IndustriALL’s regional conference in Kuala Lumpur on 3 – 4 July, brought together unions from the region, providing a platform to highlight and discuss wins, struggles and how to promote women and youth in union structures.
Unions in Asia Pacific have achieved great things, like using global framework agreements on the ground to safeguard workers’ rights, and the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh.
But these achievements must be grounded in our organizing work,
said regional co-chair Michele O’Neil from Australian union CFMEU at the opening.
Having a process in place is good, but it must deliver direct change for the workers on the ground. As a region and as IndustriALL we must come together to put pressure to produce change.
Delegates highlighted major struggles and victories in the region, underlining the importance of swift global solidarity.
Anne Donnellan, from Australian Manufaturing Workers Union, spoke about the 180 days of strike action and 200 days of negotiation at Griffin Coal, which resulted in a win earlier this year.
PT Smelting, owned by Freeport Indonesia and Mitsubishi Materials, produces more than 40 per cent of the world’s copper. In 2017, some 300 workers were laid off and Said Iqbal, president of Indonesian union FSPMI, said that international solidarity helped to fight back.
We need to teach the greedy capital a lesson. We need to take joint action, we can’t do it on our own.
The regional conference adopted a solidarity resolution, supporting the CFMEU members at Kimberly Clarke’s Millicent site in Australia.
In a region where many industries operate within highly complex supply chains, Pakistan’s unsafe mining industry, the issue of working hours in Indonesia, shipbreaking in South Asia – often called the world’s most dangerous job - and the government in the Philippines trying to minimize right to bargain, there are many challenges ahead.
Unions in Malaysia told of a low interest in joining a union, especially among young workers. Unions are calling for an easier registration process to counter the issue, as well as calling for a stop to the exploitation of foreign workers.
IndustriALL moving its regional office to Kuala Lumpur will show employers that global unions are keeping an eye on them,
said Gopal Khrisnan, general secretary of NUTEIAW.
Delegates were asked to show solidarity with workers at Samsung operations in South Korea, who are not free to join a union.
Valter Sanches IndustriALL general secretary reminded the conference about IndustriALL’s Charter of solidarity and said:
One of most IndustriALL’s most important role is to mobilize our members to international solidarity, and that is how we win. And the unions in the countries where the company is headquartered has a special role.
Affiliates in the region are leading the way in developing supply chain strategies to organise workers and hold global companies accountable for violating the rights of workers whose labour contributes to their profits,
said Jenny Holdcroft, IndustriALL assistant General Secretary.
Unity among the unions affiliated to IndustriALL is fundamental for building power. Delegates shared examples of coming together in national councils throughout the region, sometimes despite political differences.
The Japan liaison council told of how improved activities are a result of the national council.
IndustriALL has 20 affiliates in Bangladesh, 16 in the garment sector, which can make for competition between unions. However, the IndustriALL Bangladesh Council has managed to achieve consensus on their demand for a new minimum wage in the country. The unions are now united in demanding 16,000 taka (US$189)/month.
The regional conference was preceded by a women’s conference, raising the issue of how to improve women representation at both IndustriALL and union levels. Discussions about securing spaces for women issues in the respective unions continued during the regional conference.
Unions in the Philippines reported that implementing laws and resolutions that deal with women participation and representation is sometimes a challenge. Add to that needing to change perceptions and make a predominantly male leadership see women as erstwhile partners, equal in rights.
Affiliates in Singapore pointed out that employers are part of the problem of low women representation; they need to start considering women as a source of power.
IndustriALL unions in Japan have adopted Agenda 2020 to promote work-life balance with numeric targets to achieve.
We need this if we are ever to reach IndustriALL’s 40 per cent target of women representation in the union,
said Mikkiko Yasuhara from JEC-RENGO.
Building union power must imperatively include organizing young workers, who do not always see the greater benefit of being organized. Youth unionists from the region gave the conference a lively presentation on their pressing issues, as well as submitting their demands for IndustriALL’s Congress in 2020.
This regional conference gives us a platform to discuss and exchange information on our priorities from various points,
said Akira Takakura, regional co-chair.
We need to continue to organize to strengthen the organization, and we need to develop activities in our unions and industries.
Trade and industrial policy
With neoliberal capitalism on the rise, there is a need to ensure that global trade and investment benefit workers and society. To that end IndustriALL is to campaign against trade and investment agreements that do not meet minimum standards, and instead develop an alternative, transparent trade policy.
A draft policy paper on issues important for global unions is in the making and will be presented to the Executive Committee in November this year.
Asia-Pacific is the region where IndustriALL has the highest number of affiliates, representing the highest number of workers, but it is also where we see some of the most excesses in terms of company greed and violations of workers’ rights.
This regional conference has really shown the combined strength of vibrant unions committed to make a change,
concluded Valter Sanches.