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Unions - voice of social justice in Davos

27 January, 2016Global union leaders tell political leaders and business executives at the World Economic Forum in Davos that we need to build societies based on social justice and take care of workers in the ongoing industrial and energy revolutions.

The annual meeting of the World Economic Forum (WEF) at Davos is a crazy, special event. Each January, almost 3000 political leaders, business executives, civil society representatives arrive by train, bus or helicopter in the snowy alpine town in eastern Switzerland to debate all and everything during three days. They are surrounded by hundreds of consultants who are trying to sell their expensive services.

It is definitely a meeting of the elite, but the atmosphere is peculiar.  In the corridors of the huge congress centre, you bump into queens, crown princes, ministers, CEOs, actors and whatever, all with their entourage. You can talk to anyone if you dare. While I am sitting at a café with a high UN official, at the next table the Greek prime minister and Ukrainian president are starting their session. Power and money is all present and very near.

The global union leaders have attended the annual WEF sessions for more than 20 years now. I think it has been the right decision. If we are not there, no one will tell the politicians and executives that they cannot continue business as usual, as unemployment runs high and inequality is deeper than ever.

Labour is the voice of social justice in Davos. We speak about workers’ concerns. This is why Klaus Schwab, founder of the WEF, wanted us there twenty years ago.

Davos is a place to organize your thinking and sharpen your arguments. This time I spoke in debates about the future of manufacturing, global supply chains, and trade and investment.

Industry 4.0 is advancing, and it is both a social and technological revolution. Changes in manufacturing will require a major retraining effort and active labour market policies to create new jobs.

We have to strengthen the responsibility of multinational corporations throughout their global supply chains. ITUC’s fresh Scandal report revealed that 50 top MNCs employ directly only 6 per cent of their workforce. 94 per cent or 116 million workers are toiling for their suppliers and subcontractors, often in poor working conditions.

Trade debate continues, since after the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) between 12 Pacific Rim countries was concluded in October 2015, the European Union is negotiating with the US on a Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP).

One of the biggest problems of TPP is the investment protection mechanism ISDS, which gives multinational corporations the right to sue sovereign states and take them to murky arbitration. Thanks to public pressure, the EU in November presented an investment court system, which it says is more transparent and democratic.

ITUC’s Sharan Burrow was one of the WEF co-chairs and summarized our thoughts on climate change and sustainable development: we need a profound change in energy production, but industrial transformation has to include a just transition for workers.

Despite all the discussions and debates, our future is not determined in Davos. It is decided on the ground, through our everyday struggle of organizing workers and building union power all over the world, through our capacity to mobilize for a sustainable change, good quality jobs with living wages and the right to join a trade union.

Jyrki Raina

General Secretary