cj#1070> David Lewit reports: Open World Conference, San Francisco

2000-03-08

Richard Moore

Dear cj,

Many thanks to David for writing up his impressions of the recent OWC
conference.  OWC was scheduled long before the events in Seattle, but
when labor & environmental activists found common cause in the Seattle
protests, the upcoming OWC was seen as an opportunity to build on that
budding solidarity.  Environmentlists and others signed up for OWC and
it became a wider conference than originally envisioned.

in unity there is strength,
rkm

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Date: Tue, 7 Mar 2000 22:27:09 -0500 (EST)
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To: •••@••.•••
From: David Lewit <•••@••.•••>
Subject: Open World Conference, San Francisco
Cc: •••@••.•••

INDEPENDENT LABOR FIGHTS BACK
"Open World Conference" of Workers
in Defense of Trade Union Independence and Democratic Rights,
San Francisco, Feb 11-13, 2000

The average American who listens to "the news" is aware that
there are sweatshops "out there" in Asia making our shoes
and shirts, that there is an AIDS epidemic sweeping Africa
and now maybe India, that tens of thousands of Indians came
down out of the Ecuadoran hills to make a revolution
peacefully and were repelled, and that 50,000 abetted the
collapse of World Trade Organization negotiations in
Seattle.  These events are like fires burning somewhere in
another neighborhood--worrisome, but not really our problem.

The Open World Conference brought hundreds of catastrophes
like these into our own front yard.  Organized by the San
Francisco Labor Council (AFL-CIO), the International Liaison
Committee (ILC) for a Workers' International, and the
Continuations Committee of the November 1997 Western
Hemisphere Workers' Conference (WHC) against NAFTA and
Privatizations, two days of non-stop seven-minute
testimonies from around the world wove a solid fabric of the
depredations of the World Trade Organization (WTO), their
policies, and their allies.

"This worldwide onslaught is meant to be officially codified
at the upcoming Summit of heads of state in New York in
September 2000.  The main item on this Summit's agenda is to
officialize the reform of the United Nations (UN) and the
International Labor Organization (ILO), henceforth
transforming these two organizations into simple
sub-divisions of the WTO.

"The danger is real.  By integrating the ILO into the WTO,
trade unions around the world would be forced to become
appendices of international trade agreements.  Workers'
rights, collective bargaining agreements and Labor Codes
would no longer be rights guaranteed by states, but would be
reduced to hypothetical clauses in "free trade" agreements. 
Such rights might or might not be granted, depending on the
whims of the multinationals within the framework of these
trade agreements."  Thus says the draft Final Declaration of
the San Francisco conference, to be modified and ratified by
participants by e-mail.

Five hundred people of all colors and languages from 56
nations filled the ballroom of the Cathedral Hill Hotel. 
Against the wall near the front were several glass booths
housing five translators, and all participants were issued
tiny radio receivers with earphones, to tune in on a
simultaneous translation of the speaker in English, French,
Spanish, Portugese, or German.  Other languages hummed in
huddles behind us in the large hall.  The keynote speech
came in French from an independent trade union
representative from Togo in West Africa, trussed and bled by
the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank, the
principal international institutions twinned with the WTO.

The report from Sweden was shocking.  Only twenty years ago
Sweden was a model of social democracy.  The country is
being "given back to capitalism" without large protests from
trade unions.  Stockholm transportation is now under French
control.   Many trains have given way to slower and more
dangerous buses, and high speed train drivers have lost 5
years' pension and have extended work weeks.  Electric and
water services have been sold to private owners to pay local
debts.  Postal and telephone services are also privatized. 
Private schools, nursing homes, and hospitals get economic
favors while public facilities wither.  The legal system is
jeopardized; the mafia grows.  Though the Labor Party is in
government, strike bans have been proposed and trade unions
seek compromises, thus becoming tools of a Third Way
capitalist system.  Such government and corporate cooptation
was a major theme of reporters from many countries.

A siren-song of increased export trade with more jobs and
cheap imports is played incessantly, but the results
world-wide, as we heard one country at a time, are
unemployment, decline in health and education, displacement,
loss of labor rights, attacks on independent unionists, and
loss of democratic rights.  There is much despair--a million
African women with infants roam that continent looking for
work and community.  But there is also anger and courage in
demonstrating, striking, and continuing to organize and
build labor coalitions with other independent unions and
with democratic community groups.

In Guinea, West Africa, a bank economist explained how he
helped to found a bank workers' union.  In that country they
fought back against French domination, defeating DeGaulle's
referendum for them to remain part of France.  The labor
federation analyzed "structural adjustment," the IMF's
device to force privatization and export conversion in
exchange for loans. They negotiated and forced IMF to give
good jobs to youth and benefits to pregnant employees.  They
seem to have a viable strike potential.  Like many African
and other Third World and even European unions, they plead
for acts of solidarity from the US and Europe, and support
the fight for a new trial for Mumia Abu-Jamal.

China is "no longer Communist," but "very much Capitalist." 
Foreign trade has increased 20-fold in 20 years, with sharp
increases in displacement from the land, poverty, and
unemployment--"a plague."  "So many state enterprises are
bankrupt--30 to 40 million unemployed."  Fires in textile
factories have killed hundreds.  There is no social
protection--only ten per cent of the unemployed get
benefits.  Pay, especially for women, may be six months
late. Women turn to prostitution to feed their children. 
The government-approved unions are instruments of
repression. The Chinese government admits to 200,000 strikes
and demonstrations.  "The government can't arrest
everybody," but several people are serving 8-10 years for
trying to organize independent unions. "All unions
everywhere are endangered by harassment of Chinese
organizers."

Here is a sampling of other situations:
    * Southern states have "guest worker" programs involving 3
    million Mexican and Central American workers, "undocumented
    and vulnerable, but     encouraged." (USA)
    
    * Trade union "unicity" or "jointism" encouraged "to
    implement plans     decided by the Capitalists." (Italy)
    
    * War of the taxes--"state pitted against state" to lure
    factories, "de-linking labor rights." (Brazil)
    
    * Dock workers shut down ports for one week.  Big march
    against WTO/IMF March 9th.  (India)
    
    * Court and other public-sector employees laid off.  Prisons
    controlled by mafias. (Portugal)
    
    
    * International trade union federations easily coopted by
    transnational corporations.  Some are in bed with NGOs which
    take money from any source. (Chad)
    
    * Throughout Africa there is resistance to the US MAI-clone
    "Africa Growth and Opportunity Act" (Mauritius)
    
    * Workers get 6 cents an hour for 70 hours a week assembling
    McDonald's toys. "Please visit to see human rights
    violations." (Vietnam)
    
    * 20 million unemployed; others make $1 a day. There is an
    underground movement. (Indonesia)
    
    * 100,000 strike against privatization at "autonomous
    national university;" police repress.  "Please visit Mexican
    consulate and demand freeing student prisoners." (Mexico)
    
    
    * Citizens vote "no" to European Union, but government tries
    to divide unions to impose similar policies. (Switzerland)
    
    * Workers join with students, farmers, environmentalists,
    and consumers in possible general strike. (Korea)
    
    * Government and IMF with trade union complicity trying to
    "disorganize" society. (Turkey)
    
    * [With 4 million blacks in prison, detention, probation, or
    parole,] US prisons are the new worker "gulag." (Serbia)
    
    * The "most corrupt country in the world," a dictatorship
    which created dozens of political parties to derail real
    party effectiveness. (Cameroon)
    
    
    * 84,000 base unions in federation, independent of
    government.  (Cuba)
    
    * Community action including sexual orientation constituency
    has cut Coors from 42% to 14% of state beer market.
    (California)
    
    * EU and IMF dictate privatization and layoffs in electric,
    water, rail, etc., without positive effects.  Former state
    leaders are now businessmen running the country today.
    (Romania)
    
    * "Social security covers only a few percent, and is turned
    into a mafia-type investment company." "Patients who can't
    pay their fees are detained in hospital." (Iran)
    
    * "All emergency rooms in the county will be closed by
    2001." (Los Angeles County)
    
    * With NGO help; Filipina sweatshop worker gets US Justice
    Dept to sue employer to improve conditions. (Saipan--a US
    territory)

The Conference emphasized the need to protect and ratify ILO
core labor standards, which are under attack.  The US has
ratified hardly any ILO conventions.  The core standards are
Conventions #87, 98, 29, 105, 100, 111, and 138 which codify
the right to associate and to organize independent unions,
to bargain collectively, prohibiting forced labor, requiring
equal wages for equal work, banning discrimination in
employment, and abolishing child labor. The Conference also
emphasized  #103 protecting pregnancy and maternity rights
for workers and #143 requiring amnesty for undocumented
workers--rural workers deprived of rights in the USA.

The conference was attended by Alliance members Ruth Caplan
(Washington DC), Roger Dreyfus (Boulder CO), Dave Lewit
(Boston MA), Nancy Price (Davis CA), and Arlene and Jim
Prigoff (Sacramento CA).  Concerned as we are with WTO
expansion, we would like to have seen emphasis on upcoming
negotiations on the General Agreement on Trade in Services
(GATS) which would privatize health, education and water
services among others, and introduce investor rights similar
to the derailed Multilateral Agreement on Investment (MAI).
There might also have been discussion of enforcement
mechanisms for ILO conventions where national law
enforcement is ineffective.  Further information about
conference concerns may be found at on the web at
<www.geocities.com/owc_2000/> or by e-mail <•••@••.•••>.
                                      
--David Lewit, Alliance for Democracy

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Richard K Moore
Wexford, Irleand
Citizens for a Democratic Renaissance 
email: •••@••.••• 
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                        -- Frantz Fanon

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