Vol. IV, Bulletin No.14. July 29, 1999
As Global Policy Project of United Nations Association of USA
Opening a Nation-Wide Dialogue on Worker Rights
Starting the Labor Day weekend and through the rest of the year, study panels in at least 25 states across the country will focus on worker rights in the global economy--the topic featured this year as the global policy project of the United Nations Association of the United States of America.
More than 76 of the Association's 175 chapters are expected to conduct some form of public dialogue on the subject this fall. They will make reports to the Association's national headquarters in New York City by January 15, 2000. Those reports will then serve as the basis of the Association's own report on worker rights in the global economy, to be released in late 2000.
As a starting point for local dialogues, the Association has prepared an 87-page booklet titled "Worker Rights in the Global Economy" by the project director, Elizabeth McKeon. Its four chapters cover a wide range of worker rights issues, winding up with the most controversial of all--"Linking Labor to Trade." Each chapter includes a series of three to ten questions designed to stimulate pro and con discussion.The Association's Website has more information on the project and the booklet at http://www.unausa.org/programs/gpp99.htm. (The site also has the full text of President Clinton's address to the International Labor Conference in June.) Elizabeth McKeon can be reached by emailing her at firstname.lastname@example.org.Struggling for Openness in World Trade Organization
President Clinton last year issued a challenge to the World Trade Organization. As part of a plan to "construct a modern WTO for the 21st century," he had this recommendation:"The WTO and the International Labor Organization should commit to work together to make certain that open trade does lift living standards and respects the core labor standards that are essential not only to worker rights but to human rights. I ask the two organizations' Secretariats to convene at a high level to discuss these issues."Clinton made those remarks at a Geneva ceremony commemorating a half century of the multilateral trading system, which grew from the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, founded in 1948, into the WTO, launched in 1995. In June this year, addressing the International Labor Conference in Geneva, he said:"We must do more to ensure that all our people are lifted by the global economy. As we prepare to launch a new global round of trade talks in Seattle in November, it is vital that the WTO and the ILO work together to advance that common goal."Nothing has come of Clinton's recommendation toward that end. One reason is that the WTO only on July 22 ended a year-long struggle over picking a new director general by appointing Mike Moore, a former trade minister of New Zealand, to a three-year term, to be followed by a three-year term for Supachai Panitchpakdi, Thailand's deputy prime minister and minister of commerce.
Getting to the Roots of the WTO's Hang-Up
But there's a more fundamental reason for the lack of WTO-ILO cooperation. Most people up and down the WTO hierarchy have a deep aversion to dealing with labor matters. They "look at labor as a contagious disease," as one U.S. official puts it.
The bureaucracies at the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, both heavy with economists, have also had occupational hang-ups about relating with the ILO, but under strong leadership, they are becoming more open. At least they are talking with and cooperating with the ILO. A major task of the WTO's new director general will be to instill greater openness among the trade lawyers who dominate the WTO bureaucracy.
More on the U.S.'s Seamy Labor Record
The labor practices of governmental and private employers in the United States come under sharp criticism in a new report by the Brussels-based International Confederation of Free Trade Unions. The U.S. domestic record on worker rights is "shocking," says ICFTU General Secretary Bill Jordan.
Published on July 14 to coincide with the release of the World Trade Organization's review of U.S. trade policy, the 15-page report details extensive violations of the ILO's core labor standards.
"While in theory U.S. law provides for workers to have freedom of association," the report states, "the right to join trade unions is in practice denied to large segments of the American workforce in both the public and private sectors." Here are a few of the specifics supporting a charge of a "high level of corporate lawlessness in respect to labor law":
The report also faults the United States for its lousy record of ratifying only one of the seven core labor standards of the International Labor Organization, and that is Convention 105 on the Abolition of Forced Labor.
- At least one in 10 union supporters campaigning to form a union is illegally fired.
- Employees who support trade unions are identified and often isolated from other workers.
- Many employers engage consultants, detectives, and security firms to assist in anti-union campaigns.
- Legal procedures to enforce the law take much too long. The National Labor Relations Board takes an average of 557 days to resolve a case. It took 19 years for 62 workers to get financial compensation for being illegally fired for union activity.
(The full text of the report "Internationally-Recognized Core Labor Standards in the U.S." is available at http://www.icftu.org/english/els/escl99wtousa.html.)
The failure to ratify crucial ILO conventions obviously undermines American credibility, especially when its representatives promote worker rights in the ILO, the WTO, and other international agencies. But is the U.S. guilty of hypocrisy? That's not a new question, and I've addressed it before in a June 1998 bulletin with the lead article titled "U.S.'s Seamy Labor Record Exposed" at biii-12.htm.
Globalization and Its Discontents
"At the level of people, the system is not working." This indictment comes not from some carping radical but from the president of the World Bank, James D. Wolfenson, formerly an investment banker in his native Australia and then in New York City.
Wolfenson spoke early this year at a meeting of the Trilateral Commission in Washington. He deplored the lack of interest among policymakers in building a sound social structure to underpin an effective and fair global financial and trading system. "You hear talk about a new financial order," he said, "but you don't hear a word about people. You don't hear about the underlying social structure that has to be developed."
UNDP Urges Review of Globalization's Rules
The new Human Development Report talks a lot about people and the widening inequalities in the global economy. It points out that, at one end, the world's three leading billionnaires--Microsoft's Bill Gates, the Sultan of Brunei, and the Walton family that owns Wal-Mart--had as of 1998 amassed at least $235 billion in assets, which is more than the total GNP of 43 of the poorest countries. At the other end, more than 1.3 billion people in the developing world eke out a living at less than a dollar a day.
The report, issued annually by the United Nations Development Program, urges that the "rules of globalization" be rewritten so that international markets work "for people rather than profits." As one of its recommendations, it states that an international task force, comprised of representatives from governments and the private sector, should be established to review the present system of global governance.
(For an overview of the 262-page report, read "A Human Face for Globalization" on the UNDP's Website at http://www.undp.org/hdro/E1.html.)
Monitoring China as It Really Is
The essence of totalitarianism, Jacek Kuron of Poland once said, is a monopoly of organizational power "so total that if citizens gather freely and discuss freely a matter as simple as roof repairs on a block of flats, that constitutes a challenge to the central authority." By that practical standard, the People's Republic of China remains close to totalitarianism, as is illustrated by how fiercely China's central authority has reacted to a loosely organized Buddhist movement in which its citizens gather freely to gain spiritual energy through taking physical exercises together.
One American who understands the essence of totalitarianism is a Congressional aide, Al Santoli, who in his spare time edits a weekly report called "China Reform Monitor," available by email or via the Website of the American Foreign Policy Council at http://www.afpc.org. His reports are almost always culled from the media, without his own comments. His July 26 Monitor, however, opens with this perceptive editor's note:The crackdown against the Falun Gong spiritual group--which since being founded seven years ago has rapidly grown to 70 to 100 million Chinese practitioners--and [China's] threats of war against Taiwan over President Lee Teng-hui's views on "state-to-state" relations, expose the shaky grip of Communist leaders on the people of China. Falun Gong, which incorporates traditional Eastern practices derived from esoteric Buddhism, energy flow principles similar to acupuncture, and martial arts exercises, cannot be criticized as a foreign-imposed ideology.My own editor's note: Marxism as an ideology may be dead in China, as many say, but Marxism as a repressive system lingers on, its survival dependent in large part to sustenance from Americans and other foreigners.
More important, polls showing 80 percent of Taiwan's citizens supporting President Lee's position on democracy and independence and [the presence of] Falun Gong practitioners at all levels of mainland Chinese society--including within the government--indicate vast numbers of people on both sides of the Taiwan Strait are seeking personal, spiritual, and societal freedom.
Human Rights for Workers: Bulletin No. IV-14, July 29, 1999
Robert A. Senser, editor
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