Activity report (2010)

Preamble: The political context
2010 was a dismal year. Worldwide, the attack on workers’ rights continued unabated and the power relations continued to shift to the disadvantage of the labour movement. As Warren Buffet said: “There’s class warfare, all right, but it’s my class, the rich class, that’s making war, and we’re winning.”That, however, is not the worst of it. Defeat in a struggle can be bitter, but nothing is permanent, even lost struggles can be inspiring for future generations and one lives to fight another day. What is happening now is altogether different: in several key countries, and internationally, the movement is retreating without putting up any serious fight at all.

Such trade union resistance as there is, has remained mainly verbal and virtual.

In the United States, the labour movement uncritically supports a President who has betrayed crucial pledges made during his 2008 election campaign. In Europe, where the labour movement has been under attack on a broad front, the ETUC has just managed four “action days” which have come and gone without any noticeable impact. Nor have demonstrations and strikes at national level had much of an impact. Clearly, a much more forceful coordinated response is needed. What we have instead is a retreat into national sand castles. Nothing is heard of from the once powerful labour movement of Japan. It may be said that the trade unions of the industrialized world, with few exceptions, are in a retreat that is becoming a silent rout.

The ITUC had its second congress in Vancouver in June and elected a new general secretary (Sharan Burrow) and a new president (Michael Sommer from the DGB). Predictably, not much else has changed. The ITUC remains a jester in the court of the intergovernmental organizations and acts, in the best of cases, like an international human rights NGO with an emphasis on labour issues. Unlike all its predecessors, even the two latest and weakest, it has no principles, no program, no vision and, consequently, no traction. The role of the largest international labour organization the world has ever seen remains marginal.

A change in the leadership of the BWI and IFJ may produce positive developments. On the other hand, the mega-merger project launched by the IMF, ICEF and ITGLWF is only remarkable insofar as it revolves entirely around process without any reference to objectives. It is not clear why these organizations should merge. To become more powerful? Perhaps. To become more powerful to do what? That question remains unanswered.

The ideological collapse of social-democracy, which has internalized neo-liberal policies hostile to workers, to unions, to its own historical heritage and reason for existence, has certainly been a factor contributing to the demoralization of the trade union movement, especially in countries where there is a historically close link between the unions and the social-democratic parties (Central and Northern Europe, UK), or in the countries of the former Soviet block where the meaning of socialism has been lost through decades of Stalinism.

In summary, the picture of the international labour movement in its institutions is bleak. Despite certain enclaves of militancy which are in danger of becoming Asterix villages, the general picture is one of stagnation and bureaucratic paralysis

At national and regional level, the picture is more complex and, in part, more positive. In Latin America (Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay) the trade union movement has gained strength with the support of progressive governments, based on left-wing coalitions. In South Korea a militant trade union movement continues to fight. in South Africa a powerful trade union movement is defying the ANC government (supposedly an ally), in some European countries trade union membership is actually growing, not least in those worst hit by the crisis (Iceland, Ireland, Greece, Portugal), as it is growing in some Africa countries, sometimes spectacularly (Ghana, Nigeria). So, far more than it would appear if one just looks at the international level, the labour movement is holding its own.

That, however, has not been the most significant positive development, important as it may be. Far more important were events which were largely unexpected: the Tunisian revolution which broke out in December and triggered off a chain of uprisings throughout the Arab world and beyond; the unprecedented strike wave in China which started in June with the Honda and Toyota plants, where the workers for the first time demanded the right to form independent unions; the Greek strikes throughout the year, in protest against the “austerity” program of the socialist (alas!) government, the only instance so far where a popular protest movement has been endorsed and subsequently led by the national trade union centers.

In most of these social struggles, like in others that followed in 2011 (the public workers’ movement in the US which started in Wisconsin, the youth demonstrations of the “indignados” in Spain and elsewhere) the leadership of the national centers played no role at all; in the best of cases running to keep up (Wisconsin). Nor has any of the traditional Left in its various forms (broad or sectarian) played any significant role. As Rosa Luxemburg said: “The masses are in reality their own leaders.”

Another defining feature was the role of the new means of communication (internet, facebook, twitter, etc.) which are largely beyond the control of governments and other bureaucratic power structures. The Chinese government has gone to great lengths to control internet, and it is not succeeding. Commentators have already pointed out the role that the release by Wikileaks of communications by American diplomats, seriously damaging to Ben Ali and his clan, have played in the antecedents of the Tunisian revolution. Facebook as an organizing tool of the rebellion has been equally prominent in Tunisia, Egypt and elsewhere.

The GLI in 2010
For the GLI, 2010 has been a year of intense activity, mainly related to organizing in the informal economy, specifically home-based workers and domestic workers. . This activity, in partnership with WIEGO and others, remains a GLI priority. Organizing informal women workers is one of the most important contributions we can make to building progressive social movements.

A GLI/WIEGO/IUF team (Karin Pape, who had been elected international co-ordinator of the domestic workers’ network (IDWN) by the provisional steering committee in 2009, Barbro Budin (IUF), Chris Bonner (WIEGO), Dan Gallin (GLI and WIEGO) and Kathleen MacKenzie (IDWN) in charge of the website), focused the activities of the network on preparing for the first discussion of the convention and recommendation for domestic workers at the International Labour Conference in June 2010. A representative group of domestic workers, including most of the IDWN Steering Committee, attended the Conference to become familiar with the arguments and procedures. This experience proved invaluable in the subsequent lobbying activities and the final discussions the following year. Simultaneously, the network strengthened its internal cohesion and developed an action program.

The GLI also continued to participate in efforts to build an international network of home workers and home-based workers. During a visit to Montevideo in April, Dan Gallin had a first discussion on this issue with the IUF Regional Secretariat for Latin America. In May, Gallin participated in the first regional meeting on homed work in South Eastern Europe, held in Veliko Tarnovo (Bulgaria), co-sponsored by the Bulgarian Homeworkers’ Association, the Confederation of Independent Trade Unions and the Friedrich Ebert Foundation (FES), and in August he participated in the first joint meeting of the Asian HomeNets (HN South Asia and HN South East Asia), also co-sponsored by the FES. Finally, in November, Gallin participated in the International Forum of the Clean Clothes Campaign held in Turkey. Each one of these meetings made it possible to strengthen existing contacts, to develop new ones and to develop a sense of common purpose in building an international movement.
With the support of the Republic and Canton of Geneva, the GLI developed a program supporting the organization of informal workers, mostly women, in Moldova. This program has enabled the IUF representative in Chişinău, Svetlana Boincean, working with the union SindLUCAS, to begin organizing domestic workers and to create a website informing workers about their rights, in Romanian and Russian. It is hoped that this program can be continued in 2011, focusing on young workers.

A GLI Board meeting, expanded to include British trade unionists and GLI associates based in Britain, was held in London in November. A GLI UK was formed at the end of the year ( It is based in Manchester and will work closely with the two other GLIs: Geneva and Cornell (New York).

The GLI website has been considerably expanded, with historical material and new material on the Arab revolutions, Thailand, etc.

March 26-27 (DG): Rotschuo Retreat
April 12 –19 (DG): Meetings with the IUF Regional Office for Latin America and former regional secretary Enildo Iglesias; meeting with the Domestic Workers’ Union (SUTD), Montevideo
June 2 – 18 (DG, KP): International Labour Conference, Geneva
June 7 (DG): 14th GLI Board Meeting, Geneva
June 15 (DG,KP): Steering Committee, International Domestic Workers’ Network, Geneva
September 9 (DG): Funeral of Wilebaldo Solano, last general secretary of the POUM, Barcelona
October 22 –26 (DG): Clean Clothes Campaign International Forum, Gönen, Turkey
November 16-17 (DG, KP): GLI Network , London

January 11-13 (DG,KP): WIEGO Board Meeting, Manchester
April 19 – 23 (DG) WIEGO General Assembly, Belo Horizonte, Brazil
May 16 – 22 (DG): Balkan Seminar of Home Workers’ Organizations, Veliko Tarnovo, Bulgaria
August 2-3 (DG): Joint Confernce-Workshop of HomeNet South East Asia and HomeNet South Asia on: “Building Visibility and Voice through Responsive Homebased Workers’ Organizations in Asia: Focus on ILO Convention 177 on Home Work”, Manila
September 1 (DG, KP): Meeting with Svetlana Boincean in Geneva (planning Moldova project)
October 10-12 (KP): WIEGO Staff Retreat, Madrid
October 13 – 16 (DG, KP): WIEGO Board Meeting, Madrid
October 16 – 17: (DG, KP): Advisory Committee, WIEGO Organization and Representation Program, Madrid
October 18-20 (KP): Workshop, Women Working Worldwide, Manchester
October 21-11 (KP): Meetings in London (TUC, Kalayaan, Christian Aid)
November 4-5 (KP): European Conference on Domestic Work (ETUC, Justitia et Pax, IDWN), Brussels
December 1-3 (KP): FES Human Rights Award Ceremony for Marcelina Bautista, general secretary, CONLACTRAHO, Berlin
December 8-10 (KP): FNV Worshop on Organizing Strategies, Amersfoort (NL)
December 14 (KP): Denknetz/UNIA planning meeting for domestic workers’ conference, Bern
December 14-17 (KP): Working Group on Domestic Workers’ Research Network, Amsterdam

Cercle d’Olten
January 30 (DG): Committee Meeting, Bern

Collège du Travail
Board Meeting (DG), Geneva: June 3, September 15

Pages de Gauche
Editorial Committee meeting, Lausanne (DG): June 18, September 17

Board Meeting (DG), Zürich, November 8

Swiss Socialist Party
International Policy Committee (DG): March 2, May 31, Bern

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 2010 is attached as an annex.