TRADE UNIONS AND GLOBAL CHALLENGES
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At the very outset, we see that the challenge of globalization and human rights takes us on an endless journey

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By MOHAMMED AKMAL PASHA

July 19 - 25, 2004
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Globalization refers to liberal intercourse of widespread economic activity embracing whole the globe, a multidimensional process channeled by international trade and ultimately vectored towards overall good of global layman, through respective governing set ups. It necessitates interplay of free global market forces, which are generally jeopardized by some degenerative rigidities regarding reduction in the tariff and non-tariff barriers, tendencies towards privatization, downsizing and the cost cuttings; and nevertheless discouraging of inward FDI. With regional integrations and strategic alliances being a threat for the third parties. These issues in turn undercut the growth of industries; edge out the domestic production and manufacturing and hence propagate unemployment and breed poverty, in the inflicted economies.

Be it production or manufacturing; and administered through location specificity or global web, the process mandates active inclusion of human element. Rather, if there were no human element, the machines and plants whatever their level of sophistication and intensity of automation would lie idle and the processes dormant. Pitiably, the visible hand of humans obviosly dynamic and comprehensively participative is flagrantly rendered as invisible or at least minimum visible; and most exploited on the part of industrialists. Thus there is an ever-increasing need for safeguarding the rights and interests of these humans; the contribution of the liveliest part of the prime cost deserves full recognition and reward as against surplus value usurped by the capitalist. Where neither the depreciation thereof is reckoned nor are the agonies and pangs deemed as sufferings and ailments. The cries stay unheeded and screaming mocked. Trade unions in this connection are better able to attempt to shield workers against all atrocities, exploitations and undervaluations; especially when these unions are integrated globally. And in this noble endeavor they have to bear some costs and confront a few challenges.

HUMAN RIGHTS

At the very outset, we see that the challenge of globalization and human rights takes us on an endless journey, deep into the gold mines of South Africa, oil fields of Iraq, Nike shoes factory in Asia, and nevertheless mines and brick kilns in Pakistan. Sporadic stirs work but a little. In recent past, a march attended by prominent figures of the world like US treasurer Robert Rubin, Nobel Laureate like John Sweeney and human right activists, is small example to cite in this regard.

However, the growth of the role of social factors and respect for human rights (including trade union rights) can be linked back to the Copenhagen World Summit for Social Development in 1995, which has given impetus to the clear social deficit, one of the causes of the Asian crisis. This is believed that if social development, including institution-building and respect for core labor standards had been adhered to by the south-east Asian countries, it would have resulted in much more accountability, democracy and equity.

The International Confederation of Trade Unions (ICFTU) has been focusing on respect for core labor standards constituting the standards which are universally agreed to be in no way exclusive to industrialized countries, but instead applicable to every country of the world, regardless of its level of development. However, these social values yet need to be fully translated into changed actions of the world's major institutions of globalization viz. the IMF, the World Bank, WTO and IFIs. In so far, the Trade Union Advisory Committee to the OECD (TUAC) has been undertaking important work to introduce these values into the work of the OECD.

Stale and worn-out ideas regarding unionism are another challenge. The INTUC for instance is committed to Gandhian concept of self-sacrifice in India. Many of its former leaders practiced it to an extent until they moved to political leaderships positions and began to hold ministerial offices. This impedes the fructification of the idea of introducing salaried professionals in the trade unions. Maybe the idea of revival of a trade union college as was run by ICFTU in 1950s and 1960s helps churn out qualified MBA's, oriented towards healthy and humanistic unionism in India.

 

 

A big challenge comes in the form of lack of finances, not only in Asian regions, but surprisingly in rich western countries as well. For example, trade union laws provide for less than cent as subscriptions. Seafarers and banking unions and other white-collar unions who collect subscriptions almost equivalent to a US dollar, even in some cases union subscriptions are very low. National centers receive a measly fraction of the already small subscriptions. Therefore national trade union centers have to depend on outside sources.

In Pakistan, All Pakistan Federation of Labor (APFOL) holds the candle as a supreme entity. With hundreds and thousands of members, it has so far conducted around sixty national and regional and 300 local and plant level courses where the number of participants exceeds 8,000. A salient feature that marks its organization is its manuals which cover issues ranging from OSH (Occupational Safety and Health), collective bargaining, trade union finance, labor laws and gender awareness to economic literacy and family planning (for furthr details visit: www.apfol.org.pk). Above all, it is allied with International Confederation of Trade Unions (ICFTU). Of course, it cannot escape the challenges similar to Asian trade unions of its like.