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Shopsteward Volume 27: Special Bulletin

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Media Centre  |  COSATU Speeches

Address by William Lucy, Vice President, AFL-CIO to the COSATU 7th National Congress

20 September 2000

Brothers and sisters - COMRADES - it is my pleasure to come before you today.

I bring you greetings of Solidarity from the 1.3 million members of my union, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, the 17 million members of the Public Services International, the members and the leadership of the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists and, above all, the President John Sweeney and the 13 million members of the AFL-CIO.

We congratulate COSATU on your 7th National Congress and pledge our Solidarity as you address the challenges that face you, both domestically and internationally.

We congratulate COSATU and its affiliates for the struggle you are waging to build a new South Africa - a new South Africa from the dreadful legacy of apartheid.

COSATU, because of your determined struggle and your commitment and dedication to equality and justice, whether you choose to or not, you have become the symbol for workers who struggle for freedom and democracy all over the globe.

You continue to carry forth a struggle that is being waged while dramatic changes are occurring that threaten your hard won gains and challenge futures progress.

As we look to the future, in so many ways our future is intertwined with yours, globalization of the economy has forced labor, on a world-wide basis, to examine and re-examine our relationships on a world-wide basis. Growing inequality within nations and between them dictates that we work together .

Globalization as we know it is the direct result of the corporate offensive and the conservative movement that swept the world some 25 years ago, culminating when Thatcher of Britain, Kohl of Germany and Ronald Reagan of the United States came to power.

In our country for the past quarter century, corporations have waged an aggressive war against workers and their families, their families, their unions, the underemployed and the unemployed - shaping the global economy to fit their needs.

In this assault, corporations have been trying to free themselves from regulations and responsibilities to the unions, the workers and the countries which give them strength.

We are now learning that corporations in the international arena, through painful experience, that corporations in the international arena, thrive by the "divide and rule" theory. They divide workers against each other, city by city, country by country and region by region - driving wages and working standards down worldwide.

Reagan and Thatcher claimed that free markets would lead to greater growth - greater growth to less poverty and less poverty to more democracy.

With this illogical theory as their umbrella, corporations and banks responded by consolidating, Corporations and banks responded by consolidating -- fighting to dismantle controls on capital, deregulating companies and currencies.

During this corporate feeding frenzy of mergers, consolidations, leveraged buyouts and amalgamations, workers` pension and retirement funds by the billions of dollars disappeared .rat holes and into junk bond schemes.

These corporate highway men, with Reagan and Thatcher as their leaders, paraded boldly behind the mask of free trade. They attacked unions worldwide, they solidified their position by transforming the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, using crushing debt burdens to enhance their position by forcing emerging nations into competition for exports and a race to the bottom. This was "the Washington consensus".

Comrades, as trade unionists, we are clear that the"trickle-down" theory of economics that growth leads to greater income for already poor workers is a false conclusion based on a false assumption.

Worker organizations must be a part of the debate on global economics. From the suites of Davos to the streets of Seattle, Washington, D.C., and most recently in Sydney, Australia, there is a growing consensus in the labor and progressive movements that agrees globalization must reflect values that keep the freedom of capital and the rights of the corporation in check and accountable to their real owners - their “shareholders” and the “people”..

In Seattle - inside the meeting rooms - we heard developing country governments protest that their voices were not being heard and that they had been shut out of crucial decision-making processes.

They feared that the attempt to open the World Trade Organization (WTO) to include core worker rights would be used to indiscriminately shut them out of markets.

Developing nations must be made to understand that governments cannot exist independent of their people. And while they must speak for their government and business interest by virtue of policy, they must advocate and promote the interest. This position reflects an absence of logic and a lack of recognition by the governments of who it represents.

Developing nations must be made to understand that governments cannot exist independent of their people.

And while they will and do speak for business and government, by virtue of policy, they must advocate and promote the interests of their citizens and workers - by moral obligation. In Seattle -- on the streets -- a new spirit of social and economic consciousness - a new sense of a more inclusive partnerships -- driven by the labor movement, captured the imagination and the activism of politically committed individuals and socially conscious progressive organizations.

The voices of protest against the global economy and the processes of the WTO in Seattle included human rights supporters from Tibet, farmers from France, environmentalists from Latin America and trade unionists from across the globe, representing a growing coalition around the world.

Before Seattle, International Trade Secretariats (ITSs) - representing workers in public services, mining, chemical, metal trades and other sectors - began examining themselves, their structures, their practices and historical progress with a strategic eye.

Reviewing how and if they are prepared to confront the reality of globalization, with all of its implications for the workers we represent, national governments and civil societies.

Seattle was a turning point for the AFL-CIO. It dictated that we launch a worldwide campaign against corporate power and for Global Fairness. Working with our 13 million members and reaching out in solidarity to our brothers and sisters across the globe.

For American workers and workers world wide, their organizations in order to promote their interest must consider the following questions:

1. What is essential to begin reshaping the rules of this global economy?

2. What is needed to insure that this economy works for working families and protects people and not just property?

Comrade Blade Nzimande provided some insight on these questions in his speech yesterday.

These are difficult questions, and answering them requires new ideas and new initiatives.

It also urges us to share information and strategies.

For us, the key to balancing the power of corporations and the vitality of democracy lies in empowering workers, so we are redoubling our efforts to insure that universally recognized core worker rights are built into the rules of the global market.

We are insisting that core worker rights be part of all United States Government trade agreements, IMF and World Bank calculations, export subsidies and import preferences.

We are working to create conditions that developing nations are not forced into a race to the bottom - they must have the space to create their own paths to democracy and sustainable development.

We are working to increase commitment of the industrial nations to provide more aid to developing nations to provide more aid for health, education, and the environment. And we are pushing for corporations to be held accountable for their practices abroad.

We cannot allow the corporate practices that supported apartheid to flourish in other nations where workers and their families seek a better life, and remain silent both about its history and its predictable future for those workers. while working to improve the lives of working families, bring economic justice to the workplace and social justice to our country. The AFL-CIO is working with our affiliates to change the US labor movement.

Like COSATU, we are building a broad movement of workers by organizing.

We are creating a broad understanding of the need to organize among our members, our leadership and among unorganized workers.

We are helping our affiliates to provide a new voice for workers in changing local economies. We are transforming the role of the union from an organization that focuses primarily on a member`s contract - although enforcement of those legally-binding agreements are important - to one that gives workers a say in all the decisions that affect their working lives--from capital investments, to the quality of our products and services, to how we organize our work.

We are also changing the US labor movement by returning to our roots - creating a new voice for workers in their communities, building coalitions with progressive partners to move a social and economic justice agenda.

I want to communicate clearly that we are standing up to the challenge of acting nationally while working with you and other partners to create sufficient critical mass internationally to make global economic change and social justice a reality.

The ides for change advanced in these remarks are rather basic. Actually, they may be seen to be pedestrian - but these ideas are quite powerful. They are conceived with the power OF and FOR the people in mind.

The economic system which appears to control our lives needs our cooperation; it needs us to agree that things are the way they should be. It needs us to believe that we have no power over it.

If workers begin to act in ways that exhibit their principles and underscore their commitment to each other, we can alter the direction of this corporate-disciplined system. A few days ago, a colleague from the Sierra Leone Labour Congress said, "Trade unions must not be afraid to move their governments, when necessary. Governments must serve their people." We agree with that sentiment.

We must forge a new international economic policy with our international trade union partners. We must limit rampant competition among multinational corporations by influencing government accords containing international workers` rights. We must ensure that our environment - our water - our air - and land is preserved.

These are not abstract challenges, and the issues are not foreign to any of us.

They concern our basic values - what we will stand up for and what we will put up with, what we are prepared to fight for.

Remember Brothers and Sisters, there are two kinds of people in this world, “the powerful and the powerless.”

The powerful have things done for them.

The powerless have things done to them.

We must change this reality.

As President Madisha said while opening the Congress on Monday, “Labour must re-commit and re-educate itself to a new mission.”

We must continue to oppose what is, but we must also be willing to propose what can be.

We must work to ensure that developing countries are no longer crippled by unpayable debt burdens incurred by leaders for purposes unrelated to the well-being of their people.

We must work to ensure that developing countries have the resources they need to engage in trade negotiations on an equal footing as well as the technical support to implement and enforce labor and environmental standards.

As globalization is a reality, we must work to make sure that it lifts the poor from poverty; empowers the many rather than just the few and its benefits are shared widely.

In the weeks, months and years ahead, the AFL-CIO stands ready to work in Solidarity with COSATU in pursuit of common goals.

The answer to global capitalism is global unionism. — Thank you so much.