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December 08, 2004

Workers of the World Uniting

It's an irresistable title but even the business-oriented Financial Times has to sit up and take notice as historically parochial nationalist trade unions seek to integrate across global borders:

It will come as news to some employers - and a shock to some of the anti-globalisers - but trade unions are in favour of globalisation. Most of the world's trade union movements are meeting this week in Japan to discuss an epoch-making strategy called "Globalising Solidarity". By the end of this week, we may well have ended 50 years of division in world trade unionism, abandoned a creativity-stifling global bureaucracy and refocused our core business on campaigning and recruitment. . .

This week's world congress of the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU) could take the bold next step. The ICFTU is the largest trade union confederation in the world, with 250 affiliates in 152 countries representing 148m trade union members. It was created in 1949 at the start of the cold war but has been split since then. The breakaway communist-backed confederation formed at the time is fading. This week's congress may decide to merge the two remaining global organisations - the ICFTU itself and the World Confederation of Labour, originally a Christian body.

Such a merger would create a single free trade union movement around the world, from Australia to Zimbabwe, united by a common vision of social globalisation that works for people rather than the other way around.

Bureaucratic unity is only one step, but the nuts and bolts of multinational organizing is moving forward, against Wal-Mart, against mining conglomerates like Rio Tinto, and against global service companies like Sodexho.

You can't win fair wages in one country when workers in other countries are being exploited. The pressure to destroy unions in the first country will over time become too great. The oldest slogan of the union movement, An Injury to One is an Injury to All, has to have a global meaning for justice in the workplace to be won again anywhere.

Posted by Nathan at December 8, 2004 06:58 PM