No. 44@2006/10/24

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Zenroren's Yearly Report
"Workers' Struggles Around the World 2006" (No.12)
Presents Distinctive and Common Features of Workers' Struggles

by FUJIYOSHI Nobuhiro

The National Confederation of Trade Unions (Zenroren) has published the 12th issue of the "Workers' Struggle Around the World 2006," the annual report on the state of the trade union movement around the world.

The Report shows that workers' struggles in different parts of the world have much in common and gives many hints and ideas useful for addressing problems facing the Japanese trade union movement. It is thus a must-read literature for researchers interested in the development of the workers' movement.

Before going into details of the collection of interesting research reports concerning workers' struggles in different countries, let's take a brief look at the history and characteristics of the Report. Zenroren published the first issue of the Report in 1995. There is no other publication of this kind, except for the Trade Unions of the World, which has been published six times in Britain, by different publishers. As a report regularly published for more than ten years by Zenroren, a national trade union center, in collaboration with Rodo-Soken, a research institute established with the aim of contributing to developing the trade union movement, this Report is quite unique internationally.

Purpose of the Research

The Report is a collection of research papers. Taking into account the growing US military and economic hegemony under the ongoing neoliberal globalization, the editors tried to discover the common ground of Japanese workers' struggle and labor movements in other countries and to make use of lessons drawn by workers all over the world in advancing workers' struggle in Japan. The latest issue focuses on major struggles carried out in 2005 by workers and trade unions around the world in 2005.

The Report presents the studies of the struggles of various countries in terms of 1) issues and demands on the struggle agenda, 2) the scope of organizing, efforts and tactics for the struggle, and 3) gains and gaps of the struggle.

It also provides a lot of information and overview analysis about the realities, distinctive developments and the background of the labor movement in each continent and country, to help understand the trends of workers' movements.

Two New Projects Added

Two new projects were launched in the latest edition of the Report.

One is that the struggle of Japanese workers was included in the Report in response to a strong request from readers, who said that by so doing the Report can best fit for its title, "Workers' Struggles Around the World."

The other is that key statistical indicators were added to the country study, so that the Report can be used as a mini data book.

I believe that these new projects have helped to make the Report more informative.

Covering One Region and 40 Countries

The latest Report gives analysis of the researches covering one region (European Union) and 40 countries as follows:

Asia: 9 countries - Japan, Republic of Korea, China, the Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam, and India
Oceania: 2 countries - Australia and New Zealand
North America: US and Canada
Central and South America: 6 countries - Venezuela, Bolivia, Colombia, Mexico, Brazil and Argentine
Europe: 1 region and 20 countries - EU, Great Britain, France, Belgium, The Netherlands, Luxemburg, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Italy, Greek, Spain, Portugal, Sweden, Estonia, Slovenia, Lithuania, Czech Republic, Slovak Republic, Hungary, and Poland
Commonwealth of Independent States - Russia

Common features of workers' struggles around the world

In the research results presented in this Report, we find some noticeable features shared by workers' struggles throughout the world.

(1) Struggle against neoliberal attacks through
"deregulation" policy

The US. model of the neoliberal strategy that promotes corporate profit-first policy - a neoliberal economic policy relying on the law of the jungle - is being driven by the desperate goal of surviving "international competition," increasing international competitiveness on a global scale. Driven by this strategy, large corporations are making the most use of state policies for strengthening the strategy of deregulation and liberalization that destroys workplace rules and undermines workers' living standards and basic rights.

Workers throughout the world are struggling to realize their demands in opposition to these attacks. The following are some of the common features:

In the Philippines, workers are demanding the abolition of the system of hiring workers on an individual contract basis. In Thailand, workers are opposing the adverse medical reform. In India, the struggle against privatization is increasing. In Australia, workers are taking part in the struggle to stop the adverse labor law reform that gives employers freedom to fire and bans workers from going on strike. Workers' struggle against adverse labor law reform is also on the rise in Canada and Mexico. In EU countries, workers are fighting against the introduction of flexible work schedules, against the plan to have immigrant workers work in the service sector under the work conditions of countries of origin. The struggle against the privatization of the postal services is underway in some EU countries. In Britain, Belgium and Portugal, opposition to the adverse revision of the pension system is growing. In France, workers are demanding that the new employment law be revoked. In Switzerland, workers are opposing the expansion of work on Sundays. In Italy, calls for unstable employment to be regulated are increasing, and in Greece, the struggle against adverse revision of the social insurance system is developing.

(2) Struggle to raise the minimum standards of living, including a raise of the minimum wage

The imposition of the U.S. model of neoliberal policy has forced more and more working people into the poverty class and increased the number of underpaid workers. The biggest task is for the trade union movement, therefore, to not only oppose wage cuts, but also fight to get the minimum standards established concerning working conditions, including lowest wage, or to improve the conditions.

In South Korea, Thailand, Vietnam, New Zealand, Great Britain, Germany, Switzerland, Sweden, Estonia, Lithuania, Slovakia, and Poland, workers' struggle for the establishment of the minimum wage system is developing. Depending on the history and tradition of the trade union movement, the minimum wage system is enshrined either in a law or in labor contracts.

This being the situation, the struggle in Switzerland for the minimum wage is noteworthy. Although the lowest wage is established in labor contract at 3,000 Swiss Franc per month (about 270,000 yen), it coincides with the county's poverty line and minimum pension (both 3,000 Swiss Franc). This means the Swiss minimum wage system is placed at the centerpiece of the nation's national minimum standard of living.

(3) Organizational Development

Considering the laws to protect workers as obstacles to a quest for profit, the U.S. type of neoliberal economic policy has been pushing for the policy of "deregulation" , which have created in many countries a huge number of unstable contingent workers. As a result, the percentage of organized workers is declining in most countries.

In order to halt this declining tendency in union density and to improve their status in society, trade unions are making serious efforts to organize contingent workers and increase the union membership..

In South Korea, trade unions are focusing on the effort to stop the widening gap between the rich and the poor, or "bipolization of the society," and to advancement and organization of non-regular workers. In China, unions are organizing rural migrant workers in cities, considering them as "new constituency of the working class."

In this connection, the activities of the Change to Win Federation, established as a second US national trade union center with a membership of 6 million, are worth noting. It consists of trade unions that broke away from the American Federation of Labor - Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) due to the differences over organizing strategy including policy for organizing the unorganized.

Union activities in Britain are also of note. Aiming to transform themselves into organizations that give greater emphasis on mass actions, they have established union schools such as "Organizing Academy" and "Union Academy." To organize young workers, they have opened "Trade Union in the Classroom."

Another example is the struggle of Italian unions. In Italy, Law No.30, enacted in 2003, has resulted in increasing the number of unstable and contingent workers. Unions are trying to organize these workers, and fighting against contract employment and outsourcing of labor.

(4) Persistent Movement Overcoming Difficulties

The Report presents a realistic picture of unions in different countries tenaciously carrying forward movements to achieve their demands, despite challenges and difficulties. It is important to pay attention anew to these movements in connection with the starting point of the trade union movement we should maintain, that is, to organize and carry on campaigns to achieve the workers' demands.

In Colombia, unions are fighting to protect workers' livelihoods and rights from the violent attacks by the forces of reaction, who are kidnapping, torturing and killing union leaders.

In Germany, the public employees' union has succeeded in winning a new wage agreement in conjunction with the revision of the basic labor agreements after the two-years of labor talks. In the private sector, unions in steel, printing and construction industries have also achieved the conclusion of wage agreements with the companies, through a long, strenuous negotiations.

Italy's three metal and machinery workers' unions, affiliated with the country's three major national trade union centers, have been carrying on the struggle including strikes for wage agreements, for almost a year. Food, public service, and railroad unions also waged similar struggles.

It is important to note that the metal workers' unions in Italy have placed a thorough implementation of union democracy at the core of their struggle. They started negotiations based on the members' confidence won by voting for the ratification of the agreements. It is also noteworthy that the struggle was organized for 3 weeks at each factory and region concerned.

(5) Movement in a Quest for Corporate Social Responsibility and New Development of International Cooperation

The global competition among international corporate giants, driven by the US-led neoliberal economic model, is causing so-called industrial "hollowing out." To counter this trend, labor unions are internationally joining forces in calling for corporate social responsibility (CSR) by developing international solidarity and common actions on various issues.

In the EU hotel and restaurant industry, labor and management signed a joint statement on corporate social responsibility. French chemical multinational Rhodia and the International Federation of Chemical, Energy, Mine and General Workers' Unions (ICEM) sealed a "Global Framework Agreement" setting forth the company's global corporate social responsibility. Gebruder Rochling, a Germany-based auto parts and electronics maker signed an agreement on principles of corporate social responsibility with the company's European Works Council, European Metalworkers' Federation (EMF), and Germany's IG Metal.

In Central and South America, trade unions in Venezuela and Argentina are leading the effort rebuilding enterprises or factories that have gone bust due to neoliberal economic policy. In Venezuela, in October 2005, the Workers National Meeting for Corporate Reconstruction and the first Latin America Meeting for Factory Reconstruction were held. The latter was jointly hosted by trade unions in Venezuela and Uruguay, and had 400 from 235 occupied facilities and representatives of the 20 union national centers participating in it to exchange opinions and experiences.

Swiss Unia, the union representing workers in service industries, and Italy's General Confederation of Workers (CGIL) concluded an agreement in May 2005 on immediate measures to protect Italian workers (35,000 a year) migrating into the Swiss State of Ticino, which borders northern Italy, and for preventing wage dumping in this area. This is the first agreement concluded in Europe for such purposes.

A European conference on the future of the auto industry was held in March 2005 in Turin, Italy, sponsored by the labor research foundation and others. Major European unions and municipalities concerned participated in the conference to discuss the actual situation and future prospects of the auto industry. Participants made a radial review of the state of overproduction and explored ways to develop the industry in long-term as well as historical perspectives.

The Swedish Trade Union Confederation (LO) and the Free Trade Union Federation of Latvia (LBAS) concluded an agreement to work together in opposition to social dumping by the companies to worsen the working conditions including wages taking advantage of the gap between the two countries.

(6) Foreign Migrant Workers' Unions Formed

It is also of note that efforts have started to organize foreign workers.

In South Korea, the Seoul-Gyeonggi-Incheon Migrants' Trade Unions (MTU) was inaugurated as the first foreign workers union. Twenty people participated in the inaugural meeting, while some 200,000 undocumented foreign workers are said to be staying in South Korea. A Bangladeshi Anwar Hossain was elected chair, but the Korean authorities rejected the application for approval and detained him.

In Germany, the European Volunteer Workers (EVW), a migrant workers' federation, was formed in 2004 with the cooperation of a construction workers' union. It started with only nine members, but in the convention of the construction workers' union in October 2005, it was reported that the EVW had increased its membership to about 1,000. It organizes migrant workers from Poland, Romania and Hungary.

(7) Increase in Women Union Leaders

Another feature in trade union movements around the world is increasing women's role in union leadership, including as national trade union center president.

The New Zealand Confederation of Trade Unions (NZCTU) has increased its membership by more than 17 percent for the past six years to the 300,000. Its recent congress elected two women as vice presidents, Sharon Clair representing the Maori and Helen Kelly. With the remaining male president and female secretary general, the NZCTU now has three women officials. In its inaugural convention, the US Change to Win federation elected as its first president Ana Burger, international secretary-treasurer of Service Employees' International Union (SEIU). She is the first woman to be elected president of a US national trade union center. In Great Britain, the Trades Union Congress (TUC) also elected a black woman Gloria Mills, senior official in the public sector union, UNISON, as chair.

(8) Trade Unions' Efforts to Change Themselves

The Report shows that changes are underway in national trade union centers and trade unions in several countries. Behind this is the trade union movement joining more and more with the efforts for political change, as described in the following section.

In Venezuela, the Bolivarian Revolution is underway under the Chavez government. It is the effort to defend national sovereignty and changes society into a people-oriented one. Taking part in this process, the trade union movement is changing itself.

In the United States, joining the increasing campaign to oppose the Iraq war and demand a withdrawal of U.S. troops, a nation-wide anti-war network of trade unions, "US Labor Against the War" (USLAW) is advancing as a new move in US history. It is worthy of attention that the US labor movement is changing in quality.

(9) Labor Movement Merging into the Movement for Political Change

It is inevitable for the struggle against the US neo-liberal economic model to call for better working and living conditions and the country's right of economic sovereignty. One of the distinctive features of this struggle is that it has been developing combining itself with nation-wide campaigns for political change.

The most outstanding examples are the struggles in Central and South America, and India.

In Latin America, the region long that has long been referred to as the "backyard of the US," is undergoing dramatic changes. In this region, the labor movement and other popular movements opposing the US political and economic dominance that exploits people are being carried out as the movement to establish an independent economic and social system rejecting the economic, military and political domination by the United States.

In the region, candidates calling for new people-first policies have won the presidential elections. In Venezuela, Hugo Chavez was reelected in 2000. In Argetina, Nestor Carlos Kirchiner was elected in 2003. In Uruguay, Tabar? Vazquesz was elected in 2004. In Bolivia, Juan Evo Morales was elected in 2005. It is unprecedented in the history of Latin American countries that administrations upholding policies for independence from the US and for the best interests of the people were established in one country after another around the same time. These changes are of great significance in world history as well.

In India, seven national organizations of trade unions got together in a meeting in February 2005. They denounced the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government led by the Indian National Congress for continuing the previous government's anti-workers and anti-people economic policy, as breach of its election pledges. They made a plan for strengthening the struggle stage by stage based on 16 urgent demands, carrying out a tenacious effort from February through September to raise the level of the movement in preparation for the September 22 general strike. Gathering all the strength and energy for the success of the strike, they organized 60 million workers in the strike, an unprecedented success ever achieved in the labor movement in India.

The success of India's general strike and the development in Latin America are recorded in the Report, as the most outstanding examples of workers' struggles around the world in 2005. The Report will be of great use for further study of these achievements.

(10) Workers' Struggles in Countries Aiming for Building Socialism

Labor movements in countries striving to build a socialist society, including China and Vietnam, have the following characteristic features:

In China, the All China Federation of Trade Unions (ACFTU) has adopted a policy of mobilizing broad sections of workers to contribute to the implementation of the nation's 5-year plan. It puts emphasis on the need to adhere to the course of development of trade unions in line with the effort to build socialism with Chinese characteristics, promoting labor relations adjustment, secure workers' legitimate rights and interests, and promote the establishment of a socialist, harmonious society. The ACFTU emphasizes the need for efforts to resolve problems related to employment, social security, wages, and workplace safety and health. Specific measures include efforts to: organize migrant workers from farming villages to cities, form trade unions in and establish labor contract with foreign companies operating in China and public enterprises, and eliminate practices against the labor union law including the rights violation concerning wages and work hours.

In Vietnam, trade unions are taking part in a nationwide campaign to eradicate hunger and to reduce the poverty rate with the aim of advancing the Doi Moi reform. The campaign has been successful, and even the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) praises its achievements. Vietnamese unions are furthering their efforts to improve people's living standards by revising the poverty standard and increasing the minimum wage in segments of the domestic economy. They are also addressing the problem of uninsured workers employed by oral contract.

These developments are noteworthy as trade unions taking on new challenges in the construction of a socialist society through a market economy.

The Report "Workers' Struggles Around the World 2006" thus focuses on features and points at issue for further study of workers' movements in different countries, where we find difficulties and challenges similar to those facing the Japanese trade union movement. I hope that many people will read this Report.

It will be even more useful to read the previous editions published in the past five years, to examine the changes and developments that have taken place. The 2003, 2004 and 2005 editions (Japanese only) are available on the website of National Confederation of Trade Unions (Zenroren):

Contributors to the Report "Workers' Struggles Around the World 2006" are Rodo Soken International Labor Study Team members:

IWATA Yukio- Rodo Soken Executive Director; Zenroren Deputy Secretaryr-General and International Bureau Director
OKADA Norio - Rodo Soken member; journalist
OMOKAWA Makoto - Rodo Soken member; journalist
KATO Masuo - Zenroren International Department head
KOMORI Yoshio - Rodo Soken member; international labor researcher
SAITO Takao - Head of Rodo Soken Executive Director; head of International Labor Study Team; Professor, Gumma University
SAKAMOTO Mitsue - Rodo Soken member; international labor researcher
SARUTA Masaki - Rodo Soken member; Professor, Chukyo University
SHIMAZAKI Haruya - Rodo Soken board member; Professor Emeritus, Chuo University
TSUTSUI Haruhiko - Rodo Soken member; international labor researcher
HIRAI Jun'ichi - Rodo Soken member; international labor researcher
FUJIYOSHI Nobuhiro - Rodo Soken Deputy Director-General
FUSE Keisuke - Rodo Soken member; Deputy Secretary of Zenroren Youth Department
MIYAMAE Tadao - Rodo Soken member; international labor researcher

Writer is Deputy Secretary General,Rodo-Soken

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