Helsinki (30.06.1999 - Juhani Artto) There was a brief moment of tension this morning at the 9th ETUC Congress when a Turkish trade union leader defended the death penalty given to Kurdish PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan. Before the Turkish speaker made this contribution, ETUC General Secretary Emilio Gabaglio had condemned yesterday's court decision. The Turkish speaker had to leave the floor without no applause whatsoever from over 600 delegates present. "Democracy has no need for death penalties" was the comment from the chair of the meeting.
The high point of the morning was the speech of the new ILO Director General Juan Somavia. "The benefits of the global economy are not reaching people around the world. The global economy does not pass a human decency test."
Somavia demanded a new socio-economic paradigm for the world. To solve people's problems, such as unemployment, various sectors of life must be globally integrated, just as the economy is integrating. Insofar as problems are handled in a segmented manner it is difficult to solve them, the former Chilean Allende government minister from the early 1970s argued.
The problems to be tackled are problems which are seen by people, he explained. Somavia referred to the banner in front of the podium: lack of jobs is the problem in Europe and is at the top of the ETUC Congress agenda. "Decent work" is the expression used by the ILO.
The "new ILO", which is undergoing a process of reform process under Somavia, largely agrees with the ETUC about the meaning of "decency" in this context: granting and defending the fundamental rights of workers, effective social protection and social dialogue between labour market partners, governments and international institutions.
Somavia reminded the delegates that the ILO is the only global institution working on the basis of the tripartite system. The ILO board includes 14 trade union, 14 employer organisation and 28 national government representatives. The same concept is commonplace in ETUC social dialogue at European level. Somavia envisaged a role for the ILO in globally integrating sectors which have so far been segmented.
In an interview for Trade Union News from Finland Somavia specified the measures needed to achieve new breakthroughs in the fight for individual rights and welfare. "The pressure for an architecture of human security is being felt all over the world. World leaders feel it, as do the leaders of the IMF, World Bank, World Trade Organisation and other international institutions. We have to work with all of these and make progress wherever possible."
Somavia emphasised the significance of future social development in Europe. He asked the delegates to imagine the positive global impact which success in defending the social character of the "European model" will have, and correspondingly the negative consequences of failure in this fight, in which the trade union movement is a crucial force.
Somavia began by thanking the European trade unions for their invaluable solidarity with Chilean workers during the difficult years of the Pinochet military government. He finished by promising all the assistance which he, as ILO Director General, can provide to ensure the security of trade union leaders. He referred to the deaths of hundreds of trade union leaders and activists in various parts of the world in recent years.
The rest of the day was reserved for the delegates to express their views and propose amendments to the General Resolution, which will approved tomorrow.
Maj-Len Rehmal, the new president of FIET and leader of the Finnish Union of Commercial Employees, spoke strongly about the need to increase international trade union organisation resources. She also proposed strengthening the movement internally. "This means strengthening cross-border cooperation between unions, creating enterprise networks, researching the economy and the future and increasing union education." As union power and membership have decreased in many parts of the world in the decade of globalisation, we should be concerned about how well the need to be more international has been understood within the trade union movement, Rehmal warned.
The issue of whether the European Union should be more federal was also, at least indirectly, part of the debate on the General Resolution. In her contribution Pirkko Oksa, President of the Finnish Textile Workers Union, defended the social security system of Finland and other Nordic countries. This system is based on public social security programmes, in contrast with Southern European systems which tend to be more family-centred. Discussions on harmonising the social sector within the European Union raises worries among Nordic trade unionists. The Nordic trade union movement has no wish to promote compromises which would undermine the present Nordic welfare model.