Thursday, November 02, 2006

International trade unionism in a globalised world

A new worldwide trade union conglomerate is currently holding its founding convention in Vienna. It takes in 306 national unions in 154 countries and represents 168m workers. Yet press coverage, at least in Britain, has been minimal.

How should we evaluate this development? On the plus side, the International Trade Union Confederation marks a partial overcoming of the cold war split in the world labour movement.

The International Confederation of Free Trade Unions - logo above left - and the Christian-based World Confederation of Labour have formally dissolved themselves into ITUC.

France’s communist-aligned CGT is also affiliating. So is AFL-CIO from the US, not for nothing previously dubbed the ‘AFL-CIA’.

But the once Moscow-controlled World Federation of Trade Unions remains on the outside.

If unity really is strength, this is – up to a point – good news. I have long argued that cross-border trade unionism is the way forward in these days of globalisation, and am glad to see the first British union go down that road.

Numast, the British shipping officers’ union, is likely to merge with its Dutch counterpart in the next year or two.

But I have been to some of these conferences, and in my experience, there is a certain element of union leaders jockeying for committee positions while the other delegates enjoy a five-star hotel junket.

Indeed, some more leftwing union officials themselves share these concerns. A Brazilian in Vienna for the ITUC shindig told the Financial Times today: ‘The international union has drifted too far from its labour roots. It does not really stand up for workers, especially in developing countries, against capitalism.’

Spot on, comrade.

PS: The launch of ITUC has been welcomed by the president of the International Labour Organisation. His name? LeRoy Trotman. Brilliant.

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