Activity report (2009)

The Political Context
What a difference one year makes! Last year I was worried that Obama might become the leader of a “Global Social Democracy” project, as Walden Bello called it, and thus pre-empt more radical alternatives, which seemed a plausible option in the light of the global economic crisis, merging with other global crises, old and new. If only!What in fact we got with Obama is a “centrist” (i.e. conservative) administration, totally at variance with the spirit of his campaign and the groundswell of opinion he got elected on. He could have been another Roosevelt, he chose to be another Clinton.

The American labour movement has once again been disappointed, if not betrayed, by a Democratic administration. As Carter and Clinton before him, Obama has found other more pressing priorities and serious labour law reform (the Employee Free Choice Act) has been indefinitely postponed.

Little else has changed since last year. The interrelated crises: “that of the financial system, spreading to the entire economy; critical stresses on the environment; the food crisis; the energy crisis; a social crisis caused by growing inequalities and poverty; and, inevitably, a cultural, ideological and political crisis” are still there. Despite the mounting dangers, there is no sign of true alarm or urgency, much less of solutions, about any of this.

Last year I wrote that the crisis of the global capitalist system “could not be overestimated”. It turns out that in fact it very easily could be. Walden Bello asked the rhetorical question: “Will government ownership, intervention, and control be exercised simply to stabilize capitalism, after which control will be given back to the corporate elites?”, expecting neo-Keynesian solutions to be more likely. In fact, this is exactly what happened. The States have saved the banks with taxpayers’ money and the pigs are back at the trough.

What is lacking is effective resistance from the labour movement and from the political Left. There is a huge empty space in the global picture where labour and the Left used to be. Last year I wrote: “The social response to this onslaught on workers’ lives has so far been remarkably muted”. In 2009, it got worse. The American labour movement was embroiled in a totally destructive internal war caused by Andy Stern’s megalomaniac adventures at a time when it should have been aggressively responding to the sidetracking of its concerns by the Obama administration. The European and international labour movements, in their institutional form (ETUC and ITUC) were entirely absent from world events or, in any event, there was no visible evidence of their existence.

This is not to say that there were no labour struggles: there were many, often very hard fought, and even successful some of the time. But they were local, and if they had any international dimension, it was confined to a sectoral basis. They were invisible, except to readers of LabourStart, in other words, to other committed trade unionists. As long as they remain local und unrelated in time and space, the system can very well absorb them and eventually roll them back.

The machinery that was invented to prevent this from happening was the international labour movement. The Internationals were created to be the multipliers of local struggles, to coordinate them within an ideological framework so that each struggle would be a step towards lasting social change. Their function was to provide a perspective based on a common understanding of society and of the process of social change.

This machinery is broken, largely through its own doing. The merger of the ICFTU and WCL in 2006, hailed as a “historical” event, produced an organization which has inherited the defects of both the ICFTU (depolitization) and of the WCL (overcentralization). This merger, based on the lowest common political denominator of both organizations, proved once again that bigger is not necessarily better.

What we got is an organization that in its four years of existence has produced nothing but a stream of press releases reporting what others have done, with a commentary from the general secretary apportioning blame, praise and advice.. There is no hint of any challenge to the system, of serious involvement in any significant workers’ struggles, of an alternative vision of society. The ITUC now functions like an NGO with an exaggerated claim to labour representation, increasingly irrelevant and remote from its own membership.
This void at the top makes it very difficult for the ongoing labour struggles to break out of their isolation, relate to and support each other, to be perceived by public opinion as more than yet another instance of “labour unrest”, to gain public support and to make a political impact, to be seen as part of a broader struggle in the interests of all society, not just of an “interest group”.

The summit of the international labour movement, and this includes its European side show, has thus become a major roadblock to the development of a political and social alternative which would enable the movement to progress towards a solution of the multiple crises society is faced with.
It is unlikely that the congress of the ITUC in Vancouver, in June 2010, will produce a significant change. There will be a new general secretary, with proven credentials of honesty, militancy and a broader view of her mission. She has, however, allowed herself to be nominated without the conditions that would give her the necessary elbow space, she will be a prisoner of the Brussels apparat and she believes the Chinese State labour organizations are real trade unions. This could work out in various ways, including disaster, but the worst is never certain.

The World Social Forum has served to some extent as an alternative venue for social movement and labour convergence, but after nearly ten years it has become clear that an annual festival cannot be a substitute for international organization, even though it has helped generate a number of regional and international associations.

At the same time, there is now a multiplicity of blogs and websites dealing with labour and socialist politics, many of which are very interesting and some brilliant. News services like LabourStart, and a website like New Unionism, among others, have contributed to fill the void at the level of information and political discussion (check them out under “Links” on the GLI site). Whether and when a new movement can emerge from this broth remains to be seen.

What can an organization such as the GLI do in this context? Our mission statement (“Introducing the GLI”, on the website under “About the GLI”) remains a fairly adequate guide. In 2009, we have focused on the following tasks:

(1) participate, with the Cornell GLI, in an effort to renew and clarify the international agenda of the labour movement;
(2) participate in efforts to organize workers in the informal economy, particularly domestic workers; support the activities of WIEGO, the international movement of informal women workers, particularly of its organizing program;
(3) the publication and dissemination of labour movement history;
(4) the publication and dissemination of the history and the ideas of independent and democratic socialism.

We have done this through the GLI website, by participating in meetings/workshops/seminars with associated organizations, by preparing workers’ education material and by assisting with the publication of relevant material by associated organizations, including editorial and financial contributions, to the modest extent of our possibilities.

The GLI library continues to grow through new acquisitions and now probably ranks among the main sources of labour and socialist literature in Geneva, if not in Switzerland.

We propose to continue these activities in 2010, while strengthening the network of our fraternal and associated organizations.

January 5 (DG,KP): GLI Board Meeting, Geneva
January 12-13 (DG): UNRISD/NGO Consultation on Future UNRISD Research, Geneva
March 27-28 (DG) Rotschuo Retreat
April 19 – 21 (DG): Global Trade Union Task Force, Cornell GLI, San Fernando, Trinidad and Tobago
June 3-19(DG,KP): International Labour Conference, Geneva
June 16 DG,KP): GLI Board Meeting, Geneva
July 17-19 (DG): Association Club Mohamed Ali de la Culture Ouvrière (ACMACO), Université d’Eté, Gammarth, Tunisie
October 7(DG,KP): Meeting on GLI/IUF/WIEGO Moldova Project), Geneva
November 20(DG): Book launch Fil rouge, Geneva
December 7-11 (DG): IUF Asia/Pacific Advanced Education Course, Bogor, Indonesia

January 22-23 (DG,KP): WIEGO Board Meeting, Manchester
January 24 (DG,KP): WIEGO ORP Advisory Committee Meeting, Manchester
March 3-4 (DG): HomeNet South Asia and HomeNet Bangladesh: Regional Workshop: Toward a National Policy on Homebased Workers and the Ratification of C.177, Dhaka
March 30 (KP): EFFAT/IUF women’s committee meeting, Brussels
April 6-8 (KP): Workshop: Organizing informal workers in Eastern Europe – partnerships between NGOs and trade unions; jointly with ITUC-PERC, FES, Homeworkers Worldwide, Clean Clothes Campaign, Bratislava
April 19-20 (KP): ILO ACTRAV/ITUC consultative meeting to prepare for an ILO Convention for domestic workers. Geneva
April 21 (KP): Meeting with Andrea Nahles (MP Germany) on ratification of C 177, jointly with DGB and German Commission of Justice and Peace, Berlin
April 27 (KP): side meeting with members of the working group on migrant domestic workers of the High Commissioner of Human Rights, Geneva
May 5 (KP): IUF Women’s committee meeting
May 7-8 (KP): ITUC-PERC Women’s Committee, regional workshop on the economic crisis and informalization of the economy, Sofia
June 3 – 19 (DG, KP): International Labour Conference
June 6-12(DG,KP): side meetings with Steering Committee of the Domestic Workers’ International Network (IUF), Geneva
June 8-9 (DG,KP): Seminar on People-Centered Economy
June 11 (DG,KP): Meeting of the International Co-ordinating Committee (ICC) on Organizing Workers in the Informal Economy, Geneva
June 12: (DG,KP): Meeting of the Advisory Committee of the Organization and Representation Program, Geneva
June 18 (DG): Management Committee (conference call)
June 19 (KP): WIDE Conference, Basel
August 20-21 (KP): Meeting with RESPECT Network, Amsterdam
August 26-27 (KP): Meeting with Oxfam (Novib), Amsterdam
September 16 (KP): Steering Committee IDWN (conference call)
September 17(DG): Management Committee(conference call)
September 21 (KP): Meeting with Jo Becker (Human Rights Watch), Geneva
September 29 (KP): Staff WIEGO (conference call)
October 14 (KP): Day of General Discussion Migrant Domestic Workers, UN High Commissioner of Human Rights, Geneva
October 19 (KP): Side meeting with EFFAT/IUF Women’s Committee on domestic workers, Berlin
October 23-29 (KP): WIEGO staff retreat, Boston
November 30-December 1 (KP): International Workshop “Strategies of Empowerment of (Migrant) Domestic Workers”, Geneva

Board Meeting (DG): May 6 (Bern), November 12 (Zürich)

Swiss Socialist Party
May 25, September 7, November 23 (DG): International Policy Committee, Bern

Oltener Kreis/Cercle d’Olten
DG: April 4, October 3 – Bern

Pages de Gauche
DG: Editorial Board, Lausanne: April 24, June 19, September 18, November 27

Collège du Travail
Committee, publications sub-committee(DG): February 5, February 27, June 22, September 1

Round Table Domestic Workers, Germany (Bremen)
KP: Group meetings: January 28, February 18
Meeting with MPs of Federal State of Bremen: February 12

Denknetz/Réseau de réflexion
Working Group on Precarious Employment (domestic workers)
KP: Group meetings: June 24, September 4, Oct 6, Dec 3
Nov 6 : Conference on Globalized Wage Work in private households – ways out of precariousness”

DG: Fil rouge: Expériences et écrits sur le syndicalisme international, Collège du Travail, Genève, 2009, 271 p. (an anthology of writings by DG on a wide range of political and labour subjects, in different contexts). 700 copies were printed.

DG: The Labour Movement, Indonesian edition (Gerakan Buruh). The first edition was published by the IUF Indonesian Project Office in February 2006 as a 70 page booklet. A first print run of 2,500 was followed by another 2,000 in December 2006 and another 500 in July 2009, so as of July 2009, 5,000 copies had been printed. A specks is due to the Iuf Asia/Pacific Regional Organization for its support of this publication.

DG: The Labour Movement, Thai edition. The historical overview by DG(cf. GLI website, under “International Labour Movement”) was published in November 2009 by the Thai Labour Campaign together with Hal Draper’s “Two Souls of Socialism”. The two essays are printed in the same volume, upside down (139 p. for Draper, 264 p. for DG). Two thousand copies were printed.

There was a book launch in Bangkok in December and reportedly the book has already given rise to lively discussions. This is not surprising since it is the first ever serious radical narrative about the labour movement and socialism in Thailand that is not Maoist and, in fact, a direct challenge to the Maoist interpretation of history.

The GLI contributed CHF2,200 to the publication of this brochure.

Moldova Project
Following conversations between GLI, IUF and WIEGO. which started in 2007, about ways of organizing support for independent trade unions in the Republic of Moldova (at that stage only SindLUCAS, the IUF affiliate representing HRC and other service workers), and about organizing workers in the informal economy (home-based workers, street vendors and domestic workers) into unions, the following developments took place in 2008 and 2009:

(1) In May 2008, Svetlana Boincean, IUF representative in Moldova, established a labour support NGO called Formal, with the aim of informing workers, particularly informal and migrant workers, about their rights.
(2) In May 2009, Svetlana created a website: (in Romanian and Russian with links to English, Russian, etc. sites) for Formal. DG is able to follow the Romanian version of the website.
(3) At about the same time, the GLI submitted a project proposal to the International Solidarity Service of the Republic and Canton of Geneva. The total budget of the project for one year is CHF31,000, of which CHF25,000 are contributed by Geneva and CHF6,500 are the contribution of the GLI in terms of DG and KP working time. Out of the CHF25,000, CHF3,000 can be claimed by the GLI as overhead costs. The objectives of the project is to provide Svetlana with support for organizing workers in the informal economy, particularly women, in addition to the work she is already doing as part of her IUF activities. This means principally to strengthen the work of Formal, help develop the website, and support SindLUCAS activities directed towards organizing informal workers (legal aid, training courses, etc.).
(4) In September 2009 the authorities of the Canton of Geneva approved the project for one year (November 2009 to December 2010) with possible extensions in 2011 and 2012, subject to annual evaluations starting with 2009/10. A contract was signed between the GLI and Geneva on September 26, 2009.
(5) On October 7, 2009 a meeting took place between Svetlana Boincean (IUF), Barbro Budin (IUF), DG (GLI and WIEGO), Joëlle Kuntz (GLI) and Karin Pape (GLI and WIEGO) at the IUF to work out the operational details of the implementation of the project, which started according to plan in November.
Since StreetNet International has also started working in Moldova in 2009, with the assistance of Svetlana Boincean, it is likely that co-operation will develop between our related activities.

Domestic Workers
The GLI has played a significant role in the international domestic workers’ movement which developed since November 2006, when an international conference on “Respect and Rights: Protection for Domestic Workers” was held in Amsterdam under the auspices of IRENE and of the IUF. Some 60 participants came from domestic workers’ organisations, networks, trade unions and support organisations as well as researchers from all continents. Barbro Budin represented the IUF and Karin Pape represented the GLI.

It was the first-ever such global meeting to discuss the situation of domestic workers and to develop effective international action to fight for their rights. The conference adopted a statement setting out ideas for future work and affirming the need for a permanent international network to help coordinate it – this network to be run by domestic workers’ organizations themselves. At a follow-up conference in September 2008, a provisional Steering Committee was formed. The IUF agreed to provide the logistic base for the network and designated a coordinator (Anneke van Luijken from IRENE). WIEGO had also decided to support the domestic workers organizing project, since domestic workers represented a significant portion of women workers in the informal economy. The WIEGO contact person for this project is Chris Bonner, director of its Organization and Representation Program.

The group decided to use the ILO progress to create an international convention for domestic workers, and representatives from domestic workers’ unions, invited by the IUF, attended the 2009 International Labour Conference (ILC) in Geneva, to prepare for negotiations over an international instrument for domestic workers in 2010 and 2011.

However, by the end of 2008 it became clear that the Steering Committee expected improved procedures for information, communication and coordination. The GLI then stepped in: in the first months of 2009, DG reorganized the IDWN website ( and KP activated the exchange of information. The IDWN website was taken over by Kathleen McKenzie in October 2009, in cooperation with Karin (GLI and WIEGO), Giulia and Barbro (IUF), Chris (WIEGO) and Dan (GLI).

At its June 2009 meeting in Geneva, the Steering Committee elected its office bearers, agreed on a name for the network (International Domestic Workers’ Network, or IDWN) and elected Karin Pape as Acting International Coordinator (until 2011 at the latest; with the ILC and the Convention issue out of the way, the IDWN would convene its first congress in the second half of 2011, adopt a constitution and elect an International Coordinator from its member organizations).

In her capacity of IDWN Acting Coordinator, Karin, who is a WIEGO staff member, is “on loan” from WIEGO to the IUF, and becomes an IUF staff member for the duration of her IDWN assignment.

DG continues to act as an informal advisor to the IDWN (website, networking).
The GLI activity with the domestic workers organizing project has been funded partially by the Berti-Wicke-Stiftung, a Swiss foundation supporting socialist and feminist causes, which contributed CHF10,000. (In addition, of course, of Karin’s salary contributed by WIEGO and CHF1,000 contributed by the IUF for work on the website in early 2009).

HNSA/GLI Project
HomeNet South Asia (HNSA), one of two regional organizations of home-based workers which survived the collapse of HomeNet International in 2003, is interested in creating the conditions for a reconstruction of HomeNet International and has offered a contract to the GLI to assist in this project. This would principally entail:

· Mapping exercise organizations working with home workers in Europe, Latin America, Africa
· Report of mapping exercise-name of organizations, type of home-based workers, type of trades engaged
· International Workshop or seminar for the formation of HomeNet International-content for the seminar, objective of the seminar
· Drafting Bylaws and registration of New HomeNet Intentional

This is a three-year project, starting in 2009, with a total budget of USD25,000 per year. A first instalment of USD25,000 for 2009 was received in February 2010.

The mapping exercise is in progress, and Dave Spooner has written an education manual on the Home Work Convention (C. 177), which has been delivered to HNSA and which is in the process of being subedited.

A second assignment of the GLI for HNSA is to assist in the campaign to ratify C. 177. This entails:

· Regional workshop on C 177 in Bangladesh-developing content for the workshop, papers for the workshop, information from HomeNets
· Background work in country HomeNets-meeting with Govt. officials, ILO, organizations
· Developing information material for C 177
· Developing campaign strategy for C 177 for the countries like Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka

WIEGO History Project
In early 2009 WIEGO proposed a contract to the GLI to undertake a historical analysis of informal workers’ international organizations, to be published as a sequence of three studies: home-based workers, street vendors and waste collectors. The contract provides for an initial payment to the GLI of USD5,000 and of a further payment of USD15,000 upon completion of the project.

Although DG signed this contract in May 2009, it subsequently proved that neither the deadline originally envisaged, nor the volume of work involved in all three studies, could be carried out by the GLI. The reasons are limited capacity and the pressure of other commitments, which are detailed above. The GLI therefore applied for a revision of the contract, limiting it to home-based workers,. and for an extension of the deadline (to March 31, 2011). It is hoped that by concentrating on home-based workers, this project may be a useful complement to the HNSA/GLI project and might contribute to the reconstruction of HomeNet International.

Karin Pape has continued working part time as an administrative assistant and as a researcher and writer on informal economy issues (see above).
As in the past, Oscar and Nora Payuyo have been responsible for cleaning and maintenance.

Ms. Mariane Grobet-Wellner has kept the GLI accounts in the period under review.
The financial report for 2009 is attached as an annex.

Download accounts:
Income & expenditure; Balance sheet