Contribution by Ron Oswald

EFFAT kongres i Wien 20. - 21. november 2014:IUL's generalsekretær Ron Oswald holdte tale ved EFFAT's kongres. Læs talen her.

Contribution by Ron Oswald, IUF general secretary

Let first say that it is a pleasure to see so many of our affiliates from our European regional organization here and to be able to join you in the wonderful city of Vienna. A very significant thank you is due to our Austrian affiliates for their incredible support and their hospitality this week and to all the EFFAT team who have worked so hard to make this happen.

More than at any time in the 45 years I have been a union member, we all find ourselves today in a fight for our rights, for our livelihoods and in too many parts of the world ways for our lives and the lives of our families and communities with one in seven of the world’s people facing hunger and many more facing poverty.

And time is not on our side.

The threat from the far right in Europe is real and any complacency on our part would be criminal especially as so many of our own union members are drifting into the clutches of the anti-Europe right. And those forces on the right are no defenders of human rights. Once they have stripped rights from migrants, once they have discriminated on the basis of race or religion and taken rights from minority groups they will come for us in the labour movement even more than that do today. We have seen it before and we would be foolish in the extreme if we allowed our complacency to lead us to believe and to act as though it could never happen again.

We need to channel the anger and the desperation that I know exists amongst our members in Europe to call for a radical and progressive transformation of Europe. We need to challenge capital within today’s European construction with struggle and action and a struggle that is based on class and recognizes we are in a war that frankly transcends the traditional framework of social partnership and social dialogue.

Our European and international labour movement needs to agitate and yes politicize its members more than we do today. We need a movement that is its members. One that embraces those outside formal trade unions who fight for same things we should be fighting for. A movement that honestly and courageously recognizes its weaknesses and its mistakes. A movement that seeks to counter the kind of political brainwashing our members and workers, particularly younger workers get from much of the mainstream media’s politically influenced nonsense. A movement that understands that if we lose the fight for progressive political power we will lose any hope of defending and advancing our rights and interests at work in the longer term.

Sounds impossible? Frankly I do not care much how it sounds. Because in today’s world a fight back based on radical progressive politics is not something we can choose or not choose. We do not have that luxury. We do not have that choice if we claim we truly want to build the kind of societies we say we stand for and we believe can exist. And today progressive governments who are actually practicing progressive politics can pretty much be counted on the fingers of both hands because they are so few.

This morning is not the time or place to analyse our political crisis in depth. However we need to do just that and we had better do so honestly since our own members are deserting us politically in droves and voting against their own interests in huge numbers. There is a reason for that and the sooner we confront that reason the sooner we might be able to rebuild the political wing of our movement.

We know the only wealth most workers will ever accumulate of any real meaning is that that they have tied up in the common public wealth. The health systems of many countries, the education systems, pensions, social security all represent the only true wealth we as workers will in practice ever have. And put simply we are being robbed blind of that wealth right now in the name of austerity. Health systems are being ripped apart and starved of cash. Public education is put under strain as teachers find themselves the target of sometimes subtle, sometimes not so subtle attacks and are blamed for our education system’s weaknesses, and social protection in all its form is being stripped away.

When public health care, public education and social security are being cut back we are told they are simply unaffordable. Well if we truly cannot afford them then go tax those who can. But to do that we need to close the tax rat holes that wealthy individuals and corporations everywhere escape through. And we need to raise new taxes notably on the massive amounts of financial speculation and financial transactions that go on today and enrich so few as inequality continues to grow to staggering levels in pretty much every country in the world including Europe.

To do that we need to win meaningful political power and to do that we have to take on a global financial system that will seek to punish and discipline elected governents who seek to put people first and profits somewhere further down their list of priorities. And that will be a monumental battle needing the kind of political courage we have not seen from the left in many countries for many decades. There is no point getting elected and then tamely doing what financial rating companies like S&P, Moody’s and Fitch allow you to or what the global financial institutions tell you to do. Do that and it is not surprising that so many workers no longer trust the left and give up on it. Democratic politics as I have always understood it is about voting for the kind of societies we want to live in. Economics and the economic tools elected governments have need to be about delivering the means to build those societies. Today we have allowed all that to be perversely turned upside down. It’s time we won politics back and time is not on our side.

And in the trade union movement we have a critical role to play. We who make up the labour movement are essential to any society that calls itself politically decent or democratic. We are the true guarantors of democracy, rights and fairness in our countries. We are one of the key barriers to barbarism. We should proudly and loudly say that more than we do and those who don’t like us and what we stand for had better get used to the idea we are always going to be around. We must send the clearest political message that we will not go quietly into the night and that whilst we might sometimes be beaten up we will never be beaten. 
Linked to our crucial political fight we also need to carry our fight into our workplaces whilst recognizing that if we keep losing political fights everything we might win at work is put at risk.

And today carrying our fight into our workplaces means fighting to defend jobs - and not just any jobs at any price. Today we increasingly have to defend the very basic right to jobs that can actually feed families and support communities

But to succeed we have to organize of course. Everywhere, even in countries that in past decades had high levels of union membership we have to fight to hold the membership we have and to grow it where we don’t because that means power.

Increasingly a major part of that need to organize stronger unions today is closely tied to the critical need to defend decent permanent work and to reverse the tidal wave of casual, agency and other forms of indecent and precarious work.

In the IUF our members are fighting hard around the world to push back the growth of casual, temporary, agency and other forms of insecure work as a critical part of the bigger common fight we are in.
And key to that common fight today is that we link together as unions across national borders. Transnational Companies move capital around the globe seeking competitive advantage – the race to the bottom. We must defend ourselves by supporting workers everywhere fighting to access their rights, particularly the right to join a union and to bargain collectively. We have to shut down union no-go areas wherever we find them whenever we can.

IUF affiliates around the world are fighting to do just that. Building on courageous and inspirational local members in the IUF we are getting organized internationally in major companies and sectors. We are fighting back and we are winning.

In Nestle, the world’s largest food company, our members organized internationally behind Indonesian workers who were fired en masse. We fought together internationally for two years and Nestlé were eventually forced to sign an agreement with the IUF at a meeting in London reinstating all union members dismissed, compensating them fully for eight months without work and fully restoring their union rights. They now have over 90% of workers in the union and a new and better than decent collective agreement. In one way or another all unionized Nestlé workers are now stronger as a result.

In Coca-Cola we got organized internationally to support workers in Pakistan. The entire Coca-Cola Pakistan operation, six bottling plants and a major distribution centre are now 100% union. And we fought for the same in Guatemala where Coke’s operations are also now 100% union. That helps Coke workers everywhere
In the USA we got organized internationally in Danone behind our affiliates and we were able to ensure management did not interfere in workers’ efforts to unionize now in five Danone plants all of which are now unionized. We did the same in Danone in Australia. Danone workers are stronger everywhere as a result.
We organized behind UFCW and in the North American meat sector Smithfield and JBS now have exceptional levels of union membership. And we are working today with FLOC to bring dignity and the right to organize to the immigrant workers who pick the tobacco for some of the world’s richest corporations.

In Unilever we got ourselves organized internationally to take on the company and have secured what are now thousands of permanent jobs where there were once only indecent daily contracts and outsourced jobs. And those permanent workers in Asia are now union members. Unilever workers everywhere are stronger as a result.


And now we have been in a new fight with Mondelez (formerly Kraft International).  After the movements for democracy in the Arab countries in 2011 workers in a Mondelez factory in Alexandria Egypt assumed they would have the right to form a union. They did that in 2012 and in July that year Mondelez fired the union’s executive. Management told workers at the time that they would never see those guys again; that they were history and the same would happen to anyone who thought they could have a union of their own.

Two years ago we started an international campaign in support of those union leaders. Mondelez told everyone, including the US government, that they would never talk to the IUF about this abuse of their Egyptian workers’ rights. Local management told workers that nothing on this earth could ever make them take those guys back.

Well almost two years to the day they all went back to work last August 3. They got their two full years of back-pay and benefits. We secured an agreement that there would be elections on the plant and the returning union leaders won them easily.

Mondelez found out like a lot of companies that when they attack our members, never say never. Now they want to start talking about recognizing the IUF and sitting down with us and our members to avoid a campaign like they faced these past two years.

And to emphasize how tough a fight this was by those five union leaders in the meeting those leaders and I had with Mondelez on July 9 in Cairo local management’s last ditch stand to refuse re-instatement, after trying to buy them off and having that rejected, was to say. “But in Egypt no company has ever reinstated workers who were fired and we just don’t know how to do it”. Well now they’ve learnt how to do it and on August 3 they did.

Many of you without hesitation supported us over those two years and I know that our brothers and all their members in that plant would want us to express their huge appreciation to you today. We fought with them. We told them we would never abandon them despite many people in Egypt and beyond telling them and the IUF that the best we could hope for would be some financial package.  We made sure their families were not starved into submission and in the end I feel humbled by their courage and their determination to fight.

Near the end of one of these long struggles someone from corporate management of a major company asked if they could ask me a personal question. I said sure.

Why, they asked, do I personally and the entire IUF maintain such passion for the rights of these five workers or 15 workers or any group of workers in a world of millions and why do we show such a commitment to support them. I think it was a question truly asked in good faith because they just did not understand why they got beaten, something they never imagined could happen.

I replied with something deeply personal. I told them that in my time in the trade union movement I have lost a number of personal friends, people I knew well, in countries as far apart as El Salvador, Colombia, South Africa, Namibia, the Philippines, Zimbabwe and others. They were all murdered. Why?
Because they stood up and defended their very basic right to form and join a union. And tragically many sisters and brothers around the world have faced the same. And many more have risked their families, their houses, their future job prospects and a lot more for the right to have a union.

Then I looked straight at them and politely asked them this. How many people in your world do you know who are willing to risk and sacrifice anything like that for their corporate bonuses and their prestigious job titles? VP for marketing, VP for human resources, VP for communications and VP for the latest silly idea ……There was no reply. Maybe they understood it, maybe they did not? In all honesty people in those levels of that corporate world will probably never understand it or understand why we do what we do and why we fight like we fight and why and how we win.

And that sisters and brothers, comrades is ultimately why we will win and those who would wish to deny us our rights or even destroy our movement will ultimately lose.

And we are facing some tough struggles today. In the Maldives where Sheraton Hotel workers are today denied their human rights, in the Philippines where Citra Mina tuna workers are fighting to get jobs back that they lost because they formed a union, in PepsiCo in India where warehouse workers working in PepsiCo’s supply chain refused to do what they were told when management told them to tear up their union cards, walk on their torn cards back into the warehouse if they ever wanted to work again. PEPSICO CEO AND INDIAN WAGES.

And in Hong Kong where our Coca-Cola members were the first union to strike in support of the democracy protests. They felt strong enough in part because we had defended their right to a union and to collective bargaining through our neogtiations with Coca-Cola in Atlanta. And they used that strength to walk out and join the protests. The company has not dared to exercise any form of repraisal. We will be asking this Congress for a strong statement in support of the struggle for democracy in Hong Kong and I will be taking an IUF leadership delegation to Hong Kong next month to join their struggle and express the support of all IUF members.

And in all those fights and others to come we need to recognize that increasingly we cannot do it alone. Today we need each other more than ever before. In the IUF we have for decades recognized the need for practical and meaningful international solidarity and we have always been prepared to back that with concrete action and concrete support. For that I thank you on behalf of our members everywhere.

But our members in Europe today also need the support of others and critically need us to build a world where rights and decent jobs are there for all to enjoy.

The IUF’s mantra is Organize, Fight and Win. Of course like you our members everywhere know that if we organize we cannot guarantee we’ll win. They know that if we fight we cannot guarantee we’ll win. But, to state the obvious, they know for sure that if we neither organize nor fight we can guarantee we’ll lose. And given what is at stake losing is simply not an option.

And losing sisters and brothers is not in the IUF’s DNA and, knowing so many of our affiliates in Europe and beyond not in theirs either.

Have a great Congress and I and other IUF members from other regions look forward to fighting and winning shoulder to shoulder with you in the many struggles that lie ahead of all of us.


Nordisk Union
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The Nordic Union for Hotel, Restaurant, Catering and Tourism sector, is an association of unions in Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden and Denmark, all of which unionise workers of the HRCT industry. The member unions have all made collective agreements with employers organizations and companies in the NU HRCT.

All in all NU HRCT covers seven unions with a total of about 115,000 members.