Speech delivered by ACTU and ITUC President Sharan Burrow for the Workers Group to the International Labor Organisation Summit on the Global Jobs Crisis (Geneva)

The world must change. The crisis was a disaster waiting to happen  The fault lines were obvious to all, but corporate greed and self interest co-opted not just the boardrooms but the political will of too many of our powerful governments.
The harsh reality is that we already had a crisis in too many nations driven by inequality, poverty, unemployment and global imbalances in trade and development – and the collapse of the financial system has deepened that devastation. A return to pre-crisis status quo will not satisfy the workers of the world.

We are angry and we need fundamental change. We are angry that;

  • Tens of millions of workers will lose their jobs and join those who are already unable to get work;
  • Some 200 million more people who will be forced into extreme poverty, joining the 1.4 billion of our sisters and bothers who are already desperately trying to live on less than $US2 a day;
  • Migrant workers are again being made scapegoats despite the economic and cultural richness they bring to their adopted countries and the solidarity of investment they contribute to their countries of origin through remittances;
  • Women are again the invisible victims of the erosion of work, often precarious in the first place;
  • The rights of our children and grandchildren to a secure job and a safe planet are at risk because of a history of a lack of political will to expose the corruption and the moral deficit of an economic system that was always set to end in tears.
  • They want – we all want – a better world where people, their jobs, their rights and their environment come first!

    President Lula [of Brazil] challenged the unions to organise, and indeed we cannot and will not sit back and watch the world paper over the cracks again. The anger of people around the world is more than understandable as more and more of the world’s people realise that their jobs, their houses, the value of their pension funds have been stripped away by a crisis caused by greed and incompetence in the financial sector.

    The message is loud and clear from the workers and their unions – the party is over! There can be no business as usual.

    But is heartening to know we are not alone.

    Unemployment is purely a social issue. It will only become a political issue when you begin to take action, when you start to take action, for it is unthinkable that we could end the twenty-first century in the same way that we ended the twentieth.

    These are not our words, they are the words of President Lula and he followed them with others we are also relieved to hear:

    These times call for a tougher attitude from employers, workers and governments. We cannot go on living with tax havens; we cannot live with a financial system that creates paper mountains of speculation without creating a single job, without manufacturing a single nail, a single shoe, a single shirt or a single tie. We cannot go on ignoring the fact that more than 1 billion people still face a struggle to eat at least once a day.

    Now is the time for us to draw up a new proposal which needs to be heard by the G20 leaders, heard within each country and heard by every political leader and included in debates in the UN General Assembly.

    Thank you President Lula for your wisdom and your courage and thank you for the single act of solidarity with our migrant brothers and sisters, defying xenophobia and raising the possibility of a common humanity by legalising all undocumented workers in Brazil. You embody a better world and you have our heart.

    The rampant free market must be buried – replaced with a regulatory environment that works, where global governance is serious and enabling of decent work and development. There must be strong role for government, for effective synergies between the state and the market, for universal social protection, quality public services, jobs, job security and workers’ rights.

    The transition to a low carbon future is imperative and trade must be based on a floor of rights and environmental standards with policy space to realise development and decent work – no more excuses, no more exploitation from trade imbalance.

    No longer is it just the workers saying this. President Sarkozy says:

    So it is up to me, the President of the French Republic, to ask you a question. Are we going to learn the lessons of history . . . can we afford to wait? Given the extreme poverty, hunger and degrading conditions throughout the world do we have the right to wait? In the face of the threat of global warming and the threat it poses to global stability and to the survival of part of humanity, do we have the right to wait?. . .  Have we not waited long enough to regulate globalisation, which alongside the wealth and abundance it creates also increases pockets of poverty and frustration?. . . There will be no more tolerance for conduct that fails to respect decent conditions . . . decent work . . . either we have reasonable protection or we will have protectionism.

    The workers stand ready to sign up to the President’s revolution that calls on the WTO to put their work to the standards test . . . a globalisation where the ILO, the WTO and the IMF along with the environmental authority post-Copenhagen can intervene in trade disputes where fundamental rights and standards are threatened.

    Policy coherence demands, decent work demands, that the WTO frames a sustainable global trade framework where exploitation and environmental destruction can no longer be justified.

    The Global Jobs Pact must sit at the heart of a new economic model. This was underscored by President Cristina Fernandez [of Argentina] who emphasised the need to have an economic model that is also a political model. She says that if the individual is at the heart of the economy, of society and of politics then work will continue to be the main source of wealth creation.

    [US Labor] Secretary Solis seconded these ambitions with her clear message that recovery equals jobs.
    The Global Jobs Pact must now be taken up at all levels, must set the benchmarks for the realisation of both decent work and development. It has been given support from governments all over the world and we now urge the multi-lateral system to adopt and act on the basis of solidarity to:

    1.    Respect the principles;

    2.    To pick up the principles as a moral compass for action;

    3.    To recognise the expertise of the ILO and the vital tools of International Labour Standards that can contribute to both crisis response and sustainable development;

    4.    To work with nations to develop and where necessary fund action to realise decent work and development;

    5.    To use the power of tri-partitism and multi-lateral solidarity to urgently:

    –    build  and fund a social protection floor for peoples of the poorest nations,
    –    respect and safeguard International Labour Standards, avoid wage deflation and formalise  the informal sector for sustainable recovery and growth,
    –    to work in partnership with all 50 LDC’s to support necessary fiscal and policy space to realise decent work and development.

    The world must look different after the crisis and our response, based on the Global Jobs Pact, must assist to realise the Millennium Development Goals, build a fair globalisation, a greener economy and development that ensures jobs, quality public services, respects workers’ rights, guarantees universal social protection and realises gender equality.

    It requires global action, global co-ordination and global solidarity.

    Congratulations are absolutely deserved by our Director-General, Juan Somavia – his vision in driving the Global Jobs Summit, encouraging our negotiations for a Global Jobs Pact and his emphasis that the strength of tri-partitism makes it possible to lead implementation of change is valued.

    Let me conclude with a quote from President Sarkozy and a challenge to him to work with unions and employers to walk the talk.

    There are two kinds of globalisation: one that favours external growth, which has by whatever means, to grab jobs and markets from others; and globalisation that favours domestic growth, that is a development model in which each produces more, consumes more and contributes more to the development of all.

    The first is a model which pushes competitiveness to the limit, resorting to all manner of dumping and having a total disregard of purchasing power and living conditions. The second is based on increasing productivity, raising living standards and in the final analysis, improving well-being.

    The first is conflictual. The second is based on co-operation. The first sets economic progress against social progress; the second, quite the opposite, binds them together. So what is at stake today is to ensure that globalisation from the first model to the second.

    We are angry, we are not so forgiving that we don’t believe those that those who unleashed toxic financial products onto the world should not be in jail. We are not that forgiving that we will not lift our efforts to pursue the right of collective bargaining to take back the value of productivity growth of workers that was ripped off by greedy employers in low wages and we are not forgiving of inequities and exclusion of too many people as a result of the Washington Consensus pushed by the Bretton Woods institutions and thoughtless political leader, but we will channel that anger into action, collaborative tri-partite and union action to realise this model of globalisation, fair globalisation based on decent work within the Framework of the ILO Social Justice Declaration.

    More information
    ILO Summit on the Global Jobs Crisis webpage
    Recovering from the crisis: A global jobs pact (PDF)