“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx
Dec 11, 2006
On November 1st, representatives of 360 unions from 150 countries met in Vienna to officially found the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC). It claims to have 190 million members worldwide.
The unions came together from the three different currents of international unions that have acted separately since 1947: Christian unions that are strong in Latin America but also in Quebec and in Europe; so-called “free unions,” like the AFL-CIO here and unions connected to the socialist parties in Europe; and finally, some unions formerly tied to the Communist Parties and the Russian bureaucracy like the General Confederation of Labor (CGT) in France or the All-Polish Alliance of Trade Unions (OPZZ).
In its declaration of aims, the ITUC says it wants to “fundamentally change globalization in order that it function in favor of workers, the unemployed and the poor.” This is a worthy goal. But there was only a vague proposal on how to win this. The ITUC will organize a “world day of action demanding immediate international action to formulate and put on the agenda a new globalization.”
Workers have a vital interest in uniting their forces across borders. The working class is one and the same class all over the world, and its defense and future can only be guaranteed by becoming conscious of its common interests. If the workers came together in an organization which really represented their interests, they would have the means to change their situation, and still more, to change this society based on generalized injustice! But this isn’t what the ITUC proposes, any more than do the union federations that make it up.
In each country, the leaders of the union federations show themselves more concerned about participating in the management of companies or governments, as they are, that is, dominated by the bosses, rather than in explaining to workers that they can reverse the relationship of forces, and calling on them to struggle. The union federations often accept concessions like wage and benefit cuts and accept changes in laws that worsen benefits and protections the workers have – if union officials are allowed to sit at the negotiating table with the bosses. Fundamentally, they agree that workers should sacrifice, contribute more out of their own pockets for benefits the companies used to pay for, and also accept reduced benefit levels. This has gone on a lot in the U.S., but the same thing is happening in all countries, with slight variations from place to place.
This new organization just piles on another bureaucratic layer in the unions. In addition to the different union bureaucracies in each country, there will now be a still higher level of bureaucracy. The national union federations already show themselves far removed from workers’ lives, concerns and interests. But with this new union federation, a small inner circle of international union leaders will meet more often with the heads of the multinational corporations and international bodies like the International Monetary Fund and the World Trade Organization, often staying at the same luxury hotels with them.
Nevertheless, workers definitely need international organizations, on a political level as much as on a union level. In order for an organization to be truly useful to workers, it needs to set a goal to organize workers to impose their demands on the capitalists who dominate the world.