GLI International Seminar of Union Activists in Britain: “Labour Unions Must Wake Up Before It’s Too Late”

An international seminar of labour union activists from dozens of countries took place in Britain in early July, at the initiative of GLI –Global Labour Institute. The seminar focused on...

19496009232_fe1dbc174f_mAn international seminar of labour union activists from dozens of countries took place in Britain in early July, at the initiative of GLI –Global Labour Institute. The seminar focused on the need for critical discussion regarding the passivity and weakness of part of the global labour union movement, including the labour union’s obligation to participate in the constructing of an alternative to capitalism. Representative of WAC MAAN, Assaf Adiv, took part and reports below.

It is no common occurrence for someone high up in a huge, established system such as the global labour union movement, to challenge the concepts and habits by which the movement functions. A conference of heads of organizations and their activists, held in early July in England, was exceptional and unique exactly in this respect. The title of the seminar – “The political agenda of the International Trade Union momement” – expresses the great challenge that the organizers, headed by Dave Spooner, director of the Global Labour Institute in Manchester, took upon themselves. One-hundred labor union leaders and activists who attended the seminar discussed the vision of an alternative for the capitalist economic system, which sows inequality, social devastation, unemployment, wars, xenophobia, instability and periodic crises.

The Global Labour Institute that organized this seminar enabled an exchange of views for a group of men and women who normally lead labor unions in their countries and international federations. Most participants come “from the field” and are very well-versed in the reality of their home countries. (Thirty-two countries were represented. Sadly, the Arab world and North Africa were not represented.)

Among the participants, young British unionists were impressive in their commitment and seriousness. Others hailed from various European countries. Leaders and activists from China, Indonesia, Nepal, Pakistan, Nigeria, Uganda and other Third World countries expressed their nations’ aspiration for a life of dignity and economic security. In addition, there were quite a few experienced activists with prominent roles in national and international unions. However, unlike discussions at the official establishments, this seminar gave a stage and a voice to young elements and to a variety of voices, including some independent unions that have been created in recent years and that have chosen to act outside the established union federations.

If in the past international organizations of unionized labour would automatically side with the official unions without inquiring about the circumstances in which the new ‘outsider’ bodies were created, this seminar gave expression to the new independent syndicates, and showed egalitarian treatment. Such an attitude is a revolutionary change and sows hope. The willingness to enable new bodies a voice equal to that of the larger established unions reflected real – not just formal – willingness to confront the weakness of the left and of the world labour union movement, which have shown passivity, confusion and paralysis in recent years.

For the past three decades labour unions have continued to represent millions of workers worldwide, in spite of the almost uncontested dominance of neo-liberalism, and in spite of the bitter war that western governments—under right wing parties and often also under Social Democratic parties —have been waging against labour unions. In some parts of the union movement there were clear signs of new readiness to fight back and to implement deep and necessary reforms. However the overall picture is still of a union movement that is affiliated, directly or indirectly, with Social Democratic parties that have adopted neo-liberalism and joined in harming the working classes, whether actively or as silent accomplices.

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