The Director-General of the International Labour Organization (ILO) Juan Somavia today urged the 166 million strong new international trade union confederation to grasp the opportunity for tripartism to translate the ILO's Decent Work Agenda from a global goal to national reality.
Mr. Somavia said the constitution of the new International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), in pledging to work to strengthen the ILO and other international and regional organizations with a view to achieving Decent Work, would "help make it a foundation for the new global social contract we direly need."
"The frontline of the struggle to ensure that workers have a say in adapting to the new global realities, remains national, even local. However, globalization has made the international framework of labour standards established by the ILO increasingly necessary." Mr. Somavia said in an address to the new ITUC at its founding conference here.
He called on the new Confederation to develop a dialogue with international employers to support the ILO's new Decent Work Country Programmes in a drive to cut poverty in half by 2015 through the creation of decent work opportunities.
The ITUC is comprised of the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU), the World Confederation of Labour (WCL) and eight other national trade union organizations that will for the first time be affiliated to a global body. Organizers said the new trade union federation was formed to give workers a stronger voice in meeting the challenges of globalization and allow the union movement to remain a "key player in an economic climate that is creating more losers than winners."
Mr. Somavia also called on the unions to lead a new global decent work movement emphasizing "the backbone that organized labour can provide to broad social campaigns."
The proposal for a decent work movement was among five challenges for the ITUC and the ILO highlighted by Mr. Somavia in his address. They include: that growth must be shared fairly through increased decent work opportunities; that strengthening the ILO standards system is essential to meeting the challenge of global productions systems; that the need to reinforce tripartism and social dialogue was a major challenge facing both the ITUC and the ILO; and finally, that the ILO and the ITUC should persist in their commitment to the right of workers to organize, especially in the informal economy.
"Organizing workers in the informal economy is a fundamental right," he said. "In the developing world, organizing has a local development meaning, helping whole communities onto a path of increasing productivity, improving incomes, improving working conditions, better quality products and services."
Noting that the history of the international development of trade unionism was "interwoven with the history of the ILO," Mr. Somavia also pledged that the ILO would continue to cooperate with the ITUC to "do everything on our power to protect union organizers from intimidation and worse," declaring: "As I have said before any trade unionist in danger is just a phone call away from me."
He recalled examples in Poland, Indonesia, South Africa, Turkey and his own country, Chile, that illustrated the struggles of trade unions for freedom and justice, and saluted the work of trade unionists in Belarus, Burma/Myanmar, Zimbabwe and Nepal.
"The political forces, the social development actors, the civil society voices, international organizations are all coming together around decent work for a decent life," he said. "The movement and the moment have arrived."