Vol. III, Bulletin No. 3. February 9, 1998
Strong Message to Elite at World Economic Forum in Davos:
Globalization Badly Needs RemodelingEvery year now for 28 years, "the people who run the world" (as the Economist has described them) have converged on the Alpine ski resort of Davos, Switzerland, to talk about international economic issues. Until 1996, you never found any trade union leaders at this annual event, called the World Economic Forum. This year seven of them, a record number, were there, among some 2,000 high-ranking politicians, business executives, and academics.
The openness to labor participation, though only a token numerically, was a sign of growing doubts about the health of today's rapid globalization, which is based largely on the conventional model of unbridled cross-border movements of capital and goods. No less a figure than billionaire investor/speculator George Soros voiced those doubts at Davos. So did President John Sweeney of the AFL-CIO.
Sweeney warned against the "stark contrasts" of the present global system--"untold wealth for the few and growing insecurity for the many,...laws that protect property and expose people,...liberated capital and repressed workers." He called for a "new era of reform: One that seeks not more deregulation, but greater accountability. Not further unleashing of speculative capital, but channeling of real investment. Not greater license for corporations but empowerment of workers and citizens."(The full text of Sweeney's analysis at Davos is available on the AFL-CIO's Web site. Check http://www.aflcio.org/publ/speech98/sp0131.htm.)
The other six union leaders who presented their views at Davos were:
(The ICFTU has developed a lengthy analysis of the Asian financial crisis and its social and political consequences, which can be accessed at the ICFTU's Website.)
- Marc Blondel, General Secretary of Force Ouvriere, France;
- President Dieter Schulte and Vice President Ursula Engelen-Kefer of the Deutcher Gewerkschaftsbund, Germany;
- John Monks, General Secretary of the Trades Union Congress, United Kingdom;
- Philip Jennings, General Secretary of the International Federation of Commercial, Clerical, Technical, and Professional Employees (FIET); and
- Bill Jordan, General Secretary of the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU).
Sorry: We Were Too Hasty
A Breakthrough That Still Hasn't Happened"Breakthrough For Workers on Mexican Border." That was the headline on a Bulletin report in December. It described what a union organizer called a "historic victory" in a struggle to let workers in a Tijuana plant choose an independent union to replace the one chosen by management. We said that, "unless sabotaged," the agreement with the plant's Korean owners to recognize the independent union "may serve as a precedent to improve conditions for 1,000,000 workers, mostly women," in factories along the border exporting to the United States. Well, even with the "unless sabotaged" hedge, the report was too optimistic.
The struggle for union recognition at the plant, which makes parts for Hyundai tractor trailers, is far from over, according to the Support Committee for Maquiladora Workers. One new tactic used by management: offering a wage increase of $1 a day to workers who name a government-controlled union as their representative. So far, the bribery hasn't worked, even though it would mean a big increase for workers making about $4 a day. For updates, check the Website of the Campaign for Labor Rights.
Protectionism and the Trade Union MovementIn his annual State of the Union address to Congress on January 27, President Clinton recommitted his administration to the integration of worker rights into international trade policies and practices. "I think we should seek to advance worker and environmental standards around the world," he said. "It should--I have made it abundantly clear that it should be part of our trade agenda...."
This is not a new goal for Clinton. He developed the case for it in a 1994 talk in Brussels. There he argued that U.S. trade with other countries should "ensure that their [governments'] policies benefit their workers." Expanding that point, he said: "If we're going to open our borders and trade more and invest more with developing nations, we want to know that their working people will receive some of the benefits and a fair share of the benefits of this trade and investment."His proposal was controversial then, even inside the administration, and it still is. This year, if Clinton vigorously pushes trade programs with a worker rights dimension, opponents will once again dredge up their standard objections. A major one is that, since labor unions are among the proponents of meaningful international labor standards, Clinton's embrace of such an initiative must be inspired by labor's "protectionism." Unions--so it is said--are pushing for worker rights abroad only as a way to oppose free trade. Such slanders, spread even by those who know better, poison public opinion because of widespread ignorance about labor history.
This year offers a good occasion to try to correct some of that ignorance. For it is just one hundred years ago that Samuel Gompers, President of the American Federation of Labor, laid out very clearly the American trade union commitment to improving the lot of working men and women worldwide. In his eloquent report to the December 1898 convention of the AFL, Gompers declared:
"We should endeavor by every means within our power to cultivate fraternal feeling and interest in the welfare of the wage-earners of all countries, to aid and encourage every movement calculated to materially, morally, and socially improve the conditions of the workers, no matter where they may be located...." [My emphasis.]That was long, long before the United States started running up a trade deficit with other countries. Was Gompers a protectionist? You bet he was. He devoted his life to protecting the rights of workers wherever they might be located.
Diary: Getting Wei Jingsheng's AutographI have a thick file on a modern hero, Wei Jingsheng. One yellowed clipping in it, from the New York Times of March 29, 1989--the 10th anniversary of his imprisonment--is headed "Democracy's Martyr, Unsung by the Democracies." Under a picture of him, bald and looking forlorn, at his 1979 trial, a caption says that "Mr. Wei has been largely forgotten in China as well as abroad."
This former Beijing electrician and intellectual powerhouse of China's democracy movement, exiled from China at the age of 47, received the coveted George Meany Human Rights award from the AFL-CIO executive council on January 29. On this occasion, as on others, he clearly identified himself as a worker crusading for the rights of working men and women in China.
"Your Chinese brothers and sisters respect you [for your defense of worker rights]," Wei told the AFL-CIO leaders, "and have begun to learn from you. Following your example, they have begun to unite together to struggle for and protect the rights and interests of workers. They have struggled for many years, and they will continue to fight until the day when China's oppressors and exploiters cannot help but give in."Arguing for international labor solidarity with the cause of China's workers, he warned: "Don't listen to those politicians elaborate lies that sell out your Chinese brothers and sisters, because you are really selling yourselves out....We workers can only hold on to our rights and interests by protecting the rights and interests for all of us."
A few days later, at a dinner in Wei's honor, I shook hands with him, and in a conversation abbreviated by the absence of an interpreter, I showed him some mementos. One was an article of mine, "Who Is Wei Jingsheng?", which appeared in Commonweal magazine two years ago. Another was a color print of a logo that one of my sons, Thuy Senser, made for me. It's shown above.
I had asked Thuy to sign his print, but he said: "No, get Wei to sign it." And Wei did autograph it, in Chinese characters. I will frame it, perhaps with a picture that a press photographer took at a demonstration on Capitol Hill five or six years ago. It shows me carrying a sign with Wei's picture and the demand (in English and Chinese): "FREE Wei Jingsheng." Next to me, my friend and former colleague, Mark Hankin, was carrying a sign saying "FREE Han Dongfang."
Human Rights for Workers: Bulletin No. III-3, February 9, 1998
Robert A. Senser, editor
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