MAY 1 – UNI Global Union, hope and resilience against cynical attacks

Message from the UNI GS:

MAY 1 –  UNI Global Union, hope and resilience against cynical attacks

Martin Luther King’s message that we are faced with the ‘urgency of now’ has never resonated more loudly through the global trade union movement than today.

Today hundreds of thousands of proud trade unionists will be on the streets of our cities around the world calling for decent work, built on the foundation of freedom of association and collective bargaining. These basic principles of fairness, that are built into our DNA, apply equally to gig economy companies such as Uber, Amazon, Deliveroo, and Tesla who seek to deny their responsibilities as employers, cheat their employees and leave tax payers to ultimately foot the bill. These digital bullies should not underestimate us. As Gandhi said ‘first they ignore, you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you and then you win.’ We do not doubt ourselves or our values, we will win for working people.

The UNI Global Union family is proud of its winning mentality and its can-do spirit. To paraphrase, George Bernard Shaw, we do not ask why something is too difficult, rather we dream and ask why not. UNI is the ‘why not’ global union. After the tragedy of Rana Plaza in 2013, which marked its 4th anniversary, last week, we did not hide our head in the sand and say the task of changing the supply chain of the Bangladesh garment industry was impossible. We asked ‘Why Not’, rolled our sleeves up and in partnership with IndustriALL and a group of NGOs convinced and cajoled brands to sign up to the Bangladesh Accord. Four years, compensation paid and more than 1500 factory inspections later, we have created a blueprint for how to change a global supply chain. Over two hundred brands have now committed to the legally binding Accord and we are proud that not one life has been lost in the factories covered by the Accord’s health and safety inspectors. Neither are we complacent, far from it, we are seeking to extend the Accord past its original five-year life span. We ask ‘Why Not’ and move ahead fully committed. Many have been involved in making the Accord a success but I would like to pay special tribute to Alke Boessiger, current Head of UNI ICTS, former head of UNI Commerce, and UNI’s Deputy General Secretary Christy Hoffman, who emboldened by the ‘Why Not’ spirit, were UNI’s driving force behind the Accord.

Last week was another anniversary – two years on from the massive earthquake in Nepal which claimed more than 8000 lives. UNI affiliates rallied around and with their support and the courage of Rajendra Kumar Acharya and the UNI Liaison Council, we built a hundred houses for homeless survivors of the earthquake. Again, we did not give in to pessimism but asked ‘Why Not’.

UNI’s positive ethos has seen us run hundreds of organising trainings around the world, sign global agreements with giants such as Auchan and GeoPost, force others such as DHL to the table and continue to take the fight to the business elite who would control our fates. Our recent regional conferences in the Americas and Africa have reached new peaks of excellence in terms of content and emotion, especially in Colombia with the dawn of a new peace. Through our Future World of Work programme launched in Cape Town in 2014, we have become leading experts in the field where our opinion is sought by international organisations, governments and businesses, as they too seek to navigate their way in the Brave New Digital World.

We are standing strong for working people and wish to thank you, our affiliates for ‘making it happen’. You are the fuel in the UNI engine.  We do not underestimate the size of the task confronting us in these times of Trump, Brexit and a France playing with the fire of extremism. The trade union movement is under attack as never seen before by those with a vested interest in marginalizing us and taking our ground. We should be proud of these attacks because they illustrate we are more relevant and necessary than ever; we stand up not only for workers but democracy. Returning from Oslo last week and a visit to the Nobel Peace Centre, holding an exhibition on the Colombian peace process for which President Santos received the Nobel Peace Prize, I was alerted to yet another attack on a Colombian union leader. Our daily struggle for a world free from fear continues from Colombia, through Korea to Palestine.

We will win, not only because of our ‘Why Not’ spirit, but because we must, to ensure the Future World of Work is a place of inclusivity not the playground of Trump and his billionaires’ club. We do not accept a world where eight people own the wealth of half the planet’s population and where a third earn less than $2 a day, and where 168 million children are in forced labour. There is sufficient wealth in the world, but inequality is weighing down on humanity. Our message is that we must continue to Break Through and find a path forward for the benefit of all humanity.

Last week was also a happier anniversary, the 50th anniversary of the Beatle’s album Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. John Lennon, that famous son of Liverpool, the city where we will hold our World Congress next year, said ‘life is what happens when you are making other plans’: we will make sure that we act as well as plan to become, as Gandhi put it, ‘the change we want to see in the world.’

Enjoy May 1st and once again thank you,

Philip Jennings