From G20 to Labour20

Yves here. It’s hard to have much hope for the American labor movement, at least based on the shape it’s in now, and I hope readers outside the US can tell us about the status and cohesiveness of labor movements in their countries.

In the US, things we once took for granted (and are on their way out) like the 8 hour day and workplace safety rules, were won at considerable cost. The fact that labor activists were often killed in particularly brutal ways has been airbrushed out of US history.

And what is distressing about the labor movement in the US now is its inability to claim the moral high ground. There are some important exceptions, such as nurses’ unions, which have been politically active, savvy in their messaging, and are well respected. But in too many other cases, the strong feature of unions, that of their solidarity, has become a weakness as no one in the labor movement seems willing to call out corrupt or merely feckless leaders and local bosses. In keeping, a savvy and very much left leaning colleague said, “I wouldn’t trust anyone in the American labor movement as far as I can throw them.” It’s discouraging to recognize that reality in light of the list of the estimable and sensible goals set forth in the L20 below. I wonder if organizations oversea have had more success in self-policiing.

By Erinç Yeldan, Dean of the faculty of Economics and Administrative Sciences, Yasar University. Originally published at Triple Crisis

The G20 Summit has met, convened, and dispersed for the next year after a massive show in the tourist heart of Turkey, Antalya.  The meetings had convened under the shadow of massive social exclusion and terror overrunning the global political economy. the G20 communiqué that had been released on November 15 was little more than a simple wish-list for a stable and participatory global economy—the main motto of Turkey’s presidency over 2015.

But to billions of working families across the globe, there was more than the standard wish-list of the G20 communiqué: the Labour20 (L20). The L20 was founded by the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) and the OECD’s Trade Union Advisory Committee (TUAC) and was convened with the call coming from Turkish hosts, the Confederation of Turkish Trade Unions (Türk-Iş), Confederation of Progressive Trade Unions of Turkey (DISK), and Confederation of Turkish Right Trade Unions (Hak-Iş).

The call of L20 came, at a historical moment of the heightening of the global crisis, with appeals to:

  • Move away from austerity policies, with their negative spill-over effects, and instead support for aggregate demand, investment, skills and innovation, public services, and progressive tax and redistributive systems.
  • Reduce income inequality and informality as major drags on growth and social well-being. Raise low and middle incomes through living minimum wages and by supporting collective bargaining and, in doing so, injecting purchasing power into economies.
  • Adopt the G20 Policy Priorities on Labour Income Share and Inequalities, and implement them at the national level including by strengthening labour market institutions, setting minimum wages, promoting the coverage of collective agreements and universal social protection, and integrating vulnerable groups into the formal economy.
  • Pursue further work on financial reforms, including internationally harmonised measures to shield retail banking from volatile trading and investment banking activities, and consider a financial transaction tax (FTT).
  • Raise and set targets for public infrastructure investment (physical and social) by at least 1% of GDP across the G20 as the primary route to growth and employment recovery.
  • Link investment plans to the creation of clean energy and green jobs.
  • Protect public services, ensure full financial transparency over risk arrangements, and grant leadership to independent public auditors. Greater labour law “flexibility” is not the right approach to promote PPPs.
  • Recognise the finance gap to achieving a just transition to a low carbon economy and spur investments into climate-friendly infrastructure and energy, while ensuring transparency of climate finance flows.
  • Commit to energy efficiency and renewable energy targets, including initiatives for training workers in these sectors.
  • Put in place Just Transition strategies for workers, companies, and regions depending on the fossil fuel value chain, and include trade unions in their design.
  • Promote social upgrading in supply chains and ensure that international labour standards and human rights are applied by G20 companies, including the UN Guiding Principles, ILO conventions, and OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises. Strengthen the rule of law with cross-border legislation that mandates due diligence.
  • Strengthen workers’ rights and social protection systems, and introduce social protection floors to support the transition from the informal economy in developing and middle-income countries.
  • Ensure follow-up to the “integrated and comprehensive policy approach to foster strong, sustainable and inclusive growth … to tackle inequalities, promote inclusiveness and strengthen the links between employment and growth … with corresponding efforts in other work streams” as outlined in the “Ankara Declaration” of G20 Labour and Employment Ministers.

According to ILO data, open unemployment has reached to 200 million worldwide.

Under the pressures of the unemployment threat, more than 900 million workers are trapped in labour activities with less than $2 of income per day. ILO data reveal that most of these workers are young women and children.

Over 5 billion people on our planet lack social security protection and basic health services.

Despite all this evidence, the global economy has now entered a phase with the lowest fixed investment as a share of income. While the scarce resources of the global economy are being wasted at the speculation games of the global casino, the future of our planet’s well-being is increasingly put at risk from climate change driven by carbon dioxide emissions and urban pollution.

What could have been more important than these facts to be articulated at the Antalya meetings of the G20?

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  1. Clive

    In the U.K. unions are reasonably strong only in certain sectors — especially public services — where industrial action is effective in short bursts (transportation workers, healthcare, emergency services) which is why our corporate-state government is trying to legislate to make it harder for them to exercise their human right to withdraw their labour.

    In the pretty much gutted manufacturing businesses, retail, the small army of self-employed contract workers who fill in for what were once bastions of organised work forces like education, local government, construction, utilities and so on, unions are dying on their feet as the workforce is salami-sliced by employers into individuals who are goaded into competition with each other rather than cooperation.

    The only bright spot is slightly increased unionisation in, ironically, white-collar jobs where the penny has finally dropped that this time around, the class warfare is against the middle, not the working class. But the mainstream unions which remain have been too bitten by the neoliberal bug to fight on the issues which would actually be beneficial to fight on.

    Given enough time, a resurgence of genuine socialist policy making in the Labour Party might move unions back to their previous “workers’ interests only” (as opposed to “let’s try and find a compromise between labour and the employers” notions which just over time degrade labour’s share of the pie) stance, but the knives are out for the current Labour Party leadership so I think a Palace Coup in the Labour Party is the more likely outcome. Hopefully I’m wrong, but…

  2. ambrit

    Here in the American South, the big ‘anti union’ tactic has been the traditional importation of skilled and semi skilled “foreigners” to undercut the local workers bargaining position. Who cares if the locals withdraw their labour if there are limitless sources of cheaper workers available? Here at least, Nativism, as distinct from the aboriginals’ struggle, is very much tied in with economic conditions. The old trick of diverting the disaffected workers’ anger from the wealthy exploiters to the essentially guiltless ‘foreign’ workers is working well. I have personally experienced the quasi bullying employed by job managers and their minions to foment this diversion of discontent. The old union hands had to physically fight for their goals. The Post Industrial union people will, sadly, have to do the same.
    On another note, the present economic “Powers” will fight tooth and nail against any sort of Guaranteed Annual Income because that will remove the “Powers” main weapon; the spectre of poverty.

  3. Keith

    Today’s ideal is unregulated, trickledown Capitalism.

    We had un-regulated, trickledown Capitalism in the UK in the 19th Century.

    We know what it looks like.

    1) Those at the top were very wealthy
    2) Those lower down lived in grinding poverty, paid just enough to keep them alive to work with as little time off as possible.
    3) Slavery
    4) Child Labour

    The beginnings of regulation to deal with the wealthy UK businessman seeking to maximise profit, the abolition of slavery and child labour.

    Immense wealth at the top with nothing trickling down, just like today.

    Capitalism gives nothing of its own accord, only organised Labour movements improved the conditions of the masses.

    This is why elites are clamping down on organised Labour movements as much as possible, so they can take more for themselves.

  4. Keith

    Better last sentence …..

    This is why elites are clamping down on organised Labour movements as much as possible, so they can take more for themselves and get back to their 19th Century ideal.

  5. financial matters

    Those L20 guidelines look very well thought out and very beneficial to most people.

    Thet remind me of this interview of Noam Chomsky by Abby Martin.


    He makes the point that the lower 70% of the population on the economic scale are disenfranchised. As an example the majority of people want a single payer/national health care program but the press keeps saying that it is ‘politically’ impossible. That is, it doesn’t matter what the public wants.


    And from Bill Mitchell

    “”The film last night demonstrates how abusive trans-national corporations can be brought to heel through organised, systematic and determined grass-roots actions at the local level.

    What it tells us is that the political Left has to glean its support from progressive grassroots organisations and in turn reciprocate that support in the political process.”” This Changes Everything


    In other words, politics matter.

  6. JEHR

    In Canada, the public service unions are still strong although Harper sought to reduce their sick days and started a campaign against the public service by comparing it unfavourably with the private sector. I think he had in mind to fiddle with public pensions before he was voted out.

    Employees tried to unionize a Quebec Wal-Mart so the company shut down the store.

    We are still working on minimum wage hikes but the raises are far too slow.

    Harper planned to use the Temporary Foreign Workers program to begin the reduction in wages and conditions in areas where these workers are needed. One of our banks (RBC) used the TFW program to hire workers that were trained by its own employees who would then lose their jobs after training! ( ). The sh*t hit the fan over that one and the bank backed down.

    The TFW has been fiddled with since then and I don’t know what its status is now. Harper also started promoting public/private partnerships wherever possible and these proved to be good for the private and discombobulating for the private: imagine doing research that only fit the criteria for the promotion of private profit rather than the public good!

    Our PM is concentrating his efforts on the so-called Middle Class which makes me worried for the working people.

    We have to wait and see what our new government will be doing. I am especially concerned with how the TPP will be regarded as it is supposed to be presented to parliament for discussion before it is signed (although everyone talks about it as if it were a fait accompli).

    The provinces are not faring so well with pensions which are being changed from defined benefit to shared risk and we know who takes the risk. The provinces badly need infrastructure funding from the Feds.

  7. Jesper

    Reading the appeals of the L20 makes me believe they are just overpaid out of touch bleeding heart upper-middle class ignoramuses aiming for (the irrelevant for most) twitter-fame and quotes in liberal press. Or shorter: Useful idiots.

    They have many many many goals -> None of the goals will have the necessary priority or focus to be successfully implemented. Cut away the waffle, the buzz-words and instead focus on the priority – getting proper collective bargaining again.
    If that comes through the collective bargaining of unions or through the collective (democratic) process of legislation is rather unimportant. Unimportant except for the institution that fails where the other succeeds, will national parliaments or unions manage to do well for the collective or will they continue siding with moneyed interests?

    1. polecat

      just like Trumka & his union affiliates siding with the dems & obamba to pass the ACA, only to piss n moan when it became apparent THEY would be subject to the same humilities the lowly plebs were to be held to…..don’t get me started about corrupt public service unions!

      1. polecat

        the ideal of the unions working for the greater good or commons is mostly a sham…”s primarily about receiving cost of living wage increases + benies for their core membership to the detriment of the society at large!……the public unions are the worse….they pit community citizens against one another via ever increasing property tax levies and bond proposals, while bankrupting the very communities they supposedly work for…….Yeah, because Unions!

        1. JTMcPhee

          …did I dial RedStates by mistake? Sorry, wrong number… Another reason why only the 0.01% can Have Nice Things….

          1. polecat

            Yes….that’s true …it wasn’t always that way…but we, as a country were ascendant,we had momentum that is now lacking. We don’t have the the physical resources we once had to do the kind of infrastructure build-out that occurred in the early to mid 20th cent., The population as a rule have become soft, in part, due to greater material affluence & electronic media distraction…and this two-party political duopoly that only serves the rich & powerful. So the unions, such as they are, grab whatever concessions they can while playing to the oligarchs & feckless politicians!!! I just don’t see unions working en mas to force the new-age lairds to compromise on behalf of the commons, to which I and millions of other belong.

            1. polecat

              and to Mr. McPhee above, I’ve voted democratic up to & including the 06 midterm and 08 obama elections…….only to see pelosy & co. and obama obsfucate and lie about their intentions toward their constituency so take your snide comments and fuck off.

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