The world needs a pay rise – and the best way unions can win that rise is to put women in the frontline, General-Secretary Sharan Burrow told delegates attending the International Trade Union Confederation World Congress here on Monday.
“The employment of women is the fastest way to drive growth and productivity,” she told the 1500 delegates in Berlin.
The clear underlying message from Sharan Burrow was that the blokes had better get out of the way – just bring up the rear – if unions were to win this latest fight.
“If women were in the workforce in equal numbers, GDP would increase markedly – 4% in France, 8% in Japan and 34% in Egypt. And the jobs needed in the care economy to support participation adds more jobs.
“So COUNT US IN – this Congress will mark our determination to support women’s rights and equality. The message from women is clear – count us into the workforce, count us into unions and count us into leadership.”
Throughout her speech Sharan Burrow referenced case studies of women in struggle in Greece, in Indonesia, in Spain.
Sea-change in union leadership
In the first days of the ITUC Congress the big sea-change in unions across the globe, with powerful new women at their heads, has constantly been remarked upon.
Apart from Sharan just two important examples are the new leaders at the British TUC – General-Secretary Frances O’Grady and the European TUCGeneral-Secretary Bernadette Ségol. Both O’Grady and Segol have taken up their positions following Burrow’s election to lead the world union body.
But the ITUC General-Secretary received most applause during her opening speech to the 3rd Congress in Berlin for her work in Qatar.
The campaign has really spotlighted the growing political influence of the ITUC on the world stage.
And the credit for this perceived new strength is largely being given to Sharan Burrow and her aggressive campaigning style.
Launching the latest stage of the Qatar campaign on Monday it was extraordinary to watch the wide range of mainstream media in attendance.The media has so obviously taken up the cause of the Qatar slaves that Sharan Burrow and the ITUC have so successfully spotlighted.
While the ITUC is supporting vital new Arab trade unions leading the fight to build democratic civil societies, there is plenty of evidence of the breakdown of democracy elsewhere.
“We are witnessing the breakdown in democracy and civil rights in countries like Turkey, Bangladesh, south Sudan and Korea, the escalation of conflict in Central Africa, in the Ukraine and more,” Sharan Burrow warned. “Peace and democracy must remain a focus for the ITUC.”
Part of the fight for peace and democracy must involve the economic fights at the centre of many union struggles. So Sharan Burrow called for renewed support to “take on the abusive corporate power and fight for minimum wages and social protection across borders in Asia and around the world.
“People want to strengthen international rules to make companies around the world provide better wage and labour conditions.”
‘Fight fire with fire’
Such a demand will inevitably lead the ITUC into a new fight with the World Bank who recently released a Doing Business Report.
Sharan Burrow labeled it as “nothing short of a big business scam to get countries to impose neo-liberalism on themselves. “Doing business is best they say where employment protections and rights are weak.
“Doing business in this context is a crime against humanity. Yet the World Bank, the IMF and sections of the UN defend and promote such ideas.
“So we aim to fight fire with fire,” Sharan Burrow explained as she launched a new ITUC Global Rights Index which exposes the worst places in the world for workers.
Concluding her speech Sharan Burrow told delegates that, yes, the system is stacked against working people.
“We can be proud of being the strongest democratic force on the planet – but we must do more. We must invest in union growth if we are to seriously take on the challenge to build workers’ power.
“We have the political power if we mobilise it. If we are organised and united we can change the world. We are the voice of opposition and we know we are the voice of progress.”
This article was written by Andrew Casey, Asia/Pacific Editor for LabourStart
It was first posted at http://workinglife.org.au/2014/05/20/women-to-the-fore-in-fight-for-economic-justice/