Volume , Number 0
There are no articles.Commentary
There are no articles.Culture
There are no articles.Features
Ground Zero for Columbus Day
Michael a. de Yoanna
W. michael byrd and linda a. Clayton
ICFTU Global Day of Action â€¦
Miriam ching yoon Louie
Talking About Myths, Heroes, And â€¦
Gay and Lesbian Community Notes
Q & A
Stephen R. Shalom
There are no articles.
NOTE: Z Magazine subscribers and sustainers have access to all Z Magazine articles here and in the archive. The latest Z Magazine articles available to everyone are listed in the Free Articles box at the top of the table of contents, and are starred in the list below. Questions? e-mail Z Magazine Online.
ICFTU Global Day of Action on November 9
The leaders of the world's biggest union body, the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU), have issued a call for action which could dramatically transform the movement against capitalist globalization.
In a press release dated July 19, the ICFTU announced that “trade union leaders from around the world, meeting in a special session of the ICFTU Steering Committee held in conjunction with the G8 Summit in Genoa, took the decision to mark the launch of the next Ministerial Conference of the World Trade Organization (WTO) in Doha, Qatar by staging a Global Unions' Day of Action by the Workplaces of the World. The Day of Action will take place on November 9, 2001, the opening day of the WTO Conference.”
The federation described the Day of Action as being “co-ordinated at global level and delivered at a local level, taking the form of diverse actions to be determined in individual countries ranging from stoppages and demonstrations to workplace discussions, public meetings and high- profile media activities” (see their site at www.icftu.org).
The same day the ICFTU call hit the web, for instance, the LabourStart website was reporting on the following actions by workers around the world:
- 10,000 German railworkers demonstrated against threatened job cuts and promised to strike to protect their jobs
- hundreds of thousands of South African workers were preparing for strikes the following week against steel and energy companies
- Korean workers were organizing to protect their leaders threatened with arrest for having led general strikes against layoffs and other austerity measures
- 95 percent of the workforce in Argentina participated in a general strike against spending cuts imposed by the government at the behest of the IMF
In reporting on the Argentinian strike even the mainstream media admitted that 95 percent of the working class had struck. That means millions of workers on strike against the effects of capitalist globalization. What's more this is only the latest in a series of general strikes in that country against IMF-imposed policies in the last two years. Workers and peasants around the country have, during that same period, blocked roads to protest the same policies.
The press has been full of speculation about whether the Argentinian government will be able to stave off economic collapse, whether it will be able to impose the cuts demanded by the world's banks and their agencies and whether Argentinian workers will stand idly by. Speculation also abounds about whether Brazil's economy will be pulled down in the wake of Argentina's troubles.
Brazil is the home of several other militant forces in the anti-globalization movement. Its Landless Workers Movement has occupied land and fought battles with the government to protect their land seizures, and during the World Social Forum in Porto Alegre in January, 2001, 1,300 farmers occupied a Monsanto farm and destroyed genetically-engineered soybeans. It's also the home of the Workers' Party, the main sponsor of the WSF.
Latin America has been a hotbed of strikes and occupations in recent years. Mass working-class actions last year in Bolivia forced U.S.-based Bechtel to cancel its plans for taking over privatized water facilities, and Mexico, Ecuador, Colombia, and Venezuela have been rocked by mass protests by workers, farmers, and indigenous peoples.
What is the November 9 Day of Action likely to look like in Latin America? If the unions there pick up on the day as a focus for their members, the possibility of a continent-wide general strike is not hard to imagine. Given militant actions over the course of the last decade by peasants and indigenous peoples, such a strike could dovetail with other actions, perhaps looking more like an uprising than a strike.
Nor is it hard to imagine countrywide, and in some cases, continentwide general strikes, in other parts of the globe. Patrick Bond provides a useful list of some important grassroots actions, including:
- a general strike in South Africa last May “by half the country's workforce, furious over job-killing neoliberal policies adopted at the behest of the World Bank, and protest marches” which brought 200,000 out into the streets in several cities
- “a strike the next day by 20 million Indian workers explicitly to protest the surrender of national sovereignty to the IMF and Bank”
- other general strikes and mass rallies in Ecuador, Argentina, Turkey, Haiti, Paraguay, Nigeria, South Korea, and Brazil (see www.zmag.org/CrisesCur- Evts/Globalism/african_grassroots.htm)
This working class upsurge has even struck the imperialist countries. Greece has experienced two general strikes in the last year and memories of the 1996 general strike in France are still fresh. In Italy just a few weeks before the Genoa summit hundreds of thousands of workers went on strike, and chanted “We're going to Genoa.” in response to speeches by Genoa Social Forum activists. Naturally this militancy has spilled over into increasing participation by unionists in countersummit actions, including civil disobedience.
In the U.S. the potential is much less clear. If left to their own devices, the top leaders of the AFL-CIO will no doubt be happy with a Day of Action marked only by workers signing anti-WTO postcards during their lunchbreaks and showing up for tepid after-work rallies.
On the other hand, some unionists in Seattle threw in their lot with those seeking to shut down the summit, and this April, as part of the run-up to Quebec anti-FTAA demonstrations, Jobs with Justice organized actions around the country linking globalization to local struggles such as hospital privatizations, union organizing drives, workfare scams, etc.
In New York City the debate over what the Day of Action should look like will probably revolve around whether unionists should participate in a projected shutdown of Wall Street already being organized by local activists. It's likely that the majority of union leaders will oppose participation, carefully scheduling their rallies miles away. But it's also likely that as in Seattle, and later in Quebec, some more radical unionists will break with their leaders and join with those seeking to engage in direct action.
In a way, the calling of a global workers' action was facilitated by the WTO putting its meeting in “safe” Qatar. That is, the option of trying to get workers to go in large numbers to the summit location was never an option, and locally-based protests were the only option. The continued relocation of summits to remote places (such as the one planned next year in Canada) means that the question of whether to shut down summits will not come up nearly as often (earlier this year the World Bank canceled its Barcelona meeting altogether in favor of a cyberspace conference).
On the other hand, the question of civil disobedience, whether “violent” or nonviolent, won't go away and is already posed around the projected November Wall Street Action.
The movement's ability to shut down or at least disrupt several global summits has helped swell our ranks and draw in ever bigger and broader forces, giving the movement more self-confidence and inspiration to continue. It has also encouraged new forms of activity—for instance, the Social Forums held in Porto Alegre and in Genoa, uniting the forces and ideas of thousands of groups from around the world, as well as the pro-immigration march during Genoa and the pro-immigrant actions along the U.S.-Mexico border during FTAA protests.
Capital is upset when its meetings are disturbed; Seattle, Prague, Quebec, etc., have called into question the legitimacy of its political leaders, their claim to be representing democratic institutions and processes, in the eyes of the majority of the world's people. But capital only grants concessions when it is afraid that by not doing so it will be unable to continue making profits. Threats to a company's profits for a day, a week, a month, can scare it into granting a decent union contract or wage increase. Threats to the profits of a national ruling class can scare it into passing laws for new wage and hours laws, creating or restoring social services, or stop it from privatizing companies. Threats to its very right to exist as an economic and as a ruling (i.e. political) class—threats which can only occur during strikes and uprisings participated in by the majority of the working class—can cause a crisis in self-confidence that, if matched by an equivalent rise in self-confidence by its opponents, can lead to the demise of its rule.
That's why, for instance, a general strike and road blockades forced Bechtel to back down in Bolivia.
What's more, since it's the global system as a whole—not just individual corporations or governments or agencies such as the IMF—which is the context mandating the imposition of job and service cuts and privatizations, only a global working class struggle, with internationally coordinated actions, will be able to take on that system.
Many labor activists are already in touch with others around the globe as a result of decades of attempts to forge international solidarity, especially at the rank- and-file level. We are also in touch through labor websites and e-mail lists, and our participation in summit actions and forums like Porto Alegre and Genoa. We need to use those links to discuss what should happen on November 9. Some guidelines to consider are:
- maximizing official union support and participation, but not waiting for it before planning possible activities or letting its absence hold back our discussions
- developing structures that maximize input from union members and workers in general about the type of actions they think are possible and desirable, and around what issues
- discussing which of those structures to maintain after November 9 as permanent, democratic means for continued collaboration
Special websites and email lists could be built, and existing ones expanded. On November 9 perhaps there could be a global labor teleconference so that workers could view each others' rallies in real-time. For instance, this March the South African Municipal Workers Union (SAMWU) called for this year's World Water Day to be declared a day of mourning for the millions of people who are sick and dying as a result of not having access to water. SAMWU demanded that “all commercial- ization be stopped and water be restored as a public service.”
To my knowledge March 22, the target date for such actions (pegged to a UN Water Day), came and went without much activity. But what if that day had been the focus for an internationally-coordinated mobilization by all involved in local struggles around water—such as those fighting on the same issue in Bolivia mentioned above—and by others in solidarity with them?
Could our discussions in the run-up to November 9 create the kind of global working class network that can launch follow-up days of action around specific issues such as water or around education or health care or other services being privatized and slashed around the globe, and around which workers in individual countries have already mobilized? Could we launch a worldwide general strike demanding the cancellation of the Third World debt (and the end of its First World equivalent, the tax giveaways to banks)?
What Are We Fighting For?
None of this is to minimize the barriers in our way—including from the ICTFU and its national affiliates. We can't assume that the officials running these bodies will necessarily look kindly on independent, ad-hoc bodies organizing around November 9, and we'll have to carefully balance the need for official endorsement and independent initiative.
On the other hand, the very issuing of the call indicates an official recognition of the desire in labor's ranks for joint action. During Porto Alegre, Marcello Malentacchi, head of the International Metalworkers' Federation, one of the ICFTU's biggest affiliates, took other union leaders to task for flocking to Davos (the meeting of the bosses to which the World Social Forum in Brazil was counterposed). Furthermore, he argued that the “debate about globalization from a social perspective...cannot and must not be restricted to just the Third World. Trade unions from every continent must participate and contribute to the conference in Brazil” (see www.imfmetalorg).
In a follow-up column he encouraged formation of a “tribune for global unions,” writing: “I think the time has come for global unions to take a leading role in the debate on globalization....”
Of course union leaders' presence in Davos, and their eagerness to hobnob with the bosses both at summits and at home, is symptomatic of the fact that most labor leaders, while resisting some of the impact of neoliberalism on their members, have no alternative ideology to it—a fact reflected in the ICFTU call, and in the statement issued by that and other union bodies during Genoa in their appeal to the G8 leaders. While putting forward various positive demands, they also called for “opening up the WTO system to consultation with trade unions and other democratic representatives of civil society.” Most activists against capitalist globalization, in contrast, call for abolishing the WTO and similar institutions.
Furthermore the unions' statement boasted that “In Genoa, a large trade union delegation is taking part on a meeting on July 19 with the host of the Genoa Summit, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, organized by the Italian trade union movement, together with TUAC, the Trade Union Advisory Committee to the OECD”—the same Berlusconi who organized the murderous attack on anti-G8 protestors.
But the organizing of a global labor network in the preparation for November 9 will give more radical labor activists a chance to explain why the WTO, IMF, et al., can't be reformed. What's more, direct discussions between unionists in different countries about their projected actions will inevitably raise the question of how to counter protectionist demands by individual union bureaucracies—and turning such demands instead into platforms that call for the right of all workers to protect their jobs, for autonomous but coordinated development under public control. Z