Sunday, March 22, 2015


An ITUC staged protest
The article on the website of the on-line paper 'Bussiness Standard' called “International trade unions need to be less combative,encourage more interaction with workers” is a mixture of gossip and some critical opinions, with the main goal to repudiate the ITUC, especially regarding its actions in the Gulf region. “For example, the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) has urged the United Nations to look into the plight of thousands of migrant workers in the United Arab Emirates, including those building a new Louvre Museum and the world's largest Guggenheim, reportedly and allegedly being treated as slave labour. Elsewhere, this trade union body has severely criticized Qatar for its failure to give more rights to the work force and appears relentless in its pursuit to help strip Qatar of its right to host the FIFA 2022 World Cup. They have ensured that the campaign is not only relentless, but also aggressive, and at times, questionable. It was recently pointed out in a news report that bodies like the ITUC have employed dubious means during their alleged investigation of workers' conditions.”

Strange enough, in the article there are no facts or data that prove that the ITUC reports on labor practices in the Gulf region are wrong. Instead, some spokesman are staged to criticize the ITUC. For example about corruption: A personnel stationed at the Swiss-based office of ITUC located in the ILO building in Geneva revealed on the condition of anonymity that, "in 2013/14, the ILO fired more than 600 employees in an effort to save costs. ITUC agreed not to lobby the ILO on this issue in return for maintaining its funding!"

In the article the observation is made that the ITUC focusses to much on the organized sectors (probably is meant the formal economic sector): “Mr. Krishnamoorthy, a former official with the ILO, who is now based in Bangalore, in a telephonic conversation, said trade unions needed to focus more on the unorganized rather than the organized sectors. He said he would like to see institutions like ITUC train their attention on what he called "the real deprived persons", and added that it was his view that such bodies currently represent just about seven to eight per cent of the work force.”

International AIDS Day 2011 in front of the International Trade Union House in Brussels, the ITUC headquarters.

Traditionally trade unions all over the world have always focussed on the formal contracted industrial worker. It is indeed time to change this focus because of the changes in the labour force world wide but this is not easy. This starts with the simple question 'how to organise workers who are informally working in the streets, in illegal sweatshops, in changing workplaces and so on? Even if you have the answer on these questions, it costs a lot of time to change the “traditional” trade union culture which is historically directed to what is generally called “the working class”? It is the same problem as for example changing the male dominated trade union culture in a more female friendly culture.

Another more severe critic is that the ITUC is becoming bureaucratic: “There are tendencies of some labor unions to become bureaucratic and for the union leaders and staff to become detached from the needs and interests of the rank and file union members. Interestingly, one of the ways ITUC is funded is through contribution by global affiliates. Spending money every year to have an organization like ITUC fighting for your piece of the pie needs to be justified. INTUC's Rajendra revealed: "We pay huge amounts of money as annual fees to ITUC. Sometimes, we even pay half-yearly. We hope we get much more in turn, in terms of training programs and skill development."

Picture taken at the ITUC University in the University of Kwazulu Natal.

This kind of critics you hear regularly within and outside the trade union and especially about international trade unions. It is indeed “a normal phenomenon” that large -umbrella- organisations like for example international trade union federations tend to go away from the rank and file members and become bureaucratic.
The only remedy is that the organisation is clearly structured from bottom to top and not top to bottom. This includes also a certain leadership culture, which means that they understand very well that the only legitimation for their positions and activities are the member trade unions (so not presidents, employers or other high placed persons) and that they morally and financially are accountable to these members.

However, leadership includes also having a vision and ideas about what should be done, what should be priorities and what not, what is relevant for the future and what not. That makes leadership more complicated than one might believe. Besides, leadership means also the capacity to take decisions in difficult circumstances and how to manage the budget?

What astonishes that there are no remarks made in the article about the lack of pluralism in the international trade union movement. It is well known in politics, in social life and also in the economic field that a lack of pluralism leads to monopolistic attitudes, to a culture of arrogance, to a certain kind of bureaucratic way of thinking and to a lack of dynamism and innovation. It makes even corruption more easier. Leaders can be “sold” by money or high (political) positions. That is the reason why open pluralistic democratic societies are more developed, have less corruption, more innovation and dynamics of change. And it is certain that what is true for societies, applies also to (international) trade unions. The people of “Bussiness Standard” should think about that.

No comments:

Post a Comment