Helsinki (07.05.2001 - Daryl Taylor) The Finnish Trade Union for the Municipal Sector - KTV has recently published a book sketching the new factors which the trade unions must grasp when fashioning their strategy in an era of globalisation. This 72-page publication provides a brief review of the key issues, providing basic facts and discussing their significance.
In his introduction to the book KTV President Jouni Riskilä states that its purpose is to encourage dialogue on globalisation and its consequences. He is fairly optimistic about the prospects for ordinary people to influence matters:
"I claim that the prospects for ordinary people to influence matters have even increased. This understanding is mainly based on the fact that there is nowadays a quite unprecedented amount of information on global affairs within reach of most people. The more easily large numbers of people may draw parallel conclusions from this and act together accordingly, the more this empowers them to influence the direction of progress.
This optimism also draws on the fact that even the most powerful multinational enterprises and other elements of international capital are not immune to pressure. People around the world can influence these forces in many roles: as employees, as consumers and as public activists.
The prospects for setting up global pressure movements on various issues are improved by the increasingly close links between the futures of people in the industrialised and developing countries. Over a longer perspective we can see the increasingly common interests of people in the North and in the South. This creates a basis for common action."
Jouni Riskilä reminds us that support for people in underdeveloped regions is no longer merely a matter of solidarity:
"When helping the people of developing countries, those in the affluent world also assist themselves. This is due to the increasingly close interdependency, both positive and negative, of various parts of the world.
Over the last few decades the mainstream of world economic development has adhered to a doctrine of neo-liberalism. This seeks to make people believe that increasing the freedom of movement of capital and enriching the wealthy offers the most effective way of improving the lot of the underprivileged. In practise, however, such a doctrine does not lead to universal welfare but rather exacerbates relations between various social groupings and nations and increases the agony and public restlessness of the worst off in society."
The threat is, Riskilä writes, of a "race for the bottom rung" that undermines the status of working people. Instead of that "we demand real progress towards equality."
"The alternative is a policy that defends the achievements of working people in the industrialised countries while strengthening the struggle for better working and living conditions in the third world. It includes the principles of common responsibility, democracy and equal respect for human dignity. Adequate provision of good quality public services provides one answer to these demands. This is a strategic principle of the Trade Union for the Municipal Sector - KTV and of the Finnish trade union movement as a whole."
The author of the book, the Finnish journalist Juhani Artto, persuades the trade union movement to enforce its role in the struggle for fairer rules of global trade and for greater development aid. He also points out that no other force than the trade union movement is in such a key position to exert a positive influence on the international distribution of labour. The following excerpt focuses on this aspect:
"An Initiative from the Trade Union
Movement for Global Job Redistribution?
The trade union movement calls for global implementation of core labour standards. It will resist "the race to the bottom" and insist on humane working conditions, but it will not rectify the imbalance in the international distribution of labour.
Is this even a function of the trade union movement? If it does not concern a trade union movement motivated by international solidarity, then who does it concern?
Employers have never sought an equitable distribution of labour. When companies operate globally their interest in a fair distribution of labour and full employment diminishes even further.
And what of policymakers in the wealthy countries, or the European Union? Few concrete actions suggest that they would independently - and without intense pressure - initiate corrections to the structural imbalance in the international distribution of labour. Neither is Finland, which proclaims its official relations to the developing countries to be "enlightened self-interest", a particularly serious contender in this respect.
While the developing countries have submitted several initiatives seeking to establish a balance in the international distribution of labour, they have had no unifying force behind them. During the decades of the Cold War developing countries were split along the lines of the various competing power blocs and no united third world front capable of exerting pressure came into being even in the 1990s.
With the beginning of the new millennium the third world is still divided in many respects. The most poignant form of this is manifest in continuing armed conflicts in Africa.
In the industrialised countries popular opinion in favour of justice supports a shift towards a more just international distribution of labour, insofar as this does not jeopardise employment and standards of living in the North.
In concrete terms support is demonstrated in the growing popularity of Fair Trade products in Western Europe and North America.
A filibustering approach is most apparent in the selective attitudes towards free trade of governments and the business communities of the industrialised countries. Regardless of their declarations of principle, these quarters have obstructed any change in the distribution of labour in favour of the developing countries through protective import barriers and subsidies to domestic enterprises. Often the same position is shared by the labour intensive sectors of the developed countries, such as textiles and the clothing industry, through trade unions and farmers' organisations that have lobbied policymakers to continue current protectionist arrangements that perpetuate the unequal distribution of labour.
The best approach for everyone and the fairest overall would be to establish co-operation between the trade union movements of North and South on a programme for a regulated redistribution of labour and to organise a campaign front for this. Such an initiative would involve several non-governmental organisations of the North and South and dozens of governments of developing countries. Towards the end of the 1990s a few people in leading positions in the developed countries also began to speak of a need to balance the distribution of incomes. These speeches, however, did not generally deal with the main condition for achieving this: a change in the distribution of labour in favour of the developing countries.
It is easy to dismiss this idea as an unrealistic dream because there has been no corresponding achievement even at local or national level. The alternatives, however, are frightening. The international distribution of labour led by market forces, with its unfortunate social consequences, is becoming increasingly unfair.
The problems cannot be prevented from getting out of hand simply by ameliorating the undesirable social effects of the rapid acceleration of market forces. The causes must also be tackled. They are to be found in international trade rules and in the structures of the distribution of labour. They benefit a minority of humanity at the expense of a large majority."
The author also encourages the trade union leaders and activists of the North and South to deal openly with the international distribution of labour problems. His argument runs as follows.
"Conflicts of Interest must be
Placed Openly on the Table
The global supply of labour is much greater than the corresponding demand. This is the most important reason for the conflict of interest between workers of different countries.
The question in practical working life is, does an order for ship construction, with all of its job-creating effects, go to a South Korean, German or Finnish shipyard? A burning question in a different way is, which transport company will win the next competitive bid for the bus routes of Helsinki or Tampere? Workers on the losing side are threatened with a loss of their hard-won benefits, even though the work itself remains in Finland.
The subsidies, tariffs and import quotas used as tools of trade policy also cause conflicts between workers of different countries. They reflect national efforts to succeed in international competition. To one group of workers their use secures jobs, while to the other group it means unemployment.
It would be in the long-term interests of workers of all countries for the competitive mechanisms that cause conflict to be dealt with openly within the trade union movement. The goal should be to resolve conflicts on the basis of common interests. This will not be easy but other alternatives are still worse and could result in the "race to the bottom".
"Everything at Stake" forms a valuable Nordic sequel and contrast to the vision sketched by Viviane Forrester in her 1996 French bestseller "L’horreur économique" (published in English as "The Economic Horror" - Polity Press 1999). Readers should consider the remedies offered by these two books to the problem of a global oversupply of labour. Where Forrester argues passionately for a new understanding of the role of labour in identifying human worth, Artto sees the matter in terms of global solidarity and growth in collective responsibility. While both of these approaches point in the same direction, people in the labour movement who have spent most of their lives locked into the dialectic of capital and labour will probably have greater sympathy for Artto’s message.
Updates in Finnish on the web
and KTV activist meetings centred on the book
Since the book was published in November 2000, Juhani Artto has provided supplementary material on the web with weekly Finnish language updates and links to materials in English. The idea is to follow up the struggle to determine the direction and the detailed outcome of the globalisation process.
In coming months KTV will organise rank and file meetings in various parts of Finland to promote interest in the issues raised by the book and discussion about them.
*Published in Finnish in print in October 2000 and on the world-wide web in November 2000. An English translation of the manuscript was published on the web in March 2001. The address is www.kaapeli.fi/kaikki_pelissa/index2.htm