International Conference of Trade Unions Against Globalisation and Neoliberalisation of Economy Gearing up for Globalised Resistance to Globalised Capital
(The following article was published in "The Guardian", newspaper of the Communist Party of Australia in its issue of Wednesday, October 1st, 1997. Contact address: 65 Campbell Street, Surry Hills. Sydney. 2010 Australia. Fax: (612) 9281 5795. Email Subscription rates on request) Website ****************************** By Manini Chatterjee In the last few years, in the name of "globalisation", there has been an unprecedented assault on the working and living conditions of the people, not just in the third world but in all countries across the globe. While the impact of the policies of liberalisation and globalisation has been the most acute in developing nations, the working people in the advanced capitalist countries too have been adversely affected. The aim of the so-called globalisation is to erode national sovereignty and state control and create a world market for the goods produced by a handful of powerful multinational corporations (MNCs). Aided by multilateral institutions and governments, most notably the United States, the MNCs are on a rampage across the globe in search of more and more profits. International financial institutions -- the trinity of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), World Bank and World Trade Organisation (WTO) -- have become the operating agencies of globalisation launched by imperialism. In the process, the state sector in country after country is being dismantled, millions are being thrown out of jobs, social welfare benefits are being slashed, and inequality within and between countries is getting intensified. But the resistance is also growing. The massive offensive of "globalised" capital is being resisted by the working class and the people in different parts of the world as was evident from the huge strikes in France and South Korea, apart from more localised resistance in nations both in the advanced capitalist and developing world. Given the global reach and assault of capital, working class organisations have increasingly felt the need to coordinate their own actions. In order to meet and resist the depredations of imperialism, it is necessary to launch not just country-wide struggles but also continent-wide and world-wide resistance. Efforts in this direction have begun. There have been joint meetings and demonstrations by European trade unions, trade unions in the Asia-Oceania region have been meeting regularly, and Latin American unions have also been conferring among themselves. A major fillip to the efforts at evolving a world-wide working class perspective and resistance was given at the recently held International Conference of Trade Unions Against Globalisation and Neoliberlisation of Economy. The conference was held in Havana from August 6 to 8, 1997, and hosted by the Central Trade Union of Cuba. The Centre for Indian Trade Unions (CITU) sent a 15-member delegation to attend the conference, headed by CITU General Secretary MK Pandhe. CITU leader and General Secretary of the All India State Government Employees' Federation (AISGEF) SUKOMAL SEN was a member of the delegation. In an interview with the India News Network, he discussed the highlights of this conference. Q: What is the significance of the international conference of trade unions held in Cuba? Sukomal Sen: The significance is that this was the first time an international conference against globalisation and neoliberalisation was held on such a big scale by most of the important trade unions of the world. All the Latin American trade unions, including the Caribbean ones, joined the conference. >From the United States about 60 delegates from different individual trade unions attended. Similarly, from the UK, though the central Trade Union Congress (TUC) did not participate, around 50 delegates came, some of whom were from TUC affiliates. >From Brazil, besides the World Federation of Trade Unions (WFTU) affiliate, the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU) affiliate also joined with a huge delegation. Likewise, trade union delegations form Mexico and Canada also joined in big numbers. Among European nations, France, Germany, Spain, Portugal, Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium, Greece, Turkey, Ireland, Denmark and a few others sent their delegates. >From Africa, besides South Africa's COSATU, some other African countries were represented. Several Australian trade unions, some of them affiliated to ICFTU, took part in the conference. Apart from India, Asian countries such as Bangladesh, Syria, Palestine, China and Vietnam participated. Q: What was the total number of trade unions and delegates? Sen: About 132 trade unions from 61 countries, with the total number of delegates exceeding 1,200 participated in the conference. A very good number of them were women. A presidium consisting of leaders of various trade unions alternately presided over the conference. Comrade Pedro Ross, General Secretary of the Central Trade Union of Cuba and Polit Bureau member of the Communist Party of Cuba, was the chief of the presidium. More than 200 speakers took part in the discussion in the plenary session and the five commissions. Q: What were the topics addressed by the five commissions? Sen: The first commission focused on "actions against the nefarious impact of privatisation policies". The second discussed "the influence of globalisation and neo- liberal policies on employment, underemployment and poverty; actions by the trade union movement against these policies and their impact". The third was on "actions directed against the policy of privatisation and cut-backs in social security, and the deterioration of health and educational services". The fourth commission discussed actions "to eradicate the discriminatory treatment against women and migrants and the use of child labour". The fifth concentrated on "trade union pronouncements and actions vis a vis world unipolarity and the loss of sovereignty and independence of countries". Q: What were the main conclusions of the conference? Sen: It was significant that more than 200 speakers participated and all of them spoke bitterly against the effects of globalisation. In every part of the world, whether in the western countries or in the third world countries, globalisation has led to wage cuts, retrenchments, contracting and casualisation of labour. Social Security measures have been drastically curtailed. Globalisation was termed by all the delegates as the rule of the multinationals at the dictate of the IMF and World Bank. The main resolution adopted at the conference defined the neo- liberal globalisation as a new stage of capitalism -- characterised by economic concentration in the hands of MNCs which are in their search for competitiveness and cost effectiveness, trying to cut back by all possible means the cost of labour. The resolution further noted that this strategy, supported by the most powerful states and international institutions such as the IMF, World Bank and WTO, is based on concentrated economic growth which entails a social cost both for the South and the North and has a more serious impact on the conditions of inequality and exclusion affecting the poor countries. The resolution also underlined that the concentration and globalisation of capital is the main cause for the worsening of unemployment, poverty, marginalisation and social disintegration in the world, particularly in the underdeveloped countries which further prevents accelerated technological transformations from fostering greater welfare of the masses of the people in the advanced countries and the development of poor nations. Q: Apart form denouncing the present situation, what were the concrete measures that the conference discussed to resist and combat the globalisation offensive? Sen: The conference emphatically asserted that all- out efforts should be made for a co-ordinated struggle at the global level, uniting all sections of the working class against this menace of globalisation and the attacks of the MNCs. It was decided to continue to hold international meetings of this kind where practical measures would be discussed to confront neo- liberalism and globalisation. In concrete terms, a decision was taken to observe May 1, 1998, in all countries of the world as the day for world-wide struggle against globalisation. To continue this world-wide struggle, it was decided that the co- sponsoring committee should continue to exist in order to guide this struggle. It was also decided that the next international conference against globalisation will be held in Brazil some time in the year 1999. Q: Can you tell us a little about the participants at this conference? Sen: Among the noted participants was the leadership of the WFTU led by Alexander Zharikov. He lent full support on behalf of the WFTU to the effort made by the Cuban trade union to coordinate the struggle against globalisation and promised active support and participation by WFTU delegates all over the world. The inaugural speech was delivered by Dr Osvaldo Martinez, member of the Cuban National Assembly of People's Power and director of the Centre for Research on World Economy. He gave graphic details of the real impact of neo-liberal globalisation. He pointed out that of the 5.6 billion people that inhabit the earth, around 2.8 billion make up the economically active or working population. Of them, 1.14 billion (41 per cent of the economically active population) are unemployed or underemployed throughout the world. Of the 5.6 billion people, 1.5 billion live in extreme poverty and 800 million go hungry every day. He pointed out that neo-liberal globalisation has "globalised exclusion, exploitation and social malaise" and called for "globalised resistance". In words that set the tone for the conference, he said since the present system operates at a higher level of internationalisation and even transnationalisation, "our response requires a high level of coordination and international unity around a minimum programme of action against neo-liberal globalisation". Q: What was the experience of the socialist countries? Sen: The representatives of the General Confederation of Labour of Vietnam, in the course of their intervention in the conference, narrated the effects of the operation of MNCs in their country. The report pointed out the exploitative nature of MNCs -- to the extent of denying service security to the workers and the right to take part in trade union activities, and also denying a decent wage and resorting to casualisation and extremely temporary character of the labour force. Later, Comrade Nguyen Van Tu, President of the General Confederation of Labour and the recently elected President of WFTU, during a private conversation with me, said they were inviting MNCs to their country with a very sorrowful heart. They require MNCs for capital investment and technological help but their operations in Vietnam have also a number of very harmful effects. Q: What about the situation in Cuba? Sen: At the conference, it was evident that there was tremendous support for the Cuban cause and condemnation of the US blockade. Latin American countries in particular came out in solid support of Cuba and its heroic struggle against US imperialism. A resolution expressing solidarity with the Cuban people was also adopted at the conference. A striking aspect this time was the overpowering memories of Che Guevera. The 30th anniversary of Che's martyrdom, which falls in October this year, has evoked a great deal of passion. Che is looked upon as the leader not just of Cuba but of all Latin America and is a source of inspiration for all those fighting against the direct and indirect onslaught of imperialism in that region. Q: What is the state of Cuba's economy now that MNCs are entering the country? Sen: As is well known, the collapse of the Soviet Union and East European socialist countries dealt a severe blow to the Cuban economy. Taking 1989 as the base year, by 1993 the Cuban economy had suffered a loss of 37 per cent of wealth and income. But Cuba has shown that a country, determined to protect its socialist gains and not surrender to imperialist dictates, can survive -- and survive with honour. Since 1993, the Cuban economy has taken a turn towards making up for the loss. In 1995 it registered a growth of two per cent, nine per cent in 1996, and they anticipate a growth of 4.5 per cent in 1997, taking 1993 as the base year. So far as the operation of MNCs is concerned, Cuba has now embarked on joint ventures with foreign multinationals, with the maximum equity for the foreign investors at 40 per cent. There are other restrictions also in force -- labour has to be recruited through the government agency; wage rates and other facilities in the joint ventures have been fixed at levels higher than that available in Cuba's government-run industries. The foreign investors have to abide by Cuban labour laws in so far as security of service, social security benefits, etc, are concerned. Q: What is the extent of foreign investment in Cuba? Sen: Foreign investment is coming mostly into hotels and other aspects of the tourism industry. Total foreign investment stands at only three per cent of the economy, with Spain topping the list. Even so they try to pressurise the Cuban Government to change its economic system, which the Cuban Government is, of course, firmly resisting. Q: What do you think has been the overall impact of the Havana conference? Sen: Overall, the international trade union conference in Cuba has been highly inspiring as the biggest international trade union gathering against the latest and most cruel onslaught of imperialism; it also gave a definite direction for a global resistance by the working class of all lands. ********************** Acknowledgements to "People's Democracy" paper of Communist Party of India (Marxist).