World’s biggest democratic gathering pledges to “build workers’ power”

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Hot on the heels of the recent elections in India and South Africa and the forthcoming European elections, the largest democratic gathering in the world kicked off in Berlin today with an impassioned call to “build workers’ power.”

Bringing together over 1,500 trade union delegates from more than 160 countries representing 180 million workers, the 3rd International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) World Congress is a week-long gathering where the global trade union movement will lay out its strategy for the next four years.

Speaking at the lunchtime press conference, where the annual ITUC Global Poll was also launched, General Secretary Sharan Burrow talked about the movement’s priorities – “job, jobs, jobs”, greening the economy and the need to tame corporate power.

“Unemployment, wages and inequality are the major issues for working people all over the world. When you have just over 3 per cent global growth it is not enough to just talk about increasing employment.

“We want a commitment to full employment and a living wage.”

More than one in two working families can’t keep up with the rising cost of living, according to the survey, which polled 14,000 people in 14 countries such as China, Russia, the United States and Brazil.

Four out of ten respondents said they had been directly impacted by job losses or a reduction in working hours, while nearly 90 per cent called for a global raise to the minimum wage all over the world.

“Whether its Africa, Asia or Latin America, people have the same sense of struggle,” said Burrow.

“More than half of the world’s people tell us they are frightened, that their children will not get decent jobs; that the economy is not working for working people.”

“People want governments to act,” said Burrow.

“Corporate power is out of balance – that’s why we have inequality. But no global organisation comes close to the unions,” she said.

Burrow also offered her condolences to the workers and families affected by the Soma mining tragedy in Turkey, blasting Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan for his “arrogant” response to the disaster.

“When more than 200 of our people die in an naccident you expect some respect but Turkey hasn’t even ratified Convention No. 176 (on health and safety in the mining sector). Instead, we saw the arrogance of the Prime Minister.

“I was in Turkey on May Day last year and we were greeted with rubber bullets and tear gas. He has showed an incredible lack of sensitivity.”



Later at the opening ceremony, the outgoing ITUC president Michael Sommer spoke of the “unacceptable” number of workers dying in industrial accidents such as the Soma and Rana Plaza tragedies.

“These people are victims, not of war but victims of going to work,” he said. “Trade unions are the strongest tool the weak have.”

Germany’s foreign minister Walter-Frank Steinmeier joined Sommer and Burrow in calling for more to be done to prevent such tragedies further workplace deaths and accidents:

“This has been a grave week,” he said in reference to the Soma tragedy.

“Workers must be protected and we lend our support to increased safety in the world of work,” he told delegates.

He also called on trade unions to lead the way for peace. Speaking on the deteriorating situation in the Ukraine he said: “We mustn’t let the crisis escalate and divide Europe once more.”

But the most poignant speech of the day came from former Moroccan football team captain Abdes Ouaddou who called for an end to the kafala system of “modern-day slavery in Qatar”.

“Playing in Qatar was one of the worst experiences of my life,” he said, demanding that the world take action to stop the 2022 World Cup from being hosted in Qatar unless workers rights are respected.

“We cannot play football in stadiums where blood has flowed,” he said. “Qatar without trade unions is a very bad place to work. Each person should have the right to join a union.”


You can follow the ITUC World Congress on Twitter with the hashtag #ITUC14 or by visiting And visit Radio Labourfor the latest daily news from the 3rd ITUC World Congress.