BWI General Secretary’s New Year Message

As we start 2021, I take this opportunity to send best wishes to you for the New Year and reaffirm the commitment of BWI to global solidarity as we take on the challenges that are being carried forward from 2020 and the new ones that we will face in 2021. 

Welcoming in the new year has been a sombre affair for many as much of the world is in the grip of a resurgence of the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic has exposed a world shaped by inequality that is underwritten by racialised class and gender logic, giving us a clear picture of where we need to focus our efforts and activism for transformation.  

States and global capital have responded to the pandemic with efforts to sustain this system, and as always, they are putting the pursuit of profits and growth first. These pursuits have had consequences including the erosion in the provision of social goods and the devaluation of care work. Workers and their families across the globe are bearing these consequences, sometimes with their lives, as mitigation attempts are failing to contain the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.

There is hope. Effective vaccines are available but only to a few and will not be sufficient to suppress the pandemic for some time to come. 2021 opens with an uneven race amongst countries. Whilst the richest countries have placed orders that will enable them to vaccinate their populations several times over and have begun rolling out inoculation programmes already, the poorest nations depend on an aid facility known as COVAX and will only start receiving adequate vaccines in the second half of 2021. Then there are many countries that are not rich enough to successfully secure a vaccination supply or poor enough to qualify for the COVAX facility. 

This predicament reveals a fundamental flaw of neoliberal globalisation and the inequality between countries will lead to unequal recovery of economies. The construction sector is central to economic recovery and job stimulation, and by extension its value chain including building, wood, forestry, and allied sectors. How long the pandemic stays with us impacts on wages, jobs and livelihoods and affects our plans for building back better. Thus, a central challenge for unions in 2021 will be to ensure that the protection of workers includes access to the vaccine through coherent, transparent and accelerated acquisition and inoculation programmes. 

While access to vaccines is an important struggle that we must take up, we can only win if we have strong unions. In 2021 BWI affiliates must focus on organising to build resilient unions that fight to improve the lives of workers in the building construction, wood forestry and allied sectors. There is much uncertainty in the road ahead to get beyond the pandemic but we can seize this as an opportunity for transformation to reorientate our societies for dignity, equality and justice.  

Ambet Yuson

General Secretary

Building and Wood Workers International