(Durban 07.04.2000 - Juhani Artto) In the industrialised countries, statutory social security covers practically 100 per cent of the population. In sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, which together include almost one third of the world population, such coverage is estimated at five to ten per cent and falling. In other parts of the world the coverage lies somewhere between these two extremes and is mainly decreasing.

A recent report by the ILO indicated that half of the world's people are excluded from any type of statutory social security protection.

This is the social character of our world, where the number of people living on an income of less than one or two US dollars a day increased drastically in the 1990s.

At the same time the traditional third world extended family pattern of social protection is showing signs of rapid disintegration.

One more bitter fruit for the global majority is the neo-liberal drive to downsize the State, which in former times was viewed as responsible for basic social services in most parts of the world. To make matters worse there are multibillion foreign debts of the poor countries which, almost as a rule, mean governments spending more on debt servicing than on education and health.

For the victims of this new world order, hints at the corruption of third world power élites, bad governance and lack of democracy provide no relief. On the contrary, the have-nots suffer from such evils in their daily lives more than anybody else. The hints are repeated with growing vigour by the leaders of affluent States. While such criticism is justified and necessary, it is also long overdue, as for decades the Cold War sustained an eerie silence on the issue between the two major power blocks.

Stronger links with NGOs

This is the background explaining why delegates at the 17th ICFTU Congress are carrying resolutions condemning the present model of globalisation and seeking to find ways to escape from the appalling social crisis which has arisen.

Two basic approaches are available. Universal economic growth is one and redistribution of global wealth and incomes is the other. Both are needed and both will be used as soon as the trade union movement and other social movements struggling for justice and equality grow to sufficient strength.

This is the ICFTU remedy for the malaise. It explains why the Congress agenda includes the Millennium Review, which is supposed to reshape the global trade union movement into a more effective, productive, victorious force. It also explains why the Congress clearly understands the urgent need to build stronger links with other growing movements in civil society. This is why the Congress is seeking ways to expand the role of women and young people within the trade unions structure itself.

ILO General Secretary Juan Somavia promised a transfixed Congress audience a doubling of trade union membership, once both men and women are represented in a balanced way at all levels of the movement's governing bodies.

The challenge is huge: first to stop the brutally antisocial tendencies that undermine the legitimacy of the present globalisation model, and secondly to turn back the tide. These steps can be taken globally, provided that millions and millions of individual and collective efforts succeed.

There are signs that even the major agents of the present trends, the World Bank, the IMF, G-8 and the multinational corporations, are starting to formulate an idea of how negative developments elsewhere may also harm the beneficiaries of the present globalisation model.

Business community beginning to realise the positive impact of internationally organised labour?

Over the last two decades those defending a State role in even the most modest social security schemes have been on the defensive. In fact they, and the ICFTU, still are. When listening to the delegate complaining about the special hardships of their particular countries and reading through hundreds of pages of official Congress documents, it is easy to notice that even the Durban meeting makes no real effort to plan a campaign of attack leading to a State model that would deliver a better result than the present one.

This is well-reflected in the comments of Tuire Santamäki-Vuori, an economist who was recently elected Vice-President of the Finnish Municipal Workers Union.

"To a certain extent, the role of the State is on the table here", she says.

"The emphasis reminds us that social coherence cannot be guaranteed without minimum social protection and that the State must be its provider. Disintegrative tendencies also threaten to cloud business community perspectives, which is something an increasing number of individual business leaders are beginning to realise."

"This has given rise to a cautious positive interest in the trade unions among those who in the past saw no virtue in nationally and internationally organised labour. We may even have already reached some kind of turning point", Santamäki-Vuori observes.

"The Seattle experience must have been one of the eye-openers. There the tension between the industrialised and developing countries was very obvious. However, the wealthy countries show no signs of limiting the measures with which they protect their own positions."

An effort to make the ICFTU family more effective

One of the most important decisions, if not the most important of all, is the launching of the so-called Millennium Review. People at the ICFTU, ITS and those in other high-ranking positions are well aware of the fact that the scarce resources of the movement are not being used in the most effective way. The 17th Congress is launching a process which will openly scrutinise the structures and priorities of the entire ICFTU family.

While conclusions may drawn and even put into the practice at an earlier date, the ultimate deadline given for the process is the end of the year 2001.

On the table will be proposals for more rapid adoption of information technology, questions about organising workers in the huge and rapidly expanding informal sector of economic life, the issue of reshaping the gender and age divisions at all levels of the governing bodies and all of the ancillary questions that arise during the process. Everything but the values and policy line approved by the 17th Congress may be called into question. Overlapping work is one well-known, unnecessary problem. Then there is the question of priorities.

Asked by Trade Union News from Finland, Pekka Hynönen, the President of the Finnish Construction Workers Union, makes two points. Experiences of Internet utilisation have been very positive in his 100,000 member union. All of the union's offices in Finland are connected to the Internet.

"Even e-mail alone has revitalised our work considerably. The contact between our union and our ITS, the International Federation of Building and Wood Workers (IFBWW), has also become much closer. We can now react very quickly to emergencies anywhere in the world", Hynönen reports.

"Having the same technical resources in union offices around the world would tremendously revitalise our international movement."

Hynönen's other initial reaction to the Millennium Review is to give high marks to the IFBWW, in which he is a Deputy Member of the Executive Board.

"Two years ago the IFBWW signed a global agreement on a code of conduct with the Swedish furniture enterprise Ikea. This company, with its numerous subcontractors, is responsible for employing some 100,000 workers around the world. A few weeks ago a similar agreement was concluded with the German construction company Hoch-Tief."

"The IFBWW also functions well when coordinating and implementing trade union education and other projects in the developing countries and Eastern Europe," Hynönen says.

Expectations of the Millennium Review among the Finnish Congress delegates vary from slight scepticism to strongly expressed feelings.

"The Millennium Review process will start in Finland next week, when we get home", says Hannu Ohvo, Director of the Trade Union Solidarity Centre of Finland (SASK).