May Day: Building on hard-fought victories and the vital role of unions in the new world of work
Please find below, a message from UNI Global Union General Secretary Philip Jennings marking MayDay 2018
“On May 1st, it’s especially important to remember all the hard-fought victories the labour movement has won. From fair wage, to pensions, to holiday pay and maternity leave among many other, unions have made life better for working people. But we must face the urgency of now, and the great challenges that lie ahead.
When historians look back on our era, they will regard inequality as the scourge of our times –and since the 2008 financial crisis, the gap in wealth has only become more entrenched.
Technology holds the promise of becoming an equalizer, but advancements in tech have disproportionately benefited an ever-narrowing group of elites, and this schism will continue to grow unless we act now.
Around the world, we are seeing worrying trends such as the rise of the alt-right and xenophobic warmongers. We are witnessing a global refugee crisis with 22.5 million refugees and an unprecedented 65.6 million people who have been forcibly displaced worldwide (UNHCR statistics). However, we have also seen a pushback against violence and sexual harassment in the #MeToo movement which continues the fight for gender equality.
There is a protest chant, “no justice, no peace.” These two values are inextricably linked. There can be no peace without justice, and no justice without peace. How can the world be at peace when the richest 1% unjustly own half of the world’s wealth?
Business must rediscover its social purpose. The links between good jobs and peace is clear: this is a world that overfunds arms and under prioritizes peace. As a result, jobs are becoming scarcer, lives more precarious and societies, more unequal. It is two minutes to midnight and the threat of war is looming.
Unions can change that.
The labour movement has been warning for decades about the perils of inequality. Rampant inequality is inherently unfair; it hampers our overall economic growth; and by concentrating power in the hands of a few, it threatens our democracies and threatens peace.
Income inequality in America—not to mention Europe and Asia—is close to a historic high. In the emerging world, the income gap also remains extremely wide, particularly in Latin America and the Caribbean. Workers’ share of the income they produce reached its lowest level in 2008, and it has shown no signs of recovery. Meanwhile, the rich continue to absorb more than their fair share. Nevertheless, something is changing – in the US alone there were 260,000 new union members in 2017, with 76% of that growth attributed to young workers.
The so-called “gig economy” has played a role in this. Enabled by apps, the gig economy is one of the key drivers behind an increasing individualization and casualization of work. By denying workers of any social rights and social protection, such as the right to sick leave, holiday pay, pension payments, paternity leave and unemployment benefits, the likes of Uber, Deliveroo, Amazon Mechanical Turk, are simply, and crudely put, exploiting people. Young people have had enough of being exploited.
In the early 19th century, unions organized to give workers in factories, shops and docks a voice so that greedy profiteers could not exploit them. In 2018, the primary function of the union remains largely the same.
The only way that we can defeat inequality and guarantee peace is to ensure that working people are given a voice at that table. The right to collective bargaining and to join a union has been under attack for decades, and the data is incontrovertible - with a decline in union membership and a lack of collective bargaining, the top 10 percent has profited wildly. Without unions, our societies around the world have become more unbalanced, unequal, and unfair.
Don’t give peace a chance – make it a guarantee. Unions can be the chorus that push back against warmongering and inequality. There have been some tentative and positive first steps towards peace, particularly in Korea, and we hope that these can continue. We are the voice of working people against the steady rise of corporate greed, digi-sharks and Uberisation,. New technologies have been lauded as changing the game, but the way they treat their workers is anything but modern, drawing comparisons to Victorian-era sweatshops. The labour movement was built on solidarity and collective goals – injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.
Unless we tip the balance of power towards equality between workers and companies, new tech and the future world of work will only further exacerbate inequality. Union growth and a rise in global union membership can ensure that to ensure the new jobs created by new technology are decent and that workers’ rights are protected.
The reasons for joining a union are plentiful - workers in unions earn higher wages, have more job security and more flexible work-life balance. Furthermore, in the new world of work, the digital challenges facing our economies and workers will make unions even more essential in ensuring that an already desperately unequal global society does not crumble into an even more unjust one.
When Nobel prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz was asked about how Australia had maintained a fairer and more equal society than the United States, he gave a one-word answer – unions. Unions may have been derided in some quarters as anachronistic and out of date, but, we are an essential part in shaping a fair future for all and making justice happen for workers around the world.
Unions have never been more relevant or your work more vital. Democratic spaces are being closed down everywhere, a prime example being in Brazil where former President Lula has been jailed in a cynical attempt to stop him standing in the country’s Presidential elections in October. We urge you to remember Lula when you march on May 1. The attack on him is an attack on democracy everywhere. Take it to the streets of your cities and towns – Free Lula!
In Liverpool at our UNI World Congress in June we will stand up for the ideals we believe in – peace, justice, democracy, equality and decent work. Yet these are values that cannot exist without peace. We are “Making it Happen” for working people all over the world.
Enjoy your Labour Day celebrations and thank you for your commitment to the cause of unions rights, peace and democracy!”
UNI Global Union General Secretary