we know, these are the general discussions that create the conditions for the development of conventions.
Third change: The central meeting of this 98th session is a panel on the responses to the crisis, responsible for the synthesis of the work and decisions of the Summit of the ILO on June 15 and 16, which will bring together a number of "Heads of State or Government, senior policy makers, business leaders and union representatives, heads of regional development institutions and other opinion leaders."
The synthesis of all this work will produce a document, the famous Covenant on World Employment Report to be presented for adoption and it is this point, comrades, that concentrates the offensive designed to turn the ILO into an instrument of the social dimension of the decisions of the G20, arguing that "the sole basis of globalization is sustainable global economy based on market principles."
From this arises in full light the alternative of the Global Compact for Employment or the defense of ILO conventions. Because what is the content of this famous Global Pact for Employment?
The report of the Director General of ILO, Mr. Somavia, is illuminating. The report is entitled "Coping with the global jobs crisis", subtitled: "A recovery focused on decent work." This document tells us that the initial elements of the Global Compact for Employment have been met, and I quote, "based on the guidelines provided by the Board and by the recent regional and sectoral tripartite meetings of the ILO, organized to explore possible responses to the crisis." The Global Compact is designed as "an open and evolving portfolio of policy options for use by governments, employers and workers for making decisions at the national level, and coordination at the international level."
But, the report continues, the Global Compact also reflects the London Conference on jobs held by the G20 and the G8 meeting held in Rome in March 2008. But if the Global Conference reflects the G20, it also reflects its decisions, such as the continuation of monetary and fiscal efforts to revive the staggering program of support for the financial sector that will, by 2010, have bailed out over 5,000 billion dollars. Decisions also include strengthening the role of the IMF, which has been awarded an additional $50 billion, thus tripling its resources to 750 billion dollars.
It should be noted that in the same period, i.e. by 2010, there are 50 million layoffs planned across the world.
And they talk about a Global Compact for Employment. So will we fight for the Global Compact for Employment or the Protections of the conventions of the ILO? The transformation of the ILO into the instrument of the social dimension of the decisions of the G20 or the stubborn defense of the conventions of the ILO, particularly the eight fundamental ones: freedom of association and effective recognition of the right collective bargaining, elimination of all forms of forced or compulsory labor, effective abolition of child labor, elimination of discrimination in employment and occupation, but also, for example, Convention 95 on the Protection of Wages; Convention 173 on the protection of workers' demands in case of the bankruptcy of their employer; Convention 158 and 166 on layoffs; Conventions 97 and 143 on immigrant workers, who are particularly vulnerable in a contraction phase of the labor market; Convention on 94 government contracts that can help ensure investments financed by reviving public services and creating jobs, offering good wages and working conditions; Convention 44 on tripartite consultations relating to international labor standards; and Convention 122 on employment policy based on policies to ensure fully productive and freely chosen employment, i.e. the 189 conventions that protect workers.
Comrades, the conventions are mentioned in the report quoted the Director General but as a side note. The work of the Committee of the Whole on the responses to the crisis included 10 thematic discussions on a discussion on the role of international labor standards in response to the crisis. I attended one of these sessions and after a series of grueling sessions, which started in the morning, the debate on the role of international labor standards occurred from 7 to 9pm, in an increasingly empty room.
The international labor standards were only discussed in general, based on wishful thinking concerning their ratification and compliance by states and employers. Nowhere, were there discussions to build a coercive strategy - we know that the ILO conventions are binding when they are ratified - which is the least we can ask in a time of crisis.
Therefore, there was no building strategy, nor were new emergency provisions taken for the legitimate promotion of new conventions in the context of the current crisis and offensive of an unspeakable brutality against the workers.
The workers' representative in his concluding remarks asked only that acquired rights not be sacrificed on the altar of the crisis and that plans to relaunch the Global Compact be related to the safeguarding and respect of these rights. We must understand the distortion of the ILO, which is being turned into what can only be called a rubber stamp and an instrument of implementation of decisions of the G20, decisions that are rightly characterized by the comrades of the Central Korean KCTU as "props to keep up the bankrupt system of capitalism." This distortion of the ILO has also has as a priority aim, perhaps even the high-priority, to accelerate the integration process of the organizations representing the interests of the working class, primarily, of course, the unions, into the global governance that leans upon the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC).
Indeed, the ITUC wants to, and I quote, "establish a referendum composed of legal norms and instruments of international economic and social institutions - ILO, IMF, World Bank, WTO, OECD - and to reform those institutions and build a global economic governance that is effective and accountable "(Joint Declaration CSI / Global Union on the eve of the G20 in April).
We believe, like the KCTU, that we must respond to the G20 and the advocates of a distorted ILO, we must respond to the ITUC, Global Unions and explain that these institutions (IMF, World Bank, OECD, WTO) cannot solve the problems of the global crisis because they were "all accomplices" in the implementation of neo-liberal free trade and financial globalization, and that the real solutions begin with the safeguarding of living conditions of workers, their families and peoples -- which the ILO conventions guarantee.
So, comrades, along with the KCTU, we must reiterate that the global economic crisis under way is the result of contradictions inherent in the capitalist system, which these institutions "claim to want to regulate." (I quote the KCTU)
Therefore comrades, of the set of alternative that appears at the end of the letter of invitation you received, we must choose the latter alternative.
* Must we agree to become partners or stubbornly preserve the independence of trade unions? We choose the latter.
Should we move towards supporting bailouts for the speculators and banks or to decisively to defend labor?
Should we return to the fundamental system of conventions and ILO standards or accept that the ILO become an instrument of the implementation of the decisions of the G20?
Should we integrate into global governance or raise the historic mission of advocacy of the workers' interests, which is the mission of trade unions?
We're here to discuss this and we will continue discussions at the World Conference which the ILC has called for the month of May 2010.
Long live the ILC living and long live the solidarity of the international labor movement!
Draft letter of Independent Workers' Party (France) to labor activists across Europe
Dear friends, dear comrades,
A little over four months have passed since our European Workers Conference on February, 7 and 8, 2009.
Four months have fully confirmed the call of alarm that we launched for the common struggle, throughout the continent, for the Prohibition of Layoffs and a break with the European Union.
We wish to provide you with a few facts have been sent to us in recent weeks.
First there was a real earthquake on June 7, in relation to the elections to the European "Parliament", in which all our countries saw the rejection of the European Union and its institutions, through popular mass abstention.
Comrades in Romania explained that the average rate of abstention in the country was 75%, and it was 90% in the working class districts of Bucharest. This is a phenomenon common to all countries - as was noted, in France, by the declaration of our party, the POI, which states that "the working people did not follow those of us who wanted to believe that this election could be a step in the fight to bring together in unity the workers' organizations against the government."
Militant workers of Hungary inform us that - with an abstention rate
of 65% - the parties (the "Socialist" Party and Liberal Party)
that in government recently passed an increase in the retirement age
to 65, were condemned by the voters.
The earthquake of June 7 is the expression, on the electoral field, of the resistance of the working class and peoples against the avalanche of layoffs and anti-worker measures dictated by the European Union.
Worth noting, among many other elements, are the following:
* The protest, shamefully repressed, of workers of the shipyards of Gdansk on April 29 against the plan of the European Commission, which requires its liquidation, including the section of the Solidarity union in Gdansk;
* The protest of 2.5 million Italian workers, gathered in Rome on April 4 with the CGIL for "the blocking of layoffs in 2009 and 2010;
* Strikes and demonstrations in France on January 29 and March 19, which saw more than 3 million workers strike and demonstrate in response to the call of their union confederations, especially against the plans for layoffs, and the refusal of workers to participate in "leapfrog days of action" that were decentralized, scattered ...
* The true rebellion, which followed the vote on June 7 in Great Britain, of the 150 MPs of the Labor Party, opposing the will of Gordon Brown to transpose the European directives for the privatization of the postal service. This rebellion was based on the 4 million signatures for a petition against the privatization of postal services, and hundreds of trade union motions to that effect;
* The massive protest in Latvia on June 18 against the austerity measures dictated by the European Union and the IMF, such as a 10% drop in public spending, a 20% cut in wages in the state sector and a 10 % cut in pensions as of July 1;
* The struggle of seven months of the Pikalevo workers in Russia, which led the Putin government to threaten to renationalize their factories if they are not reopened. This mobilization lead to a wave of strikes in Russia and beyond, as seen by the strike of 1,000 workers in the factory of Wagon Repair of Alma-Ata in Kazakhstan;
* The struggle of several years of workers of the Shinoz company in Krenjanin for the cancellation of the privatization and re-nationalization of the company; strikes and blockades of railway workers at Zastava Elektro, Prvi maj raca Kragujevacka, and Lapovo for the renationalization of companies, the call by the union of agriculture, food and tourism for the demand for a ban on layoffs and the re-nationalization of privatized companies;
* Tens of thousands of German students demonstrated against the current consequences of the "Bologna process", namely the privatization/destruction of universities, as occurred also with the French students;
* The struggle of the dairy farmers who demonstrated on June 22 t the European Commission against the policy that strangles them.
In those conditions, a European Council has just taken place on June 18 and 19. What did it decide?
It made the unanimous decision for the re-election of Jose Manuel Barroso as head of the European Commission. This decision - taken unanimously, including therefore the support of Heads of State and governments of socialist or social democrats - has already caused already a crisis while the leaders of the Party of European Socialists "resent the indecent haste with which European leaders are trying to push through Mr. Barroso."
It imposed a real denial of democracy with the holding of another referendum in Ireland on the Lisbon Treaty in an attempt to cancel the "No" vote of the Irish people, on June 12, 2008. In this regard, the Irish activists attending the conference have told us that already, their unions, Unite and TEEU, have called to vote "No."
The European council reiterated its "strong commitment to sound public finances and Stability and Growth" ... noting as positive examples the shameful social war taken under the direct leadership of the European Union against the workers of Latvia.
This occurs while billions - the equivalent, according to the financial
magazine The Economist, of the Gross Domestic Product of Germany! -
have been looted from government budgets to bail out speculators. Billions
have fueled speculation, plans for layoffs and plant closings that threaten
to devastate the entire continent.
And isn't all this linked back to the crucial question: "Why should the organizations that the working class has built for its defense, trade unions, political parties, the labor movement as a whole, accept being forced to submit to these dictates?"
Already, activists and delegates from Portugal, Spain, France, Belgium, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, Serbia, Hungary, Moldova, Turkey and Kazakhstan have sent information on the struggle they have organized - in different ways - in their countries for the Prohibition of Layoffs.
We who are fighting to break with the European Union, for the free and fraternal union of the peoples of Europe, launched four months ago a call for all the unity of the workers' movement for the Prohibition of Layoffs. Is there anything more urgent than to draw a first balance sheet and continue and expand this fight?
We submit these reflections to you.
International Campaign in Solidarity with
For equal rights, against the discrimination being directed at Palestinian
Call on Israel Railways to revise its new policy requiring army service
as an employment condition!
In March 2009, Israel Railways, a state-owned company, launched a new policy denying employment to railroad crossing guards who have no permit to carry weapons - that is: who have not served in the Israeli army. This policy will lead to the lay-off of around 150 Arab railway workers who monitor and maintain Israel's level crossings. Israel Railways explicitly stated that the new employment policy is designed to give priority to young army veterans.
Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel have always been extremely underrepresented in Israel's public sector (including state-owned companies), and despite existing anti-discrimination laws only about 5% of civil servants are Arabs, while they make up almost 20% of the overall population. Exclusion of Arabs from the public sector is mainly a result of Israel's state security policies, which deny Arabs who have not served in the Israeli army and do thus not have a permit to carry weapons access to employment in public administration and services (such as: communication, water, electricity, public transport and port authorities, fire brigades etc.). This strong focus on state security is also reflected in the biographies of executive officers in Israeli government-owned companies. Yitzhak 'Haki' Harel, general manager of Israel Railways, for instance, is a Major General in the Israeli army (IDF). He retired from the army in August 2006, shortly after the July War on Lebanon, and has headed the company since 2007.
Israel Railways' new policy is an instructive example of the way Arab workers are systematically excluded from the Israeli labor market: firstly, it shows that state security takes absolute preference over personal safety and security in Israel's employment policy; secondly, it reveals that these security concerns are used to camouflage double standards in favor of Jewish Israeli workers because a) the job of crossing guard has so far not required bearing arms, b) other railway workers, such as train drivers, are not addressed by the new policy, and c) some positions are reserved for "minorities who did not serve in the army". This allows the conclusion that army service is in fact an irrelevant employment condition. At this point, it should be noted that the new policy also excludes recent immigrants, ultra-orthodox Jews, disabled persons and conscientious objectors.
On April 7, 2009, the Tel Aviv Labor Court suspended the dismissal of the railway workers until the next court hearing on April 19, 2009. However, workers told Sawt el-Amel that Israel Railways has already started recruiting new crossing guards. On April 8, 2009, Israel Railways responded to Sawt el-Amel's enquiry about the new employment policy, reaffirming that the policy decision is based on 'practical and security considerations' and does not aim to 'discriminate against minorities'.
On the whole, Israel Railways' new employment policy should be seen both as a continuation of Israel's long-standing strategy to exclude Arab workers from the labor market and as an assault on all economically and socially marginalized groups in times of growing economic crisis.
What you can do:
1) Endorse the appeal: Fill in the 'Endorse the Appeal' form below
and send it to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Dear Mr. Yitzhak Harel,
I am concerned about Israel Railways' new policy requiring army service and weapons training as an employment condition for guards at level crossings. Since Arab citizens of Israel are exempt from obligatory army service, it can be assumed that all or most Arab crossing guards will be laid off as a consequence of this policy decision.
This contradicts the fundamental right of workers to equality and non-discrimination in employment, and consequently, the policy should be revised.
I would much appreciate to hear your position on this issue.
Initiators of this appeal:
Support the fight by the Sawt el-Amel trade union and the railworkers
I endorse this appeal
Statement by the International Liaison Committee of Workers and Peoples
The three trade union federations of Honduras, the "Bloque Sindical Popular" (Popular Trade Union Bloc), and the peasant unions have called for a general strike. They demand that the armed forces put an end to repression and persecution. In a public statement the COPINH (Civic Council of Indigenous and Popular Organizations of Honduras) condemns the presence of tanks and helicopters in front of the presidential residence and in the streets of Tegucigalpa.
The Coordinating Committee of Peasant organizations has described the coup as " the desperate acts of the national oligarchy and the hardcore right to preserve the interests of capital, and in particular, of the large transnational corporations".
On the whole continent, the CUT in Brazil, the CGTP in Peru, the PIT-CNT in Uruguay, the CUT in Chile Š as well as all the working class and popular organizations of Latin America have condemned the coup and organized protest demonstrations. In La Paz the plenary national meeting of the COB (the Bolivian Workers Confederation) expressed solidarity with the workers and the people of Honduras. It called for a national march "in defence of democracy" and against "the imperialist- backed fascist coup".
Furthermore all the governments of Latin America have condemned the coup.
President Obama made it known through Secretary of State Hillary Clinton
that "the United States recognized no president other than Zelaya."
However it was revealed by the press that the US ambassador had been
having talks with Honduran military officials three days before the
The International Liaison Committee of Workers and Peoples calls for the building of the broadest possible unity against the military coup, to support the reinstatement of democracy and the inalienable right of the Honduran people to self-determination.
Down with the military coup!
Paris July 7, 2009