Transport workers map global fightback at ITF World Congress


The International Transport Workers’ Federation’s (ITF) 43rd World Congress opened in Sofia on Sunday with a passionate rallying cry for its 4.5 million members to “fight back” against global inequality.

ITF President Paddy Crumlin acknowledged his fellow transport workers as “essential to human life. We run the trains and buses and airplanes. Our dock workers are moving goods. We are in the fishing industry. We are everywhere and we demand justice.”

But he warned those gathered that they would be in for a long, hard fight.

“We live in a world where the wealth created by 3.5 billion people is equal to the wealth controlled by 80 individuals. There is something fundamentally sour and wrong with that.”

Crumlin also called for trade unionists to come together to end the most extreme and pervasive forms of exploitation ranging from precarious work to child labour and modern day slavery.

“We must protect the weak because if we don’t , one day “those people” will be us and our children.

Over 1800 workers from 116 countries attended the opening ceremony, in which women took centre stage.

As well as speeches from the Federation of Transport Trade Unions in Bulgaria (FTTUB) president Ekaterina Yordanova and the mayor of Sofia Yordanka Fandakova, International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) General Secretary Sharan Burrow made a strident call to end the attack on Gaza.

“The killing must stop. The blockade must end. The occupation of Palestine and the settlements in the West Bank must end.

“Palestine must be recognised as an independent state in line with our two state policy. Peace for both the people of Palestine and Israel is the only answer.”

She called on delegates to join the ITUC’s Peace Like Mine postcard campaign, while the ITF reiterated its call for contributions to its Gaza Fund which is helping to transport food and medical aid to the Gaza Strip.

Almost 2,000 people have been killed since the start of Israel’s Operation Protective Edge in July.

A further 500,000 people have been displaced and more than 10,000 homes and 300,000 livelihoods have been destroyed in one of the worst attacks ever on the besieged Gaza Strip.

Speaking at Monday’s plenary, the ITF Arab Region Secretary Bilal Malkawi told delegates that the Gaza Bus Drivers Union building, which was in the process of being rebuilt following previous Israeli air strikes, had been destroyed once again.


Under attack

On a lighter note, the ceremony featured a number of musical performances from artists including Bulgarian folk legend Valya Balkanska and Eurovision contestants Elitsa & Stoyan.

Other distinguished speakers included the Bulgarian Prime Minister Georgi Bliznashki who urged delegates to work together in the fight against inequality.

“Solidarity is crucial during difficult times. And these are very difficult times”.

Guy Ryder, Director-General of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) commended the ITF for its “blunt diagnosis” of the challenges facing transport workers globally as laid out in the congress theme document, and pledged the ILO’s support in helping to tackle those challenges.

Meanwhile, the Bulgarian pilot Captain Yanko Stoimenov provided moving testimony about the power of Bulgarian trade unions after he was the victim of a witchhunt following a deadly plane crash.

“You can never imagine what the union has meant to me in my life. When I was on the verge of a life catastrophe, I found out how strong the unions are.

"In order to make justice prevail, you need a lot of effort to stand up to power. And strength and courage is something that you all have.”

As the plenary got under way on Monday, ITF Acting General Secretary Stephen Cotton shone a light on the ITF’s campaign successes including the Global Delivery campaign to organise workers in multinational logistic companies, and the hugely successful Flags of Convenience campaign which has helped strengthen the health, safety and rights of seafarers working on FOC ships across the world.

But it was a speech by Victor Crespo, a Honduran trade unionist who went into exile in Nicaragua following deaths threats and intimidation, that earned a standing ovation and rapturous applause. “Being a trade unionist meant that my life was in danger but I will never give up,” he said.