Activity report (2004)

In the period under review (April 1, 2004 – March 31, 2005) the Global Labour Institute continued to work principally on workers’ issues in the informal economy. As a member of the Steering Committee of Women in Informal Employment Globalizing and Organizing (WIEGO), Dan Gallin participated in its Transition Sub-Committee, which is preparing the transition of WIEGO to a membership organization under a new constitution. WIEGO, however, does not intend to engage in organizing: that is the role of the International Co-ordinating Committee on Organizing Workers in Informal Employment (ICC), established in December 2003 in Ahmedabad, which held its first meeting in Geneva in June 2004. WIEGO will continue to provide support to union organizing in the informal economy, mostly through research.

Gallin and Pat Horn, co-ordinator of StreetNet, the international network of street and market vendors, completed a paper on “Organizing Women Workers in the Informal Economy” which, it is hoped, will provide background material and information that unions may find helpful (on the GLI web site, under Issues/Women Workers).

The GLI has also worked with unions and church-based organizations in Germany to secure the ratification of the ILO Home Workers Convention (C. 177). Karin Pape has done most of the work on the project and has prepared a brochure for distribution to parliamentarians summarizing the arguments for ratification. At the same time, the GLI has approached unions and members of parliament in four other countries to explore the possibilities for ratification of C. 177.

Another area of activity of the GLI has been to participate in the discussion on the future of the international trade union movement. It is generally recognized that the trade union movement is in crisis, in most parts of the world and particularly in its traditional heartland, the industrialized countries of Europe and North America. In last year’s report we noted the manifestations of this crisis: loss of membership and inability to organize the growing mass of unorganized workers; lack of power to resist repression; lack of capacity to resist the neo-liberal agenda. We suggested that underlying this loss of power and authority was a crisis of identity and orientation and that a serious challenge to global transnational capital could not be mounted unless we recovered a common identity based on an alternative vision of society.

The GLI is among those who hold that the ideology of “social partnership”, which became dominant in the labour movement in the three decades following WW2, has now become the main obstacle to the necessary renewal of the movement. Clearly, that view is still a minority position: large parts of the trade union movement are still unable to come to terms with the loss of their presumed “social partners”, even while transnational capital has obviously abandoned any “partnership” perspective and is using its vastly increased power to unilaterally impose its interests on society.

There is a real danger that the majority of the trade union movement will seek solutions to its crisis by restructuring exercises that will provide the appearance of power without its substance. That is the issue currently under discussion in the United States; it has also become an international issue through the decision of the recent ICFTU congress to create a new International through a merger with the WCL (plus some former WFTU affiliates and independents). The absence of any political and ideological perspective in this policy decision is striking. We hear that the significance of this merger lies in that “the ideological divisions of the past” are being overcome, but we are not told what the ideology of the “new International” is supposed to be. Nor is it clear what stopped the ICFTU in the past from doing by itself what it will supposedly be able to do within a “new International” where its affiliates will represent about ninety percent of the membership.

There appears to be an assumption that such a merger, by itself, will automatically restore the power and authority that the labour movement has lost, all else remaining equal, as if the mere addition of weaknesses could produce new strength. This is magical thinking, without any basis in reality or reason. The hedgehog, caught in the headlights, does what it knows best: it turns into a ball – moments before it gets run over.

There is no attempt, in the leading circles of the trade union movement, to analyze the changing nature of capitalism, which has led to a dramatic shift in power relations to the detriment of labour, nor to analyze the changing nature of the working class, which is a prerequisite for successful organizing.

However, the assumption that the current leadership of the international trade union movement is seeking to re-build the strength of the movement to make it fit for a successful power struggle with transnational capital may be wrong. It is disturbing to hear that the stated level of ambition of the “New International” is no more than to exercise more influence in the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. This means chasing the illusion of a “global social partnership” under conditions where “social partnership” is a thing of the past, even where the labour movement has been strongest. The signing on of most of the international trade union movement to the UN Global Compact is another manifestation of this policy of seeking co-optation at international level. Maintaining an appearance of bargaining without bargaining power: that is a strategy of submission, not a strategy of struggle.

We do not believe that union strength can be built, or re-built, at any level, without the involvement of an aware, informed, motivated and militant membership. It certainly cannot be done under conditions where most of the members are not even aware of the existence of the organizations that purport to speak in their name. To re-connect the membership to a perspective of international struggle requires a realistic assessment of the situation, the political will to change it, a vision of an alternative, the democratic reform of the movement and a global program of action. Education, organizing and struggle must go hand-in-hand.

Through its web site and through its networks, the GLI will continue to support those working for the reform of the labour movement through struggle, reconstructing its identity as a movement for democratic social transformation, with a common vision of an alternative, and better, society.
Although the financial situation of the GLI has improved (slightly) in 2004, it remains precarious. We have ended the year with a small surplus, but will need to further consolidate the position in 2005.

The GLI Board held its Eighth Meeting on December 11 in Geneva.

In the period under review, the GLI Chair participated in the following meetings:

In 2004:
April 19-23: T&GWU Seminar: Globalisation, Development and the International Trade Union Movement, Eastbourne (speech: Contemporary Issues in the International Trade Union Movement, on GLI web site (Issues, International Trade Union Movement)
April 28: Solifonds Board Meeting, Bern
May 22: Swiss Socialist Youth, National Congress, Olten (speech: Partis et Syndicats, unpublished)
October 4: unia (final congress), Bern
October 16: UNIA (founding congress), Basel
Note: In Switzerland, important changes have taken place in the labour movement. In October, a new general workers’ union UNIA was founded through the merger of four private sector unions: FTMH/SMUV (metal and textiles), SIB/GBI (construction, paper, chemicals), FCTA/VHTL (commercial, food and transport) and unia (services). With 200,000 members (half of the membership of the Swiss Trade Union Federation) UNIA is the largest union in Switzerland. Most importantly, however, the union sees itself as a militant response to changing social and political conditions. It is building a substantial fund for international activities. These will support international trade union action, unlike the Solifonds, which supports one-off solidarity actions, and the Swiss Workers’ Aid (OSEO/SAH), which engages mainly in welfare and relief projects. (
November 19: Cérémonie d’hommage à l’exil des Républicains espagnols en Midi-Pyrénées, Toulouse
Note: This was a memorial meeting in homage to the Spanish republican exiles in Southern France, co-sponsored by the authorities of the Région Midi-Pyrénées and the Regional Government of Catalonia. Gallin was invited as a former member of Aide aux réfugiés espagnols (ARE), the Swiss branch of Spanish Refugee Aid (SRA), founded by Nancy Macdonald in New York in 1953. SRA helped mainly those refugees who were not supported by powerful political organizations, such as those of the independent and revolutionary Left (CNT and POUM). When Nancy Macdonald retired in 1983, SRA had helped some 5,000 refugees; it still helps a small group, in their 70s and 80s, who have not returned to Spain. ARE, based in Geneva, was active from the mid-1950s to the mid-1970s. (
November 25-27: Workshop on the Changing Role of Unions in the Contemporary World of Labour, Social Policy Forum, Bogaziçi (Bosphorus) University, Istanbul (speech: Organizing in the Global Informal Economy, on the GLI web site (Issues, Informal Employment))

In 2005:
March 11-12: Rotschuo Circle, Rotschuo (Schwyz)

October 9-10: IFWEA/Euro-WEA Seminar: Global Network: Political Education & Globalization, Eastbourne (speech: Political Education and Globalization, on GLI web site (Issues, Politics))
October 11-12: IFWEA EC, Eastbourne

In 2004:
June 7: Workshop: WIEGO and International Co-ordinating Committee on Organizing Workers in Informal Employment (ICC), Geneva
November 11: Preparatory Meeting, Home Workers’ Convention Germany; Frankfurt

In 2005:
January 10 – 11: WIEGO Transition Committee Meeting, Ahmedabad
January 12 –14: SEWA meetings (Meeting with SEWA Executive, Launch of SEWA On-Line Newsletter), Seminar on Organizing in the Informal Economy, Ahmedabad
February 10: Working Group on Home Workers’ Convention Germany, Berlin

In other capacities:

Board Meetings: April 29 – 30, October 15, January 19, Geneva
October 18: Table ronde: Le Vietnam à l’aube du 21ème siècle, Geneva
October 19: Opening of Academic Year, Geneva

Collège du Travail
May 7 – 8: Réunion internationale “Archives, histoire et identité du mouvement ouvrier” (speech: Les archives du mouvement ouvrier: un enjeu identitaire; (on GLI web site (French)), Geneva
Board June 25, Geneva
Denknetz/Réseau de réflexion
June 26, Bern; September 25, Bern

Pages de Gauche
May 14, October 3, December 5 (Lausanne)
Oltener Kreis/Cercle d’Olten: August 28 (Bern)

November 10 (Bern)

Karin Pape represented the GLI at the following meetings:

In 2004:
March 17: Participation in the DGB Working Group on Migration (preparation for the International Labour Conference), Berlin
March 18 – 19: International Conference (DGB and Justitia et Pax): Organisieren – nicht resignieren. Das Recht auf Vereinigungsfreiheit für die informelle Wirtschaft. Modelle, Strategien, Hindernisse; Berlin (Karin wrote the summary record of the conference, to be published)
May 11 – 13: Seminar (IRENE, Evangelische Akademie zu Berlin, Evangelischer Entwicklungsdienst, DGB-Bildungswerk): Decent Labour and Social Security in the Informal Economy: Elements of a poverty oriented development strategy, Berlin (Karin wrote the report of the seminar, to be published in the IRENE Newsletter).
September 23 to 25: Seminar (IRENE, Clean Clothes Campaign and Evangelische Akademie Meissen): Campaigning Strategies on Informal Labour in the Global Garment Industry, Meissen, Germany
November 11: Preparatory Meeting, Home Workers’ Convention Germany; Frankfurt

In 2005:
February 10: Working Group on Home Workers’ Convention Germany, Berlin
Karin also participated in the 2004 International Labour Conference as a German Workers’ Delegate (DGB) on the Migrations Committee.
Work in Progress, Projects, Networks, Contacts

Gallin has completed a synopsis of the international labour movement (14,000 words), which is now on the GLI web site (The Labour Movement, under Issues, International Labour Movement). This was originally commissioned by Harvard University, which will publish a shorter version as a chapter in a text book on social movements. As noted in last year’s report, the original version could become the basis for educational material, in particular for the IUF Asia/Pacific regional organization, which requested the GLI to produce such material.

The paper Organizing Informal Women Workers by Gallin and Pat Horn, co-ordinator of StreetNet, the international network of street and market vendors, is now also on the GLI web site (Issues, Women Workers). A version of this paper will be published by the United Nations Research Institute for Social Development (UNRISD) (

The Graduate Institute of Development Studies (Institut Universitaire d’Etudes du Développement) ( in Geneva has asked Gallin to write a paper on trade unions and development policies and to conduct seminars on this theme in the course of 2005. The paper should be completed by September 2005.

GLI activity to secure the ratification of the ILO Home Workers’ Convention will continue in 2005, in five countries at the present time, and more where opportunities may arise.

Work has continued on the GLI web site, with the assistance of Mary Sayer in Manchester. It is intended to turn the web site into a serious resource for trade unionists, political activists and students concerned about developments in the international trade union movement and about its future.

In September 2004, a Global Labor Institute was established at Cornell University ( Although the similarity of the name was unintended, it has become clear that the two “GLIs” share important objectives. An Australian Global Studies Research Centre is to be established at the University of Western Australia later this year. The GLI intends to establish co-operative and mutually supportive relations with both institutions. We would welcome the creation of more “GLIs” working together for common goals.

The GLI Chair has continued as an editorial board member of Antipode, a journal of radical geography (contact:, a member of the advisory editorial board of Federation News, the journal of the General Federation of Trade Unions (UK) ( or: and of the editorial boards of International Union Rights, the journal of the International Centre for Trade Union Rights (London) ( and Pages de Gauche (Lausanne), the monthly publication for French-speaking Switzerland of the Left in the Swiss Social-Democratic Party (

GLI Board
By decision of the Eighth Board Meeting (December 11, 2004), Karin Pape was invited to join the Board.

GLI Advisory Board
No changes in the period under review.

The autobiography of Werner Thönnessen, “Mein Tor zur Welt” (Verlag Sozialistischer Autoren – VSA, St. Georgs Kirchhof 6, DE-20009 Hamburg) appeared in April. Thönnessen worked for the German metalworkers’ union IG Metall from 1957 to 1972 (as head of communications from 1962), then Assistant General Secretary of the International Metalworkers’ Federation from 1972 to 1989. He is the author of: “The Emancipation of Women: The Rise and Decline of the Women’s Movement in German Social-Democracy 1863-1933”,  Pluto Press, 1973 (

Karin Pape has continued working part time as an administrative assistant (since January 1, 2004 on a voluntary basis), and as a researcher and writer on informal economy issues. She is currently working on a brochure (in German) in support of ratification of the ILO Home Workers Convention by the German Parliament.

As in the past, Oscar and Nora Payuyo have been responsible for cleaning and maintenance.

Financial Administration
Ms. Mariane Grobet-Wellner has kept the GLI accounts in the period under review. The accounts for 2004 have been audited, as last year, by Mr. J.J. Mermier (CIFISOR S.A.). The auditor’s report is available on request (French only).

A statement of income and expenditure and a balance sheet for 2004, are attached:

Download accounts:
Income & expenditure; Balance sheet