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Democracy, Development and Social Justice
in the Americas

Declaration of the Workers of the Americas

The representatives of the Trade Union Confederations of the Americas, affiliated and fraternal organizations of the Inter-American Regional Organization of Workers (ORIT) and the International Trade Secretariats (ITS) met in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, on May 12 and 13, 1997. We express once again our concern with the FTAA process and offer recommendations to our governments and societies that this process reflects the principles of democracy, broad-based development, and social justice.

For many years the trade union movement has been monitoring the disastrous consequesnces for workers and the peoples of the Americas of a market-driven integration process. This process is causing the loss of jobs, reduction of wages and social services, and the erosion of fundamental principles of democracy.

In Denver we drew attention to the need for effective involvement of different social sectors in the negotiation of the FTAA. We deplore the anti-democratic attitude of governments, such as those of Mexico, Costa Rica, Colombia and Peru that oppose the creation of a Labour Forum. This opposition ignores workers’ contributions to the creation of wealth. The exclusion of labour from this process is unacceptable, especially in light of the official recognition of the Business Forum.

The FTAA, as currently implemented, is an unjust and anti-democratic process that we will oppose. It will be the largest commercial agreement in the continent, involving countries of disparate size and of contrasting social and political conditions. It will not lead to broad-based social and economic development.

Free trade, a model of exclusion

The integration of the Americas must take into account social imbalances between and within countries. We do not believe that free market forces will automatically generate long term economic growth and employment. In Latin America, unemployment has increased along with the process of unilateral and accelerated trade liberalization. The number of excluded people and those who survive only by turning to the informal sector has increased while wealth has become concentrated. The ongoing liberalization process has contributed to the decline of the family farm and an increase in food dependence. The growth in rural migration has led to increased poverty, unemployment and violence in urban areas. United Nations data show that in 1960 the wealthiest 20% of countries owned the equivalent of 30 times what the poorest 20% of countries owned. The difference has doubled. Today it is 61 times. We live in a world in which 15% of the world’s population owns 80% of the world GDP.

It is imperative that economic and social policies are coordinated at the international level to overcome inequalities, create jobs, improve the quality of life and guarantee sustainable economic growth. We must counter the growing strength of international oligopolies which act globally without any governmental control. In addition, the integration process should respect the right of each country to seek food self-sufficiency. Food is not just a commodity, but a basic human right. Agrarian reform is an instrument of social justice, development and generation of employment that should be adopted in the majority of countries of the continent.

For workers, international trade is not an end in itself. It must benefit all peoples. We oppose free trade without social safeguards, without appropriate guarantees for conditions of labour and social rights and without protection of the environment. Comparative advantage must not be founded on the violation of basic human rights. Workers will not continue to pay for the consequences of intensified international competition resulting from free trade.

Challenge for the Americas

As workers we have accumulated experience on the effect of trade liberalization. We observe a generalized trend to attack our rights, and pressure for greater flexibility and growing precariousness of the labour market. The progress promised to us in the struggle against poverty and disease, and for education, nutrition and employment has not been achieved. Latin America faces a great social challenge, and we believe that FTAA does not recognize this.

During the last 12 years, the United States and Canada have also experienced significant trade liberalization. Meanwhile, real wages have decreased, job instability has increased, inequality and poverty have grown, and there has been an alarming reduction in employment in the manufacturing sector.

Our hemisphere is characterized by enormous inequalities between and within countries. The United States has a GDP equal to 75% of the total goods and services produced in the hemisphere. Its capacity to mobilize technological and capital resources is far greater than that of countries in the southern part of the Americas. Therefore, trade agreements must included a balanced and sustainable strategy for social integration. The problem of foreign debt needs to be addressed as part of this strategy. The debt still has a harmful effect on the economies of most FTAA countries because it greatly reduces governments’ capacity to intervene in key areas of development such as housing, health, education and the environment.

The labour movements of the hemisphere are offering concrete proposals to confront the challenges of sub-regional agreements like NAFTA, MERCOSUR, CARICOM, the Andean Pact, and SICA. Our goal is integration that preserves the gains we have made, promotes social development, and strengthens workers’ rights as an integral part of these agreements.

Concrete proposal regarding the negotiation of the FTAA

For these reasons, we oppose the current commercial model of the FTAA. The process needs to be democratic, transparent, and open to much broader participation. It must recognize the immense economic and social disparities in the region.

    Once again, we demand the official recognition of the Labour Forum and the establishment a Working Group on Labour Rights. But this is not sufficient.
    New bi-lateral and multi-lateral trade agreements must incorporate a social dimension.

    There must be recognition of core labour standards and the creation of mechanisms for effective compliance with these by the countries in the FTAA, including:

      Freedom of association;

      Right to organize and bargain collectively;

      Restrictions on child labour and forced labour;

      Banning of employment discrimination on the basis of sex, race or religion.

    We demand the creation of environmental protection mechanisms to regulate the action of large corporations and conglomerates which threaten the quality of life. In addition, social justice demands that agrarian reform be implemented in order to improve the quality of life of the rural population.

    We demand a gradual negotiation process, allowing each country to adopt appropriate transitional policies. Progressive negotiations will allow better identification of opportunities and threats faced by different economic sectors.

    We demand access to information, the establishment of mechanisms facilitating collective bargaining, and democratic control over the action of transnational corporations operating in the region, since these are the principal beneficiaries of economic integration.

    We demand the adoption of a Charter of Social and Labour Rights by the countries of the Americas.

To conclude, the ORIT-ICFTU, the International Trade Secretariats, and fraternal organizations declare our firm determination to fight for democratization of the FTAA process.

We workers produce all goods and services. Without our participation, the negotiation and implementation of continental integration and of our countries’ involvement in international commerce are problematic.

Belo Horizonte, May 13, 1997.

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