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From an International Union Congress to an
International Labour Dialogue

An Exchange between Peter Waterman, Global Solidarity Dialogue/
Dialogo Solidaridad Global, and Bill Jordan, General
  Secretary of the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions


I do not want to exaggerate the significance of the exchange below. But I do not recall any such reply from anICFTU General Secretary, to an individual, unless it be in the form of a letter to a newspaper. What I am certainabout, however, is that I have never received such a response from an (inter)national union organisation to
anything I have written, to or about such, over a 30-year period! This is despite repeated attempts to obtain areaction from them. The only responses I have received in the past was one that was publicly abusive, and othersthat, if positive, were from individual officers in their personal capacities. 

I do not intend to respond to Bill Jordan's serious and extensive reply. At least until I have recovered from thegratifying shock of being taken seriously by the leader of an international organisation that I have long beencritical of, and that I am here challenging quite fundamentally! I would rather see whether the present exchangeprovokes others to join in, in the same spirit as it has begun. This is because - as suggested below - the preparedness to engage in an international dialogue on international labour, labour internationalism and labour
internationality (its international institutions and institutional relations), is more important than the content of such! In the construction of a new labour internationalism, I give priority to the nature of relationships within, between
and around the organisations and movements.

I do, however, wish to immediately correct one error. Bill Jordan is, of course, right in denying that the ICFTU is dependent for half of its income on state-donated development funding. As the just-launched history of the ICFTU reveals(v.d. Linden et. al. 2000, Tables 3-5), the general income of the ICFTU in 1998 was some $ 9.2 million; its income for solidarity activities was some $ 1.1 million, and for development aid, from donor organisations, $ 1.9 million. So, it appears that I should have referred to its aid and solidarity activities - here revealed to be more than 50 percent dependent on state-donated development funding. The matter requires, as usual, further research and discussion.

Finally this. The above-mentioned history was launched at a conference on 'The Past and Future of International Trade Unionism', Ghent, Belgium, May 18-20, 2000. At this academic-cum-union event, Bill Jordan made an Opening Speech which, I believe, went further toward rethinking international unionism than heretofore. As and when this becomes available on the ICFTU's or other sites (including my own), readers of the following correspondence will have a better idea of the possibilities for a global dialogue on the future of what must become a
general movement for global solidarity.

v.d. Linden, Marcel 2000. The International Confederation of Free Trade Unions. Bern: Peter Lang. 624pp.

Peter Waterman, May 22, 2000



An Open Letter to the General Secretary of the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions, on the Occasion of its Millennial Congress in South Africa, April 2000


Dear Bill Jordan:

I write to you as one lifelong member of the British and international labour movement to another (did I read somewhere that you, like me, were born in 1936?). I am aware of writing as a marginal intellectual member of such to the leader of the predominant international trade union organisation; and as an academic (retired) to an organiser; and as someone always associated with the Left (Communism and the World Federation of Trade Unions in the past, today with 'the new social unionism' and 'the new labour internationalism') to someone I understand has been long-associated with the Centre or Right. 

All this is, however, just to be explicit about where I am coming from and what my assumptions are. Because what I want to deal with is the future of the ICFTU, by far the biggest international organisation of organised labour - a matter which goes beyond these occupations, ideologies or identities. The tens of millions of workers already affiliated to the ICFTU represent the largest organised mass resource for a new internationalism and a global civil society. Its future should therefore be of concern also to all labour activists, to ordinary working people (waged or not), and to the growing number of radical-democratic social movements active internationally (women's, ecological, human rights, consumer, cultural/communicational, indigenous peoples, etc).

I do not want to go into the history of the ICFTU and international labour since this has been often commented on and discussed through the years, in the South African Labour Bulletin and elsewhere (Waterman 1999). We can, in any case, expect a discussion of the historical role of the ICFTU to follow publication of the first substantial history of the organisation, due out shortly.

What I want to raise here are questions concerning the relationship of the ICFTU to globalisation, as raised by yourself for public discussion worldwide - or at least on the worldwide web. I am referring to your opening address (Jordan 1999) to the electronic conference on `Organised Labour in the 21st Century' (OL21), co-sponsored by the ICFTU and the International Labour Organisation (ILO), which began in 1999 and continues at the time of writing. Your paper is, I feel, an eminently clear, wide-ranging and innovative document, revealing the extent of the ICFTU's response to a globalised and informatised world capitalist (dis)order. I am not aware of any full and direct response to this on the OL21 Website and, in any case, your paper deserves much wider circulation and discussion than it could possibly receive there.

What I want to comment on is the relationship of the ICFTU with: capital, state, with the unions, with working people generally, and with civil society globally. And then to add some closing remarks.

Capital. At a time in which capitalism is dynamic and triumphant, both geographically and ideologically, and an increasing threat to unions, workers - and even the ecological basis of human life - this word only appears in your paper dressed up, or cut down, as 'the economy', 'employers', 'multinationals', 'corporations'. Whilst you condemn the destruction wrought by globalisation, what I call capitalism is still therefore presented by you as something unions do or could not only civilise, but as an actual or potential 'social partner'. The terms you employ, the 'social partnership' you promote, relate to the passing era of national, industrial capitalism. This 'partnership' did not prevent the brutal attack on labour by a globalised neo-liberal capitalism. I do not see how it could, today, do more than create a more-civilised but equally powerful and unpredictable capitalism, benefiting at best temporarily, at most a minority of workers and unionists, in a minority of countries. Using the words capital, capitalism, capitalists enables us to recognise a global social structure, a historical process, ideology and values, a class - beyond which labour must surely go, in the interests of itself, of democracy, of humankind and of nature. Even the neo-liberals call capitalism by its name. Why not you?

State. Another (past? future? someplace? sometime?) 'social partner' in your discourse - called in all cases but one `government'. You denounce the role governments have played in globalisation, and recognise the way the
intergovernmental financial institutions and accords (like the Multilateral Agreement on Investments (MAI), the World Bank and World Trade Organisation(WTO)) serve the multinationals. Yet your core strategy is that of
appealing to or lobbying states and interstate organisations to be nicer to labour. This, again, is based on the past experience (or myth) of unionised labour, primarily in industrially-developed capitalist welfare states. It is significant that, disarmed by this understanding and strategy, the ICFTU was invisible in the international and internationalist struggles against the MAI in Geneva 1998 and the WTO in Seattle 1999. These successful mass protest actions represented an implicit or explicit critique of the symbiotic relation between the liberal-democratic state and big capital (national and global). The ICFTU surely needs to learn from those who organised and won the Battle of Seattle if it is to impact today on (inter)state organisations in the interests of labouring people worldwide.

Unions. Here you argue that unions (in distinction from non-governmental organisations - NGOs) are popular organisations, with a mass base, are (always? everywhere?) a force for democracy and wielders of a 'certain economic power'. You suggest that they need to retain their traditional values whilst adopting contemporary means:

 Values are constant and central to our very existence and survival. They are not subject to the whims of the market nor the will of tyrants, public or private. They have been proven and hardened in the fire of battle.  They respond to and nurture that spark of human solidarity that is found in all of us. I doubt whether in this respect the 21st century will be very different from the 20th century. The big difference is that we will have to change our structures and methods to get results from the local to the international levels.

Whilst your treatment of national and international unionism recognises the necessity for increased union participation, communication, democracy and protest activity, the above quote is more in the rhetorical than the analytical or strategic mode. Trade union values have customarily been both varied and problematic, even when the unions were most internationalist! `Solidarity' has been - and still often is - expressed against workers of a different category, company, colour, ideology, gender, sexual orientation, nationality, as well as against pacifists, environmentalists or feminists. So we really need a more critical approach to past union values and a re-specification of 'solidarity' in the light of globalisation. 

As for the change in structures and methods, your argument here hardly confronts the problem of either the representative-democratic union or the national one in the era of a globalised networked capitalism (nor does it address those many ICFTU member unions that may be neither the one nor the other!). Even if we assume, uncritically, that these were effective under traditional capitalism, the scale, scope and speed of change today - particularly when seen in relation to widespread privatisation, informalisation, subcontracting and individualisation worldwide - raises fundamental questions about the 'principle of articulation' (both connection and expression) for a labour movement that must, today, go way beyond the unionised or unionisable. In so far as the capitalist industrial revolution required a transformation from the craft and local guild to the national industrial union, is not a parallel transformation necessary to what could be called 'the global, electronic and networked unionism' of the future?

The transformation of capitalism also raises fundamental questions about the nation-state basis (identity and address) of labour organisation. Such challenges are being raised by the International Trade Secretariats, which suggest that the industry or company identity is the relevant one today. But the ITSs, which have been increasingly merging to form conglomerates across any single distinct industry, are also based on national industrial unions. I am not suggesting that such literally international organisations as the ICFTU or ITSs will or should disappear. But I do suggest they will have to recognise the power of the network over the organisation if they are to be effective as an international and internationalist force.

Working people. You do raise the problem of the increasing number of working people outside the traditional employment relationship on which unions have been based. The `thirdworldisation' or 'housewifisation' of the global labour force is one increasingly effecting 'first world' labour and men. This is not only due to evil employers or complicit/complacent governments. Computerisation/informatisation creates the technical possibility for the reduction, individualisation, feminisation and exportation of work. Even the mighty German (national-industrial) unions are apparently unable to prevent this transformation, or to propose a convincing, attractive and progressive alternative to such. This suggests to me the necessity to either (re)convert the trade unions into a labour movement (another concept you do not mention), and to develop a democratic, co-operative, egalitarian and solidarity relationship with bodies that are working with non-unionised/non-unionisable labour (i.e. the majority of the world's working people).

Civil society. I am happy to see this term in your paper, though you nowhere say what you mean by it or who it includes/excludes. So we have to assume that, as elsewhere in your argument, you endorse the liberal dominant liberal idea: civil society as democratic and self-organised citizen organisations and movements independent of the state. In so far as you are proposing a positive relationship between (inter)national unions and other radical-democratic and pluralistic forces, I won't argue (though we surely need to increasingly see civil society posed also against the power of capital). When you move from orientation to political relations, however, you refer rather to 'NGOs'. Whilst you are here generally positive, you also - as nowhere else - problematise them, suggesting that unions are uniquely democratic and popular organisations (based on a dues-paying membership and some kind of economic power), and that relations with NGOs can be either 'very good' or 'very bad'. Whilst this is a step forward from past dismissal of these bodies, I am not sure whether it is wise to either set up some kind of opposition, or to problematise the NGOs whilst assuming that (inter)national unions are unproblematic. (You may be either interested or amused to know that some feminists tend to reverse the argument, assuming that the women's movement is 'autonomous' whilst the unions are 'incorporated'). 

It is true that NGOs have an ambiguous relationship with capital and state. But so do trade unions! Yours, for example, still believes in the fundamental value to workers and society of a `social partnership' with both of these! It is, in this context, significant, that it was international/ist 'NGOs', not the ICFTU (or its US affiliate), that stopped both the MAI and the WTO. So perhaps we should rather talk of the relationship between both types of institution on the one hand, and mass, popular and effective movements against a globalised networked capitalism on the other. After all, the ICFTU, like many NGOs, is dependent for almost half of its income (I stand to be corrected) not on workers or on civil society but on funding from nation-states like Germany that are supporting a neo-liberal globalisation. Amnesty International rejects all state funding. My guess (an interesting subject for ICFTU-supported research?) is that Amnesty may be better known, or more appreciated, amongst working people worldwide than the ICFTU. Amnesty, moreover, does not either assume or claim that it is the human rights movement. It is part of a network of international human rights organisations. Just as Seattle was the achievement of a complex (and contradictory) network of movements (including labour) critical of, or opposed to, globalisation. The question that arises here, in relationship to labour and civil society, may not, therefore, be one of representativity (a problematic quality of unions everywhere) but of responsibility (in the sense of a democratic, open, egalitarian, empowering, effective relationship with the community addressed).

I do not see the ICFTU as some representative of evil, any more than I see myself as possessed of virtue. Under a neo-liberalised global capitalism, it seems to me, labour radicalism and labour reformism provide the conditions for each other's existence. This is as true of labour as for the ecological or women's movement. 

My challenge, therefore, is not so much to the ICFTU for wanting to civilise capitalism rather than overthrow it (since the only way to surpass capitalism is by constantly exposing its limitations, pushing at its limits, proposing attractive alternatives to such), it is to make it an effective force for meaningful reform under conditions of globalisation. This means, I suspect, recognising a 'division of labour' within and around labour internationally. This would be between the force for innovating and advancing internationalism (the international labour, pro-labour or labour-allied network), the organisation for representing unions internationally (a - radically reformed and democratised - ICFTU, set of ITSs and regional organisations), and the institution for negotiating and enforcing international labour standards (an equally reformed or reinvented International Labour Organisation).

Such an understanding of the ICFTU's position and possibilities has implications.

Its orientation toward the ILO would not be one of dependency (as it comes out of your argument) but one of contesting an inter-state terrain, in which the ICFTU/ITSs press for a re-invention of the  ILO to make it appropriate for a globalised networked capitalism. 

The ICFTU orientation toward the networks would be one of open encouragement and mutual dialogue. Indeed, it occurs to me that a relationship between trade unions and other  radical-democratic social movements, aimed at developing civil society nationally and globally, would be a real 'social partnership', based on equality, rather than the old one, articulating dependent labour with dominant capital and/or state.

I want to add two points which are hardly raised in your paper. One has to do with the West and the Rest within the international trade union movement. The other with the increasing centrality of communication to labour internationalism.

The West and the Rest. The ICFTU and ITSs originate in the West, have their headquarters in the West, are dominated by Western funding and officers, and have had - with exceptions - a paternalistic attitude towards the 'underdeveloped' unions in the 'developing' world (as revealed by ICFTU dependence on 'development funding'). Yet the overwhelming majority of the world's workers are in contemporary capitalism's two peripheries (the old South, plus Russia and China). This would seem to face the ICFTU with two alternatives. The first is to reproduce the socio-geographic relationship of the European Vatican with its overwhelmingly Third World membership. The second would be to radically democratise and redistribute power towards the periphery. As with a number of feminist and ecological NGOs, this might imply not only regional autonomy but diversifying its leadership (what percentage of top international union leaders are female, non-white and Third World?), and even moving headquarters to non-Western locations! All this is made possible by computer communication, of which more below.

International Labour and Communication. The ICFTU resisted open-access international labour computer communication when offered by a top social-democratic specialist and supporter some 15 years ago. It has been late, slow and awkward in entering this new world - which really has more promise for radical-democratic internationalist forces than for the capitalists who profit from it or the states that try to control it. In so far as the most valuable function of the ICFTU and ITSs is precisely that of information, co-ordination and communication, trade union internationalism needs to be re-thought in terms of international communication for the creation of an internationalist culture. This is how the international women's movement works. It is how the Battle of Seattle was first co-ordinated and then projected globally (by both the dominant and the alternative media). 

And let me, finally, return to where I started, which is on myself as a marginal member of the labour movement. In your last paragraph you welcome the ICFTU/ILO electronic conference as a forum for academics as well as
unionists. Yet it is my experience (also with the WFTU, the Dutch trade unions - and even with the OL21 Conference!) that intellectuals are welcomed rather as supporters of an institution, a policy or an orientation than as partners in a dialogue. This belongs to a logic of organisational self-interest and  self-perpetuation rather than to one of movement and transformation. It belongs to the capitalism of yesterday rather than that of today and tomorrow. 

If labour is ever to recapture the social, cultural, political and intellectual high ground it occupied during the early period of capitalist and nation-state development, it is, I believe, really going to have to dialogue not only with its
base but also with its periphery (institutional, socio-geographical and intellectual). Power rests (but also stagnates) at the centre of the labour movement, innovation comes from the periphery (the organisational margins, the social, geographic and cultural fringes) . 

Much of the new thinking about unionism internationally first appeared not in the publications of the ICFTU but in those like the South African Labour Bulletin. I recall only one recent case in which the ICFTU has entered into a public dialogue with those outside its ranks, and that was with radical-nationalist (not necessarily pro-labour or socialist) intellectuals from the Third World who are opposed to linking worker rights with trading privileges. I welcomed this debate (or response). But when are we going to see you personally, or the ICFTU leadership more generally, or its media of communication, open up to similarly serious public dialogue with socialists, ecologists, feminists, labour leaders and activists from the Third World and the ex-Communist one (e.g. with the American journalist Bacon (2000) or the Brazilian union leader Jakobsen (1998))? A leadership equipped primarily with administrative or diplomatic skills is not going to lead a new international labour movement: it increasingly has to demonstrate intellectual and media/communicational ones. A social partnership relevant to labour internationally in the era of globalisation requires these things too.

I await with great interest the results of your Millennial Congress - though with no expectation of a millennial self-transformation. I will, however, continue to hope for either the publication of this item in or on an ICFTU periodical or website, or your response in the present place of publication. 


Peter Waterman






 A Response from Bill Jordan to the Open Letter from Peter Waterman

[Email received by Peter Waterman, May 9, 2000. Simultaneously submitted by the ICFTU to Focus on Global Trade, Forwarded by PW to the South African Labour Bulletin, May 2000]


Dear Peter Waterman,

I am writing to address some of the points raised in your open letter written to me on the occasion of our recent Congress in Durban, South Africa.

The Struggle of the Trade Union Movement and Engagement:

I do not see a contradiction between the trade union struggle and engagement with employers and governments whether it is at the national or international levels. We must be both in the streets and at the bargaining table.

I do not know where you got the impression that the trade union movement was not involved in the demonstrations in Seattle in connection with the WTO ministerial meeting. It is true that trade unionists were not breaking windows and trying to block the meetings. However, the participants in the rally and march at the beginning of the ministerial meeting were overwhelmingly trade unionists.

Our American affiliate, the AFL-CIO, made a major and quite successful effort to mobilise members of their unions in a truly impressive show of dissatisfaction not only with the WTO, but also with an unbalanced and
unfair globalisation that serves Capital and not Labour. I spoke at that rally and marched through the streets of Seattle along with trade union representatives from all parts of the globe. In fact, we held our Executive Board meeting in Seattle to help ensure that proper attention was paid in the trade union movement and by governments to the importance of the WTO meeting.

We also, however, met with Mike Moore and with very many government representatives who were sitting around the table in Seattle as well as engaging in a dialogue with other elements of civil society. Seattle is a
good example of what we are all about; confrontation, when necessary and engagement, when possible. It is not always easy to take this approach, but it is not impossible. It just takes a certain amount of co-ordination.

On the question of what we in the trade union movement are doing, I would caution you not to accept all you read in the press. They do not always provide full information nor clear and accurate descriptions of trade union
motives and actions. In fact, there is much happening in this world, especially in the trade union movement, that they choose not to cover.

MAI is a perfect example. As you know, the Multilateral Agreement on Investment was being negotiated in the OECD over the period from 1995 to 1998. Throughout this period the Trade Union Advisory Committee to the
OECD (TUAC) made a major effort to influence the structure and content of discussions on that agreement long before the overwhelming majority of NGOs had even heard of it.

It is with some trepidation that I will try to make a few points about the MAI. I fully realise that for many, it has become evidence that globalisation is a plot and not a process. In fact, there had been a lot of work done to
ease the way for multinational companies in investment matters long before the MAI, including in the form of over 1600 bilateral investment agreements. None of these agreements have protections of any rights other than
property rights. In addition, there are regional trade agreements like NAFTA that protect the rights of investors.

MAI was neither a counter-revolution nor a secret conspiracy of Capital to control the world. It was an attempt to consolidate these already bad agreements on a larger scale. As such, it was ill conceived, unbalanced and
dangerous. TUAC made powerful arguments against this approach. The ICFTU participated in this effort and can attest to the determination and effectiveness of TUAC throughout this long and difficult fight.

Did this mean that we talked with the government representatives who were negotiating the agreement? Yes, we did. Does this mean that TUAC, with the support of the ICFTU, urged affiliated national centres to raise these issues at the highest levels of their governments? Yes, it does. Although the negotiations failed, in the course of the trade union engagement, important progress was made and not just with a couple of words or changes in punctuation.

For the first time, nearly all OECD governments recognised that it was wrong to lower domestic labour standards to attract investment. And core labour standards were also recognised as linked, not unrelated, to liberalisation. Perhaps to many, this doesn’t matter, but to the millions of workers, overwhelmingly women, who work in export processing zones where the violation of their fundamental rights is used as an investment incentive, it was a breakthrough that could have changed their lives.

None of this is intended to belittle the campaign by many NGOs to defeat MAI and the positive effect that campaign had on public opinion, but to show that there is not one exclusive, legitimate way to act on global any more than on national issues. On the WTO, like the MAI and countless other issues, we have chosen to express trade union views in a variety of ways.

I would also like to comment on the interaction between the trade union movement and NGOs that developed over the MAI. NGOs played a valuable role in raising a broader awareness of the issues at stake Not all NGOs
were opposed outright to any form of MAI, and many joined trade unions at the national and international levels in raising the same issues. However, I have lost count of the number of personalities within the NGO movement
who’ve claimed responsibility for the death of the MAI. If it helps them to sell books fine, and why let the truth get in the way of a good story. But at the end of the day the MAI collapsed for a variety of reasons including its
internal contradictions. Its death was brought about a combination of enemies including those within Ministries other than Economics and Trade when they became aware of what their colleagues were up to.

For its part, the TUAC secretariat shared information with NGOs and participated in both formal and informal NGO meetings where it provided updates on government negotiating positions and other vital information. This
was practical co-operation and it produced good relations that have continued into the current Review of the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises. Without pre-judging the outcome and the final position that various sides will take, it is my judgement that those NGOs working alongside TUAC from within the tent have had an impact on the direction of the Review far in excess of what would have been achieved had they not chosen to so engage..

There is a fundamental question as to whether the trade union movement should try to engage employers and governments at the international level. It is, in fact, the same legitimate question posed many generations ago
as to whether collective bargaining was class collaboration. For some, that philosophical or ideological dilemma has never been resolved. But most trade union members found in collective bargaining not a dilemma but a purpose of collective organisation. Unions could not be aloof and unconnected to the main influences in the lives of their members and workers’ demand for real as opposed to abstract rights and benefits. Failing to engage, like the refusal to struggle, was not a luxury that workers could afford.

I believe that globalisation forces a change in our orientation. It may mean, for example, that a worker should begin to see an international trade secretariat in the same way that a national or local union is seen now. If that
is the case, there is a compelling case for international campaigns against global companies, but also a case for engaging those companies.

Similarly, to the extent that policy, including national policy, is being influenced or even determined by intergovernmental bodies like the international financial institutions, the WTO and others, it would be
irresponsible for us not to engage, to walk away from our members, to refuse to be their voice.

If we could avoid that engagement, it would be a lot easier for a lot of us. Talking exclusively among ourselves is more comfortable and much less stressful. Irrelevance brings with it a certain satisfaction, sometimes even

Campaigning versus engagement is a false choice. Campaigning needs to bring about changes in habits, practices and institutions. It is not an end in itself. Our task is not to abandon one to embrace the other, but to do both much more effectively.

Social Partnership and Civil Society:

Having been born and raised in the United Kingdom, the term "social partnership" does not roll easily off my tongue. That was something for Europe, a continent that we all knew, in those days, was on the other side of the channel. However, the use of the term is not simply surrender to funny, Continental terminology. It can be useful as long as we don’t forget reality.

What is "social partnership not?" It is not a situation where employers unilaterally run everything, know best, do not consult or negotiate. "Partners" means that there is more than one. In far too many countries and parts of the
world, there is only one partner and one party around the table.

In addition, a social partnership is social. It is based on a notion that there is more involved in the two sides of industry than economic gain, and that workers are more than costs of production.

Reality is, however, often harsh. We know that "social partnership" is often an aspirational term. Of course, one could also say that "civil society" is not always very "civil."

I have never believed that workers and employers have the same interests. I don’t think that is implied in the term social partners. There is a natural and inherent conflict between workers and those who employ them. That
is why workers need unions to be the instrument of their will, their voice, and to give them the power to gain their rights, to defend their interests, and to become social partners. In fact, I was never so naive that I believed that
in a "workers’ state," people would not need to have their own, free and independent trade unions.

I like the old fashioned notion of "industrial democracy". However, regardless of whether one uses social partners, interlocutors or some other term, the essential point is that workers must have a say, must have power
and a status that is at least that of Capital. The notion of partners recognises the fact of class conflict. It does not deny it; it flows from it.

Another related issue is the need to strengthen tripartism, not just at the ILO, where one of our top priorities is to increase its role in the world, but at national and regional levels. In recent years, many governments have
considered that talking with private business is the same as talking with the private sector. They have virtually ignored workers and their representatives. Social partnership and tripartism is certainly a great improvement
over that.

Although it is no longer fashionable to speak of class, it remains fundamental to any useful analysis of the situation in the world today. In remarks to our Congress, I stressed that we should not let all of the discussion of
North versus South mask Capital versus Labour. In fact, that is where the line is drawn on the link between social and economic progress, between workers’ rights and trade and investment.

A majority of our member organisations are in the South. If you believe the press, they should be against a link between workers’ rights and trade because they are from the South. Instead, they are strongly in favour.
Similarly, using the same simple-minded approach, I suppose that multinationals, being largely from the North, should be in favour of protecting the fundamental rights of workers and of using trade and investment to push
standards up instead of down. But they are opposed. So much for simple North-South arguments.

We have had an enormous influx of members from the South in recent times as well as from transition countries. The ICFTU is currently tackling, more than ever before, the challenge and opportunity of involving in membership and leadership more women trade unionists, and motivating young people to be active in our movement. Much more progress needs to be made to organise all these workers at the national and the international levels. However, one should not conclude that that influx now is because we barred the door in the
past. In parts of the Third World, free trade unionism has been long suppressed by dictatorships. Similarly, in what are now referred to as transition countries, workers did not choose to have captive unions. Their rulers imposed that decision. We never forgot, however, our obligation to speak up and to fight for their rights until they were free to speak for themselves and gain the right and opportunity to unite with the workers of the world.

You note that I mention "civil society" and that I also refer to "NGOs". You are wrong however to suggest that I am using two terms to signal a change from "orientation" to "political relations" - whatever you may mean by
this. The reason I use two terms is because I am talking about two different things. NGOs are not the only components of civil society - for instance religions and political parties can also be components. I am increasingly concerned that the failure to distinguish NGOs from civil society is making it easy for those who are now attempting to redefine civil society to the detriment of working people. Civil society is not strengthened when democratic governments pass on what ought to be their responsibilities to NGOs that they create, finance and ultimately control. Where NGOs become a means by which government is less accountable, then the chances of achieving a civil society are diminished. Similarly, civil society is not increased where business manufactures "partners" by creating or controlling NGOs.

Without going on at great length about the need to build coalitions inside civil society, the main point that I would like to reaffirm here as I did in my original paper to the "Organised Labour" e-conference is that trade unions
are central to civil society, but are, at the same time, different from other elements of civil society. Many groups can advocate workers’ rights, for example, and be in coalition with us, but trade unions must also represent
workers and they are accountable to their members. The special nature of trade unions must be understood if effective coalitions are to be built.

Elected trade union leaders are given authority by democracy, but they are also restrained and guided by their members. Their members also largely finance the activities of trade unions. If that was not the case, unions
could be wiped out by a simple act of government. The ICFTU’s affiliated national centres pay for the ICFTU. To my knowledge, none of them use any government funds to pay their fees. The ICFTU’s accounts are entirely
public for anyone who wants to check those facts; I don’t know what unreliable source told you that one-half of our budget comes from governments.

Trade Union Values:

As indicated in my original paper and cited in your letter, trade union principles remain constant in spite of other changes. For example, we have embraced new technology to help us do our work and to spread our message.
We have done so with a little delay, but most of our problems relate to the gap in the world when it comes to the availability of information technology. Although the situation is changing, at the time we established our web site
and extensive e-mail capacity, a large number of our affiliates in the developing world had no possibility to have access to that information. One of the issues we are looking at is how we can close that technology gap. Of
course, that is only one example of a gap that is little discussed in terms of globalisation, the information gap. But, new means of communication does not change the meaning of trade unionism.

Similarly, global capital is emerging as an even greater force. The ITS, with our active co-operation, have been increasingly addressing global capital in the same way as national unions do; with campaigns, engagement and even a significant handful of global, framework agreements.

Human beings have not become another species because of globalisation. The global economy has not eliminated the basic conflict between labour and capital nor has it crushed solidarity or the struggle for social justice. The theme of our Congress was "Globalising Social Justice." We do not propose replacing the idea of social justice or workers’ rights, just acting smarter and more effectively at a global level to support struggles at the national level.

There can only be a crisis of values in the face of change if one defines oneself in terms of what one is against. If trade unionism is defined as being against colonialism or totalitarianism or other forms of dictatorship and
that situation changes, there is a crisis. Similarly, if one defines oneself as simply being against private Capital, one would never defend the rights of employees of the public sector or in State-owned enterprises.

But if trade unionism is a tool for workers, all workers, to liberate themselves, to overcome whatever force oppresses them, to gain rights and dignity, and to build stronger, healthier families and communities, there is no crisis of values. There is also, of course, no reasonable prospect for quick and final victory.

People are not born into this world to serve the economy. The economy is a human creation. It should serve humanity. That has not changed whether that economy is rural, small towns and villages, cities, nation-states, or
the global market place.

It is a wonderful feeling for workers to be able to look the boss in the eye and to tell that boss what they think without fear. But today that boss may be in another country. For more and more workers achieving that wonderful feeling will require international solidarity. Creating permanent and democratic organisations will continue to be the highest expression of solidarity by workers and strong, dynamic and free international trade
union organisations are essential to give full effect to the principle embodied in the ILO’s Philadelphia Declaration that the labour of a human being is not a commodity to be bought and sold in the open market. 

Yours sincerely,

Bill Jordan 

ICFTU General Secretary..

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