• A Call for a New Social Network for Labour and Globalisation

  • Τζιαν Φράνκο Μπέντζι | 20 May 09
  • The birth of the Labour and Globalisation European network (L&G), launched during the World Social Forum in Nairobi in January 2007, was based on the need to connect the diverse and all too fragmented experiences of work, from the stable to the occasional, before even trying to find common features among them and coming up with a platform which could represent the objectives and actions of the different forces.

    Second, it is now essential to understand better and try to strengthen the current representation of labour, to achieve which we must respond to the extraordinary strain caused by the intensification of the pace of work and at the same time by its continued material and professional impoverishment with the emergence of a specific social figure: the “poor worker“. 

    Just think of the devastating growth of informal work and illegal employment, with the difficulty of its very definition, even before its organised representation, being guided by the realisation that this is not a transitory condition but a dominant and permanent phenomenon. We urgently need to reinvent the form and dimension of labour protection that has existed up to now. 

    I am thinking about the most successfully established innovations of representation such as that of domestic workers that led to the birth of SEWA in India, which is now a member of the International Trade-Union Confederation, but also of those closer to home, which are more complex and which we are trying to consolidate in some sectors and regions of the country, such as those of the handicrafts sector or in agriculture, where trade-union representation and mutualistic forms have overlapped significantly. 

    Third, it was and still is important to pursue the possible process of mutual influence between unions and movements. I am thinking, for example, of the significance that the “no ifs or buts” campaign against the war in Iraq had for important associations and for the Italian trade union – particularly the CGIL and CISL – which allowed the construction of a political convergence between Catholics and secular movements and of these two camps’ expression of pacifism, which wound up moderating our country's bellicose behaviour and the further development of the conflict which, six years after its inception, still has not lost its power to cause death and suffering. It must be said that since that time the Italian peace movement has not been able to sustain an initiative at a similar level of intensity against ongoing conflicts nor a similar capacity to attract the forces for peace, which opinion polls tell us are the majority of public opinion, so as to mobilise them and make them influence the outcomes of still existing conflicts. 

    In the same way, trade unions and movements must be committed actors, in dialogue with each other, on our home territory: labour. And this not only within the forums and other events arising from these, such as the days of global mobilisation of recent years, to which national unions, including the CGIL, significantly contributed; this committment must be present also in the process of the emergence of genuine, even if limited, plans of actions drawn up together on the basis of goals which albeit partial were significant for both, and, most importantly, were capable of confronting the weakening of labour which the current economic crisis, but also the re-organisation of the workplace, highlighted and exacerbated. 

    In this regard, the proposal of an “annual spring conference” of the European trade-union and social movements has special significance.

    The project, which arose during the European Forum in Malmö and the following meeting in Paris, proposes experimenting with a structure of knowledge and exchange of experience between movements, trade unions and NGOs with a view to the major European challenges, including those cited above. An initiating committee was constituted, which will gather networks, movements and unions from diverse countries of the EU, with the two Belgian unions which are in charge of the invitations, with the agreement of the ETUC and the L&G. Based on previous meetings – arranged and consolidated by L&G, the meeting will take place in June and will involve, in an experimental form, 6 European unions and 6 European movements or networks, ETUC leaders as well as a L&G organiser. For this purpose a preparatory committee was constituted, which is to define the topics of common concern, that is topics of interest to both unions and social movements, which have a European dimension and which have seen the participation of protagonists involved in the dynamics of the present day.

    Next June’s experience should be able to provide a real exchange and have a strategic scope, as the shared response of the movements and unions to the evolution of the crisis, avoiding a conjunctural approach which, although in part necessary, is one of the limiting factors of the analyses and proposals being advanced in recent months.

    In fact, in many ways the union response risks appearing conjunctural and underestimating the crisis’s special character, which, on the one hand, exhibits a coinciding, such as has never been seen before, of the economic with the environmental and social dimensions, in a mix of which we still do not understand the consequences. It is on this terrain that we need to reconnect – and we have already begun to do this in Belém – the flows of information, consisting of the goals and agendas of each social protagonist, consolidating still more the features proper to the diverse contextual analyses, but without losing sight of the overall dimension of the issues and the urgent need of responses arising from already existing practice.

    It is in this direction that we need to relaunch an analysis and confrontation that takes on what now appears to be the strategic nodes of a response adequate to the upheavals under way.

    What is above all involved – as noted in the Belém document – is the renewal and broadening of the political conception of work, from the productive to the reproductive, from the formal to the informal, from dependent to autonomous. The trade-union movement absolutely must think about this, understanding that in the world of work the crisis produces not only fragmentation, but also overlappings, new hierarchies and new poverty in a context characterised by regressions and surrender of fundamental rights.

    One cannot confront the problem, made especially evident by the crisis, of the redistribution of work, if one does not break sharply from the consumption model and the technological-organisational one. This means to have a precise point of view on the transformations needed in the life style of people, this however in a context that is able to make this break credible and therefore with the proposal of models and styles aimed at a broad satisfaction of  people’s needs. It is necessary to stimulate a critical contextual reflection on the present, but also on choices we have made which contributed to the current problems – and we need to develop proposals such as those furnished by the social forum process in recent years.