(Durban 04.04.2000 - Juhani Artto) "Governments and business accept what we never will: extravagance and misery growing side by side, the growth of trade breeding the growth of injustice. Enormous wealth accumulating in the hands of a very few and growing poverty and desperation for the many. Their indifference is globalisation's greatest crime, because the resources exist to eradicate poverty from the face of the earth", ICFTU General Secretary Bill Jordan said in his opening address to the 17th ICFTU Congress in Durban, South Africa.
Without doubt, this tone will endure to the very end of the Congress, which finishes at noon on Friday.
The diverse meeting of 1,200 delegates, representing 125 million organised workers in 145 countries, has no difficulties in outlining the changes which it wants to bring about in the world or identifying those responsible for the misery and growing injustice. The problem is how to achieve these common goals or even a tiny part of them in the coming years.
When seeking effective answers, the delegates also have to turn their critical eyes on the trade union movement itself. The results will be approved in the Millennium Review document, in which the ICFTU charts the entire movement's future priorities, strategies and structures. The Executive Board will be given one and a half years to develop the document into concrete conclusions regarding the changes necessary in the movement itself.
"We are seeking ways to reinforce the movement's internal cooperation and to broaden our alliances with other social movements. Changes in the business and working worlds mean that in the trade union movement we cannot go on with structures which are tightly bound up with the traditional old world division of industries and labour", says Maj-Len Remahl, First Vice-President of the newly formed trade secretariat UNI and President of the Finnish Commercial Workers Union.
Zimbabweans challenge the power
When considering how to develop trade union structures, two key ideas are unavoidable: networking and information technology. They are the most interesting new slogans and practices which UNI has employed from its very inception in January.
More key ideas will be involved in the process whereby all organisations of the huge ICFTU family, many of them having a support function as education centres, will be studied thoroughly.
"It is a fine thing that the Congress is held in South Africa, as this is one country where in recent years the trade union movement has been able to achieve remarkable victories. Our South African colleagues have proved that with lots of strength the desired political and social change is possible", Remahl says.
In the neighbouring country of Zimbabwe, the trade union movement plays a central role in the movement now challenging Robert Mugabe's 20 year period in power which long ago sank into ineffectiveness, corruption and a denial of democracy.
"The trade union movement is the only organisation that can safeguard peace in Zimbabwe", says Zimbabwe's Central Trade Union General Secretary Isidore Manhando Zindoga.
In Durban, he expects to find more international support for ZCTU, which represents more than half a million workers and salaried employees out of 1.5 million employees in the formal sector.
Fruitful Finnish-Zimbabwean cooperation
For the Finnish trade unions, the growing strength of the Zimbabweans is welcome news. The Finnish Commercial Workers Union began close cooperation with their Zimbabwean colleagues in the late 1980s. The Finns have assisted in developing trade union education and have financed construction of a sorely needed training centre. In addition, a new trade union building is under construction in Harare.
The Finnish Graphical Workers Union has co-financed a trade union magazine in Zimbabwe, which has made the voice of organised workers more audible. In a country with strict and undemocratic control of dissident opinions, the magazine has enjoyed an expanding readership.
Hannu Ohvo, Director of the Trade Union Solidarity Centre of Finland (SASK), emphasises that the Finnish trade unions regard development cooperation as a strategic part of their activity.
"Development cooperation grew out of our solidarity principle, but with the advance of globalisation we increasingly realise that working conditions in any part of the world have an impact on the framework within which the movement fights for decent working conditions in Finland", Ohvo says.
Last year SASK and its sister organisations in the other Nordic countries and the Netherlands approved common guidelines for their projects in the developing countries. The document includes political goals, administrative procedures and, Hannu Ohvo stresses, a chapter on strategic planning.
The trade union education provided in development cooperation projects must be a well considered, integrated element of the partner's strategy.
"We monitor our own companies"
Over the last few years the Finnish trade union movement has begun to keep a closer watch on how multinational enterprises based in Finland, such as Nokia, Kone and several others, behave in other countries.
The first litmus test has already been administered with positive results. A few years ago one of the world's largest forest industry companies, UPM-Kymmene, partly tied up its future with the Singapore-based April, which bases most of its production in Indonesia.
SASK and the Finnish Paperworkers Union, along with NGO activists, intevened actively in the affair. UPM-Kymmene leaders subsequently had to admit that they had not done their homework properly before signing business contracts with April.
Since the beginning of this UPM-Kymmene-April affair, the state of things in Indonesia has changed radically: Suharto is out, cooperation between the two companies has been reduced to a jointly-owned paper mill in China, Indonesia's independent central trade union leader Muchtar Pakpahan has been freed and his organisation SBSI has been so successful in organising April's pulp and paper workers at the Riau mill in Sumatra that the local branch has concluded a collective agreement with April.
Hannu Ohvo notes that there are now more Finland-based multinationals willing to listen to the trade union point of view. All parties can only benefit from this kind of cooperation, aside from those whom ICFTU General Secretary Bill Jordan defined today in Durban as being guilty of globalisation's greatest crime: the indifference of governments and business to misery and growing injustice in the world.
According to Hannu Ohvo: "We are monitoring our own companies. As trade union leaders and officials, this is our responsibility towards both our own rank-and-file and towards workers in other countries."