By Owei Lakemfa
On August 5, 2014, there was an international forum between American and African Trade Union leaders in Washington DC . The theme was “Good Jobs, Inclusive Growth and Workers Rights” and the objective was to collate the views of American and African labour leaders for submission to the Summit of United States and African Heads Of State held that month.
The first point on the Washington Forum is that the participants were handpicked, but more importantly is the fact that none of the six panelists who made presentations and led discussions at the Forum, came from the host AFL-CIO or American trade unions. In fact only two of the panelists came from the trade unions, the third was a civil society person while the remaining three, or half the panelists, were Deputy Secretaries of the American Government. In contrast, this Beijing Forum is composed of labour leaders freely chosen by the respective trade unions themselves and is completely, a labour affair. This is part of the strength of the Beijing Forum; it is representative, democratic, free and open.
This is the Tenth Session of the Beijing Forum, and it has been ten years of frank, fruitful and rewarding discussions, exchange of ideas and building of international labour solidarity. We in OATUU are convinced that the international Labour Movement needs to be rebuilt in the spirit of equality, consensus building, mutual respect and shared value. The Beijing Forum is a basic foundation necessary to achieve this historical goal.
The theme of this 2014 Beijing International Forum is “Reform, Development and Dream” It is an apt reflection of the state of the universe; a world enmeshed in inequality, poverty, hunger, underdevelopment and attendant insecurity. Things are so bad, and hunger so pervasive, that tens of millions of people risk limb and life to get bread. Many prefer the dangerous and suicidal crossing of the oceans and open seas in hope of a better life, than the certainty of debilitating poverty. Not even the likelihood of death in the desert, deters the many who have lost hope, and no longer dream. For this mass of humanity, dream of a future does not exist, all they experience is nightmare.
Given this reality, it is an incontrovertible fact that the world is in need of reform. But first, how did the vast majority of humanity end up in this hole? The answer is the exploitative economic system where the rich gets richer, and the poor gets poorer. It is a system built on inequality and exploitation; a dog-eat-dog social system where it is every man to himself. It is a world where individual interest supersedes collective survival; where private profit supplants collective good.
Therefore, if we are to have true reforms, it cannot be the false reforms of weakening the public sector and reducing public spending, in favour of strengthening the private sector whose motive is private profit. This is why the reforms carried out by developed countries and international financial institutions like the IMF and the World Bank from the early 1980s, have not only failed, but in fact, worsened the plight of humanity.
One of the most devastated parts of the world is Africa where thirty five years of ‘reform’ in the name of Structural Adjustment or Economic Recovery Programmes and Poverty Reduction Strategic Papers, have led to greater poverty and dependence on international financial institutions. Even in the last decade when some African countries have been humoured as some of the ‘fastest growing economies of the world’ posting a minimum 7 per cent annual growth, the experience of the citizens is greater poverty. What the citizens of such countries experience is the continuous devaluation of their currency, cuts in social spending, ever higher utility bills and prices of essential petroleum products. This is not the road to reforms; it is the highway to deformities.
Growth without development is of no use to workers and the citizenry. Human beings cannot be mere statistical figures in the budget; what the world needs is a people-centred economic, social and political system. A world order based on the basic needs and rights of the people; including the right to food, shelter, employment, healthcare and basic education.
We are not asking for utopia, we are not preaching any new ideology nor violent overthrow of any system. We are simply saying that for human development to be guaranteed, all governments in the world should implement basic agreements they have freely entered into with the rest of humanity. Apart from the International Labour Organisation (ILO) Decent Work Agenda which all nations have subscribed to, all countries have committed themselves to the upholding of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
We gathered here, can build a better world by directing the collective powers of the Labour Movement towards achieving the above goals which all humanity has ascribed to. One of the major tasks we therefore have is to unite and redirect the International Labour Movement towards achieving these basic goals of humanity that will guarantee worldwide development and ensure that the dreams of an egalitarian and peaceful world come to pass.
We cannot end this presentation without addressing the war against the Ebola Virus Disease ravaging three countries in Africa; Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea. These countries need the assistance of the world to contain and defeat the disease and to rebuild their economies which are now in shambles. We trade unionists need to impress it on our governments to be part of this war as no part of the world can be immune from it were it allowed to overrun those countries whose peoples and government stand courageously in the battlefield.
We are also appreciative of the heroic struggles of health workers who are on the frontline of the war against Ebola; our hearts go out to them and those we have lost in the Ebola War.African workers condemn the periodic ritual of mass slaughter in the Palestine especially of unarmed women, children, the elderly and the sick in conflicts in which over 90 per cent of the Palestinian casualties are defenseless civilians. The solution remains a two-state solution where Israelis and Palestinians have guaranteed and secured homelands, with a shared Jerusalem and a shared commitment to social justice.
Today, the world is more than ever, endangered by the rise of terrorist organizations committing crimes against humanity in countries like Syria, Iraq, Nigeria and Libya. Humanity needs to meet this serious challenge by uniting to defeat terrorism and extremism wherever it raises its head.
Owem Lakemfa is the Secretary General of the Organisation of African Trade Union Unity (OATUU)