End of Year Message from BWI General Secretary

BWI GS Ambet Yuson speaking in the BWI 4th World Congress in Durban, South Africa

When we mobilize global solidarity, BWI affiliates are stronger than we ever have been.  We have been able to alter the behavior of some of the world’s largest multinational corporations and move entire national governments to treat workers better. 

Our 4th BWI World Congress concluded with a call to all BWI affiliates to organize, negotiate and campaign for rights of workers in the sectors we represent.  Our strength and power is and always will be the workers we represent.  When we are able to combine the force of our arguments with the argument of our force, we win.

Thank you for re-electing me as your General Secretary.  Thank you for your confidence and trust in me for the next four years. The World Congress also elected Per-Olof Sjöö as President; Dietmar Schaefers and Pierre Cuppens as Deputy Presidents; and Piet Matosa as the first Deputy President from the Global South.  The Congress also elected the new Regional Vice Presidents and new members of the World Board, World Council and International Women’s Committee.

We have made important changes in our international to be inclusive and more representative reflective of the diversity of our affiliates. We now have 30% women elected in the World Board and a significant number in the World Council. We supported the campaign of the youth for the creation of the International Youth Committee and Global Activist Academy. We also decided to bring BWI closer to our affiliates by strengthening the regional structures of BWI. 

We have also discussed in the Congress the challenges we will be facing. It comes as no surprise that when the social contract is under attack around the world, the limits of social dialogue are exposed.  Yet, in too many ways we have been slow to recognize and respond to the rise of austerity and neo-liberalism at the home-front.  We all see the devastation it causes around the world but few of us can see it when it is in our own country—our own backyard.  Perhaps we are blinded by notions of patriotism, or perhaps allegiance to political parties that has long ago abandoned workers issues as their core constituency.

The logic of the market, of technological change, of unquestioned economic growth as the solution to whatever the problem is, is more unquestioned than ever.  Such is the state of the world today that many of our members are supporting right wing populist political parties who promise to free the market of burdensome regulations. There is no place in the world where the promise of neo-liberalism and austerity has achieved anything other than to increase carbon pollution, concentrate wealth at the expense of our members.

In addition, we must recognize that globalization, advances in technology, changes in the market and demographic shifts will have a dramatic impact on the Future of Work.  Governments, economists, and policy makers are all strategizing to predict the changes in the world of work and develop measures to ensure labour market stability and productivity.  However, in these debates, what often gets lost is how to address the social and economic impact it will have on workers in terms of decent work, economic equality, and social justice. 

The workers that BWI represent are the drivers and the back-bone of national and global economies.  It is our workers that build the cities and communities and yet, in a number of countries, particularly in the Global South, they are the most marginalized and exploited.  As we assess the changes in the world of work and in particular the BWI sectors, we as a global trade union movement must identify our role and develop concrete road map to ensure that workers’ rights and labour rights are also intrinsically incorporated in any global policy.

Responding to these challenges, at the 4th Word Congress, we adopted a new Strategic Plan that will focus on the following convergence areas: Rights for All; Safe Work; Youth in Unions; Gender Equality; Sustainable Industries; Fair Games; and, Organised Value-Chain.  This Plan is our blue-print for the next four years for us to Build (Organize), Defend (Negotiate), and Advance (Influence). 

We also passed Congress resolutions calling for solidarity actions in India, Cambodia, Philippines, Turkey; for workers in conflict zones; for migrant workers and refugees; and for electrical workers.  The Congress called for global actions against neo-liberal policies and trade agreements, the Forest Stewardship Council for failing to include ILO Core Conventions in their chain of custody certification; and to strengthen campaign against multinational enterprise through international framework agreements.

The climate change crisis provides us with an opportunity.  We can demand in our collective agreements lower carbon omission policies and practices.  This means fighting against a global supply chain that is constructed solely to maximize profits and demand one that reduces GHG emissions.  This means evaluating all new technology to see if the substitution of fossil fuels for human labour is rational based on social justice not just the highest profits. 

We must start a conversation with ourselves, with our leaders, with our members about social justice, sustainability, and economic equality.  This conversation must not stop in the union hall but make it to the shop-floor, the break-rooms, and the dinner tables of every member.

And today on 18th of December, International Migrants Day, the BWI passed two resolutions at the Congress call for BWI to reaffirm its commitment to develop a coordinated and unified approach to ensure the protection of migrants and refugees, fight against xenophobia and anti-migrant rhetoric fueled by nationalist and populist parties, and address the root causes of migration by providing resources for economic development and promoting peace process in countries of civil unrest and conflicts.

We must re-learn the importance and power of solidarity: be it across work sites and shop floors in one country or across the globe.  Why?  Because when we work together and are united in global solidarity we win.

  Amandla! Power to the People!