Activity report (2012)

Preamble: The political situation
The push by the “Troika” (International Monetary Fund, European Union and European Central Bank) to impose “austerity” policies on society in Europe, which is replicated in North America, has continued throughout 2012.Although resistance has been mounting in the form of general strikes in Southern Europe, the rise of the “Occupy” movement and the “Indignados” in Spain and elsewhere, and in the form of student strikes (Chile, Italy, Canada), the trade union movement and the social movements are as yet nowhere near the point where they can stop and reverse this assault .

Greece has been particularly hard hit. It has been described as a “laboratory” of the “austerity” policies, meaning that it is a test run of how policies imposed by international capital, leading to a drastic drop in living standards of an already poor population, to an equally drastic curtailment of trade union and democratic rights and to the sell-out of national assets can be successfully carried out. The labour movement has of course resisted (22 general strikes since 2000) and there is a possible positive outcome: a decisive victory of SYRIZA, the Left coalition (soon to become a party) in the next elections (at the latest in 2016, but probably before).

A SYRIZA government will, however, immediately face external and internal threats. The external threats (from the “Troika”) may, in the best of cases, be voided by the international solidarity of the European Left, although the listless responses of the Northern European unions to the crisis so far means that they have not yet understood that they are next in line.

The internal threats will come from the army, which has an ultra-conservative leadership and a history of taking State power through military coups. The police have been infiltrated by the neo-Nazi “Golden Dawn”. The first task of a SYRIZA government will therefore have to be to change the leadership of the army and of the police. The outcome of such a showdown is at this stage uncertain.

The Greek Communist Party (KKE), once a leading force on the Left, has declined into sectarian irrelevance, although it is still strong in the trade union movement.

It is now clear that the objective of the “austerity” programmes is to make the economies of Europe and North America “competitive” in global terms, i.e. to permanently lower labour costs and corporate taxes (by dismantling the welfare state). This means reducing labour rights and conditions to the lowest global denominator.

Statements by some representatives of the ruling class are relevant. A leader of the French employers’ organisation already in 2007 announced that what needed to be done was to repudiate the programme of the National Council of the Resistance (NCR) in order to “join the world”. The NCR programme (1944), which was that of the first post-war French governments, provided, among other democratic rights, “the restoration of free trade unionism in its traditional rights and endowment with broad powers in the organisation of the economic and social life”.

More recently, Mario Draghi, a former Goldman-Sachs banker and now European Central Bank president, declared in February 2012 that the “European social model has already gone”. For Draghi, regardless of the outcome of any elections, new governments of whatever political colour will have no alternative but to adopt stringent austerity policies, push through structural labour market “reforms” and further dismantle welfare systems.

It is now equally clear that such a programme can only be carried out by imposing authoritarian regimes wherever resistance represents a threat to such policies, which will eventually be everywhere. The imposition of unelected technocratic governments (as in Italy), the militarization of the police, internal security legislation and extra-legal government action (as in the US), point in that direction. The issue is therefore the survival of democracy in the industrial countries which were its heartland since the end of the Second World War.

In a prescient article, Alain Supiot, a French academic at Nantes University, wrote in 2008 that Europe was being won over to the “communist market economy…. this hybrid system borrows from the market wholesale competition, free trade and individual utility maximisation, and from communism its ‘limited democracy’, the instrumentalisation of the law, an obsession with quantification and the complete disconnection between the rulers and the ruled.” (On the GLI website under “Europe”.)

Greece again provides a telling example: in 2010 half of the port of Piraeus, the largest port in Greece, was leased to Cosco, a Chinese state-owned shipping company, which, according to a New York Times report (October 10, 2012), “quickly converted a business that had languished as a Greek state-run enterprise into a hotbed of productivity”. It has achieved this by a “sharp reduction of labour costs and job protection rules”.

Cosco pays workers seven or eight times less than under the Greek union contract, and uses “employment sub-contractors that hire temporary, unskilled, non-union workers desperate for jobs and exploit them by paying low wages.” Batsoulis, a leader of the Dockworkers’ Union, contends that Cosco is also saving money by cutting corners on workers’ safety. Union workers who resist are fired, as he was. “If you are a worker for Cosco, you know suddenly how it is to work in the Chinese Republic” he says.

The NYT article says that “the top-to-bottom overhaul that Cosco is imposing on Piraeus is what Greece as a whole must aspire to if it is ever to restore competitiveness to its recession-sapped economy” and: “Greece’s troika of foreign lenders … has made similar arguments. Among other things, they are urging Prime Minister Antonis Samaras to end blanket protections for workers and unions and to require Greece itself to operate more like a productive modern business.”

While all of this is happening (and much more: Chinese migrant workers hired by the Italian silk industry, extensive land-grabs by Chinese companies in Africa, massive investments world-wide, sometimes with workers brought in from China), Chinese workers in China itself and elsewhere are becoming increasingly militant and organized.

An observer of the Chinese labour movement, who five years ago believed that the ACFTU was the only show in town, now writes: “Today, the Chinese working class is fighting. More than thirty years into the Communist Party’s project of market reform, China is undeniably the epicenter (sic) of global labor unrest. While there are no official statistics, it is certain that thousands, if not tens of thousands, of strikes take place each year. All of them are wildcat strikes: there is no such thing as a legal strike in China. So on a typical day anywhere from half a dozen to several dozen strikes are likely taking place.”

There are, in fact, official statistics: open social conflicts (on labour, land requisition and environment issues) are now officially assessed as reaching 180,000 a year.

These mounting struggles for freedom, social justice and rule of law all provide new and substantial challenges to regime stability and authority of the Chinese Party-State. Migrant workers in the coastal areas, and even more so the growing working class in industries that have moved from the coast to the interior, are becoming a political force, with a shift from law consciousness to rights consciousness.

Chinese workers now tie their material demands to demands of a more political nature, asking to participate in running the workplace and exercising their collective rights even before they have been legally guaranteed. Many workers are now asking for independent collective representation and in May a direct election of trade union representatives was held for the first time at an electronics plant in Shenzhen. The Shenzhen Municipal Trade Union Federation subsequently announced plans to hold elections in another 163 enterprises in the city.

Will an independent Chinese labour movement arise in time to overthrow “market Stalinism” and to rescue European and North American unions from destruction at the hands of authoritarian “free market” regimes? Can the European Left mobilize enough popular support to stop the neoliberal project in its tracks? Will the world labour movement be capable of creating practical links of solidarity between the unions in the old industralized countries and the rising Chinese working class? These may be the most important questions of the foreseeable future.

The GLI in 2012
The highlight of 2012 was of course the first International Summer School of the GLIs, held at Northern College (UK). a highly successful event with 86 participants from 26 countries. A report is available on the GLI UK website and hard copies can be ordered from the web.

The summer school clearly met a strongly-felt need among unions for a space for a free discussion of the problems facing the international labour movement, from an independent socialist and radical perspective but without sectarian limitations, at the same time conveying much needed knowledge and background information about the movement, its history and its politics. The GLI network has proven that it can provide such a space.

As a result of this experience, there is now an interest of establishing GLIs in other countries, also with a perspective of regenerating the labour movement politically and organizationally. Comrades from SYRIZA are working on building a GLI in Greece, a GLI is also in preparation in Bulgaria and Center Praxis in Russia, a research and education center established in 1998, has joined the GLI network. There is also interest in the GLI “formula” in other countries, but without a specific focus as yet.

RF: Romain Felli; DG. Dan Gallin; JK: Joëlle Kuntz; KP: Karin Pape; DS: Dave Spooner; SS: Sean Sweeney; RW: Rebekka Wyler,)
February 18-19 (DG, KP, DS): Critical Labour Studies 8th symposium, University of Salford, Manchester
(DG speaker on: “Informal economy workers and the international trade union movement: an overview”)
(KP speaker on: “The struggle for domestic workers’ rights)
(DS speaker on: “Building an international network of home-based workers”)
May Day (DG, RW): May Day Committee and Zurich Trade Union Council, Zürich (Guest speaker: Kamal Abbas, CTUWS, Egypt)
May 3-4 (DG): Global Labour University, Workshop: The power of labor in MNC global production and service networks, Berlin
(DG speaker on: “Flexible strategies to meet transnational corporate power”)
May 12 (DG, KP): IUF Women’s Conference, Geneva
May 14 (DG, KP) Steering Committee, International Domestic Workers’ Network, Geneva
May 15- 18 (DG, DS, KP, RW): 26th IUF Congress, Geneva
May 30-June 15 (DG, KP): International Labour Conference, Geneva
June 1 (DG): Aspasie (Geneva Sex Workers’ Support Group), Conference: Sex Workers and Trade Unionism, Geneva
July 9-13 (RF, DG, JK, KP, DS, SS): GLI International Summer School, Northern College, UK
September 27-28 (RF, DG, JK, KP, DS): GLI Board Meeting, Geneva
October 3-4 (RF, DG): Swiss Trade Union School Movendo: Two half-day courses on transnational corporations, Morges (Vaud)
November 3-4 (DG): Symposium: The resistance of trade unions and the Left against authoritarianism and totalitarianism, Moscow (Sponsored by the Russian Confederation of Labour VKP, Memorial, Center Praxis and GLI)
November 5 (DG): Center Praxis: Book launch: Russian edition of “Wilebaldo Solano: The POUM in the Spanish Revolution”, Moscow
November 23-24 (DG): Colloque: Le syndicalisme dans ses dimensions internationales, Université Libre de Bruxelles, Brussels
November 29 – December 1 (DG): UNIA Congress, Zürich

February 23-27 (DG, KP, DS) International conference Building HomeNet in South Eastern Europe, Sofia
(DS speaker on: “Organizing in the informal economy”)
June 3 (DG, KP, DS): Advisory Committee, Organization and Representation Program, Geneva
June 5-7 (DG, KP): WIEGO 15th Anniversary Retreat, Bellagio
(DG speaker on: “The future of organizing informal workers”)

Collège du Travail
Committee: March 8, April 25, June 18, July 5, September 17, October 10 (Geneva)

Pages de Gauche
Committee: January 21, March 30, June 15, September 21, December 7 (Lausanne)

Committee: April 10 (Bern )

A Romanian edition of “The Labour Movement” by Dan Gallin (500 copies) was published for the GLI by Svetlana Boincean in Chisinau (Republic of Moldova) in February. It was distributed to the Romanian Workers’ Delegation at the 2012 International Labour Conference.

The Russian edition of Wilebaldo Solano’s book “El POUM en la Historia” was published by the Center Praxis, as a joint project with the GLI, in November (1,000 copies). The GLI had participated in the translation costs with a contribution of EUR3,500. The book launch took place in Moscow on November 5, with the participation of Julia Guseva, translator and editor, Dan Gallin and Richard Greeman, of the Victor Serge Library.

The original plan was that Solano would write a preface to the Russian edition. Unfortunately, time was not on our side. Solano died in Barcelona on September 7, 2010, at the age of 94. On the request of his widow, Maria Teresa Carbonell, DG wrote the preface.

The GLI UK published a report on the GLI International Summer School held in July: hard copies can be ordered from an e-book publisher (see:

The secretariat suffered a grievous loss through the unexpected death of Oscar Payuyo. Oscar was responsible, with his wife Nora, for maintenance and cleaning of the GLI office, but in addition was immensely helpful in establishing the office and building its infrastructure. Oscar was hospitalised with a respiratory ailment on April 17 and died that night of heart failure. He was 62.

Karin Pape has worked principally as WIEGO adviser for Europe, where she remains actively involved with the domestic workers’ and home workers’ movements. She continues working part time in the GLI as an administrative assistant

Ms. Mariane Grobet-Wellner has kept the GLI accounts in the period under review. Mr. Roland Laube (BERO Treuhand AG) will audit the 2012 accounts.