The Council of Global Unions (CGU) held its inaugural meeting in Brussels, 9-10 January 2007. All GUF’s, with the exception of the International Metalworkers’ Federation, as well as TUAC, became members of the Council and signed the agreement.
The CGU was created to encourage closer co-operation among Global Unions in order to act more effectively at the international level to build a more favourable, enabling environment for organising and collective bargaining. Although its work has policy implications, it was not established to make policy. That is the responsibility of the organisations that constitute the CGU.
The first CGU meeting agreed on three major priorities; a conference on organising and recognition to be held in December, financialisation of the economy, and public policy issues related to the public sector and public employees. In addition, a large number of ongoing joint activities were reviewed and will be continued.
The organising and recognition conference was agreed as an important initial CGU discussion as to how the trade union movement could be more effective in generation and mobilisation of international leverage and solidarity for organising. The meeting is to be held in Washington, DC on the 10th and 11th of December, immediately prior to the General Council meeting. There was an oral report on the Conference to the General Council.
- It was agreed that TUAC would take the lead on developing policy in the area of financialisation. It has held two meetings, one in March and one in November of 2007 that have contributed to greater understanding of developments and some policy ideas. The discussion largely centred on private equity funds and hedge funds. In addition, on a continuous basis, it has had contact with the OECD and its member governments to influence policies that are relevant to trade union concerns on financialisation. TUAC has also participated in discussions with private equity firms and others.
- The ITUC developed and published an analysis entitled, “Private Equity, Hedge Funds and the new Casino Capitalism”. It has also been working closely with other Global Unions, in particular, with TUAC and has been involved in many discussions on these issues, including with the industry.
- Union Network International (UNI) has adopted Guidelines with 11 principles that outline expectations for the behaviour of private equity firms and serve as the basis for discussions with them (link). The points include respect for the International Labour Organisation’s core labour standards, negotiations with unions on take-overs, and respect for existing collective agreements. UNI has organised or participated in meetings with many private equity firms, individually and collectively. It has also drawn considerable public attention to the abuses of such firms. UNI has expressed similar concerns about the activities of Sovereign Wealth Funds established by several cash-rich countries.
- The IUF has adopted, publicised and implemented, through joint action with affiliates, analysis, policy, and strategies on private equity and is spreading information through the IUF Buyout Watch, which focuses on companies in IUFs sectors that have been particularly affected by private equity takeovers as well as providing general information. It has also published, “A Workers’ Guide to Private Equity”, a 36-page brochure designed for trade union members and activists and has co-operated closely with member organisations affected by such activity. It has worked on policy issues in co-operation with other Global Unions, with the Socialist group in the European Parliament and with many others.
- A number of other GUFs have also been assisting member organisations facing private equity takeovers. In spite of the fact that things are changing rapidly in this area, there has been a fairly good exchange of information among Global Unions, but also with the ETUC and with a number of national centres and sectoral unions. Given the shocks to the financial markets, particularly in the second half of 2007, and their relevance to financialisation, this is likely to remain a major issue for some time.
- Education International (EI) and Public Services International (PSI) are developing this CGU priority. It is built on ongoing campaigns such as Education for All and Quality Public Services. It will also centre on the Millennium Development Goals, of importance far beyond public employee unions.
- A number of related policy issues are being considered, including tax policy questions relevant to both public and private sector trade unions. EI and PSI have devoted time and energy to organising their respective Congresses in 2007; however, they plan to present an outline of proposed action to the January 2008 meeting of the CGU.
- The CGU discussed ongoing joint activities, based on a long list of common work over many years. Two items that generated particular interest were issues related to work relationships and communications.
- Work relationships is an issue that has developed from an ICEM campaign on contract and agency labour. The issue affects nearly every sector and has important legal and bargaining issues associated with it. It is also highly relevant to organising, not just because of confusion about the identity of the real employer, but also because situations are created where employment is often precarious and workers are more subject than usual to fear, threats, and intimidation. This effort is led by the ICEM, working with a Global Unions’ working group. The working group met in May and agreed on a working definition and to engage in a first stage of information gathering. The effort will focus primarily on work relationships in terms of their impact on organising and bargaining.
- Both internal and external communications were considered important. The focus is on whether we should be making common efforts to project to the general public the role and values of the international trade union movement and of trade unionism in general. There are also discussions as to how the trade union movement can better communicate among the various members of its family, national and international, sectoral and inter-sectoral.
- To develop these ideas as well as to re-design the Global unions web site, a meeting of Global Unions communicators – webmasters was held in October. Aidan White, General Secretary of the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), is leading this effort. He has also agreed to organise a major communications session to be part of the organising and recognition conference in December. Progress and proposals will be reported to the meeting of the Council in January 2008.
- The formation of a number of groupings of Global Unions to focus on specific issues, like communications, was discussed at the CGU General Secretaries’ meeting in June 2007. They agreed on a number of such working groups in such areas as gender, education and development. They also agreed that certain existing joint groups like the HIV/AIDS Steering Committee, and activities related to sustainable development and occupational health and safety (including the asbestos campaign) and a number of TUAC working groups (Economic Policy and Multinational Enterprises) would also provide information to the Council in addition to normal process of participants reporting back to their own organisations.