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Media Centre  |  COSATU Speeches

Address by Bill Jordan, ICFTU General Secretary to the COSATU 7th National Congress

20 September 2000

ICFTU General Secretary Bill Jordan addresses COSATU 7th National Congress delegates

Brothers and Sisters, thank you for inviting me to the first COSATU Congress of the new century!

I bring solidarity from the 123 million trade unionists of the ICFTU to the COSATU Congress. In April this year, the ICFTU held its 17th World Congress here in South Africa. The support we had from COSATU and from our Brother Vavi in the holding of that Congress was simply tremendous.

What better place could there be for the world trade union movement to determine its direction in the new millennium than here in South Africa!

In the battle against South Africa`s apartyheid regime, trade unions set the world an example of how to fight the power of repression, and win. The world`s trade union movement is now in the greatest fight of its life.

We are in a struggle against a globalisation that has no place for the principles, values and standards we have fought for and established over the last 200 years. The world`s trade union movement is going to need the same solidarity that was shown by the men and women of COSATU in their successful struggle against Apartheid.

The ICFTU Congress set our movement policies that would challenge the catastrophic Free Market formula that has produced so much inequality and social injustice across the world.

But Congress recognised that our movement does not yet have the ability to deliver the mobile global solidarity need to match the flexible power of the multinational giants.

So Congress launched the Millennium Review, it involved COSATU, it involved 145 Trade Union Centres on all 5 continents. Its objective is to mobilise the resources of the world union movement to respond to that phenomenon of globalisation.

Globalisation affects all our members, women and men, from the poorest developing countries to the most technologically advanced industrialised economies.

Globalisation means the IMF and World Bank, determine the economic policies of most of our countries and not their elected governments.

It means exploitation by multinational companies, as in the export processing zones, many of them are barbed wire compound where young women go unorganised, unprotected and underpaid.

Globalisation is not just a growing concentration of wealth, it is also a massive shift of power from the people to a privileged few.

Fortunes are being made overnight by speculation with the buying and selling of money.

In the United States alone, there are 268 billionaires, an increase of nearly half over last year. The average pay of chief executives is more than one hundred times the wage of the average worker and 85 billion dollars is held by one man, Bill Gates.

At the same time, in cities across the world, the numbers of street children picking through garbage dumps continue to grow.

Sisters and Brothers, it is not enough to condemn this injustice, we must organise to rid the world of it!

Globalisation is not working for ordinary people. Not for millions of workers thrown out of jobs, not for the girls and boys who cannot afford school, and not for those battling for survival in the informal sector. There are nearly a billion men and women without work in this world and yet the Free Market still manages to find work for 250 million children!

Even in the developed world the things trade unions fought for and established, labour legislation, social security and pensions are being dismantled by governments, eve so called socialist governments, lacking the guts to challenge the unrestrained free market agenda.

The resources are there, the world has never been richer, but the political will is lacking to eradicate poverty from the face of the earth you know. To provide all developing countries, for one year with basic health and education as well as water, sanitation and nutrition, would cost much less than the $50 billion spent just on cigarettes in Europe annually.

But if the world`s political leaders struggle to find the moral determination to tackle injustice, big business has no such problems of conscience!

Multinational companies are more concerned about how to get at Africa`s mining resources, than how to lift the African people from poverty.

Look at Sierra Leone, whose diamonds fuel the profits of the world`s major multinational companies while at the same time they turn a blind eye to a national torn apart by the ravages that their search for wealth has unleashed.

And don`t expect a blinding flash of enlightenment from the IMF and World Bank either.

The World Bank is the world`s expert on poverty. They tell us that in the last ten years, the number of people living in extreme poverty on less than $1 ad day has grown to one thousand, one hundred and ninety nine million (a quarter of the world`s population). And the worst increases were in Sub-Saharan Africa.

You would think that with such a devastating indictment of their failed policies the World Bank would reform its own policies and practices. But no, almost in defiance of the evidence it continues to push its simplistic useless free-market strategies for solving poverty.

The World Bank and the IMF will not change until they are made to change. I call on our Brothers and Sisters of COSATU to endeavour to get the South African Government to change its policies on the World Bank.

Because right now, in Prague, your own Finance Minister from the ANC, Trevor Manuel, is getting ready to chair the Annual Meetings of the IMF and the World Bank. A strong argument for real reform coming from South Africa will make a difference at that meeting.

We know that the massive problems in developing countries will not be solved by any simple subservient reliance on foreign investment by multinational companies. We know that debt relief is a major part of the solution.

But we also know that is not enough! On this continent, tens of millions are living in desperate poverty while natural disasters, genocide and disease including the scourge of HIV/AIDS have combined to produce a level of suffering that is not only a tragedy but the shame of the world.

In the campaign at the Seattle WTO, we maintained our common front. And as a result, we have put labour standards on the agenda in all world trade negotiations.

Now we must, together, build an even more intense and effective campaign to advance workers` rights in every part of the global economic agenda. ICFTU General Secretary Bill Jordan addresses COSATU 7th National Congress delegates

Sister and Brothers, our challenge is to forge unbreakable links in the trade union`s chain of global solidarity.

Our job is to become bigger, stronger, and more effective players in globalization. We must challenge its ideology, fight for democratic governance of the global economy and curb the power and greed of multinationals.

We view the future not with despair, or defeatism.

Global solidarity works. Look at the international campaigns we have all been part of, when union leaders have been jailed. Solidarity campaigns like the one we fought in Nigeria, and one which we still fight in countries like Zimbabwe and Swaziland to defend our brothers and sisters in adversity there.

As we look to the future, we should not underestimate the urgency of the challenges to the trade union movement. But we should not underestimate our own strength either.

The history and the accomplishments of COSATU show just how much the trade union movement can accomplish when it acts with one purpose and solidarity.

This Congress shows the power of solidarity and the power of COSATU. When the whole world`s trade union movement demonstrate that same power, that same solidarity, we win the battle of globalisation and we are going to!

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