Sharan Burrow: Acceptance speech to ITUC Congress

25 June, 2010 | Speeches & Opinion I am incredibly honoured and extremely privileged to be elected as General Secretary of the ITUC. The ITUC is without question the pre-eminent voice for the rights of working people, for justice, peace and democracy. I am humbled to have your support and your trust.

You have debated and determined a strong mandate this week; a mandate that is framed by seven priorities which will drive the ITUC’s strategy for global justice.

  • Decent Work for All: Starting with the promotion of the vigorous implementation of the ILO Global Jobs Pact as the centrepiece of jobs-intensive economic and social policy.
  • Labour Market Justice and Equity: Reversing the inequalities of the past requires the restoration of justice and balance in labour markets. This requires us to fight for workers’ rights; to promote higher levels of trade union organisation and collective bargaining; to combat precarious and informal work; and to campaign to close the gender pay gap and to eliminate all other types of gender inequality at work and in our societies.
  • Quality Public Services, Education and Health for All: All people have a right to universally accessible public services that are fundamental to the equitable and sustainable development of democratic societies.  Investments in education and health are essential for the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals and the ITUC will work closely with Global Unions to advance these. We will stand by workers in Europe facing those austerity measures that are cutting public sector wages, jobs and public services. You have our solidarity because it is not just your fight but our fight as well.
  • Regulated Finance: Putting the financial economy at the service of the real economy is essential for a global economy which meets real human needs.  You have instructed the ITUC to campaign for effective and adequate regulation of financial markets, an end to tax havens and for an international tax on financial transactions and we will do just that.
  • A Sustainable Low Carbon Future: Placing the global economy on a trajectory which prevents catastrophic climate change is essential to the jobs and welfare of workers everywhere and to the long term future of the planet, for our children and our grandchildren.  The ITUC will work for a “just transition” and decent work in the green economy.
  • A New Development Model: This is essential. The current model of globalisation has failed to distribute its benefits fairly. It has failed to provide opportunities for balanced development for all countries and it has failed to make decisive inroads into world poverty and deeply-entrenched inequalities.  All nations have shared responsibilities in ensuring that all benefit fairly from the fruits of social and economic progress and we will fight for investment in the poorest nations beginning with the social protection floor to both lift people out of poverty and build jobs and aggregate demand.
  • Governance of Globalisation: The global crisis is a direct consequence of the failure of the international community to impose adequate governance on a processof globalisation driven solely by the dynamics of deregulation, liberalisation, privatisation and greed. The G20 must maintain its commitment to jobs and development, and these commitments must be taken up by all governments as a move towards more effective and inclusive global governance. Today’s market fundamentalism must be replaced with a commitment to policy coherence for a social dimension in globalisation, with decent work as the overriding policy objective based on the ratification and full implementation of international labour standards. Employment and social protection must sit side by side with economic indicators including growth and inflation as real measures of risk and progress.
You have reminded us all that we have special responsibilities for the most vulnerable and disadvantaged in the workforce, many of them young workers or women, and called attention to the needs of migrant workers and those in the informal economy. 

We must begin by building a stronger and truly inclusive trade union movement, trade unions that can respond to the unfulfilled needs of a massive and growing number of workers in a range of different circumstances who need representation.

Congress recognises that the ITUC’s constitutional commitment to the maintenance and strengthening of peace is closely related to the achievement of social justice.  It deplores the existence of conflicts that continue to take the lives of many and to blight those of workers and their families.

We will work with unions and civil society in all conflict zones and we will begin by stepping up our pressure for peace for Palestine and Israeli workers by taking a mission to Palestine as soon as possible.

You know, I am a warrior for woman and we still have work to ensure the inclusion of women in the workplace and in our unions. The struggles for women are multiple – too often within their families for independence, then in the workplace for rights and equal opportunity, in our unions for access and representation and then as union leaders. But the investment in and participation of women is not only a moral mandate it is an investment in democracy and a bulwark against fundamentalism and oppression. Organising woman is and must continue to be a priority for the ITUC.

I am an organiser and I have spent many, many years organising workers, campaigning with, bargaining on behalf of workers for their rights and for improvements to their working lives.

I grew up in a family with a history in labour struggles in Australia and I am extraordinarily lucky to be supported by my husband Peter and my two children and their partners, all who share our values and passion for rights, equality and social justice.

There is no greater a privilege than to work for and with working people and union men and women who choose to stand up every day in the quest for rights, freedom and justice. These are people, you are the people I am proud to work with.

Let me pay tribute to Guy Ryder. You have already acknowledged him as a great union leader. His vision, tenacity and sheer hard work has resulted in the magnificent unity and strength of purpose we have felt this week. But he has done so much more – zones of conflict, trade unionists in trouble, government advocacy, the G20, the UN, the IMF and World Bank, Global Union Federations, mobilisations, training and development plans – Guy has been there guiding, supporting and representing us.

Wise, gracious, passionate about justice – this man has our undying gratitude but also our heart. I can tell you, we are not losing him, but rather, gaining his leadership as the Deputy Director General of the ILO. This is a great honour for Guy but indeed for us as well.

To Mamamata Cisse, a proud trade union woman we say thank you, for your dedication, your sisterhood, and your proud advocacy of trade union work. Again we are pleased to continue to have your support as an ILO official in Africa.

Colleagues, we must never forget those who have paid the ultimate price and given their lives for the ambitions we share and indeed we will not give up on those incarcerated for their place in trade union, peace and democratic struggles.

Corporate greed has no place in global justice. Oppression of workers and their unions has no place in national or global governance. Indeed, the right to work, decent work, is a fundamental human right and freedom of association, organising and collective bargaining are the rights that underpin and tools to drive a fairer globalisation.

Now the people . . . from crisis to global justice. This is not only our Congress theme, this is our work.

Solidarity.
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