There’s no business like union business
This Sunday, more than 2000 trade union representatives and staff gather in Liverpool for the 5th UNI Global Union World Congress.
It is a historic event, for several reasons.
First – the mere fact that so many trade unionists gather to build joint strength and commitment to improve labour conditions in the global services sectors, is a case in point in itself. I have been to one UNI World Congress before, and the force and width of all the experiences shared truly qualifies the expression – there’s no business like union business.
Which brings us to the second point. UNI General Secretary Philip Jennings, who has played the key role in building UNI, will step down from his post at the Congress. For me and many others, it will be an emotional moment. With his passion, drive and burning union heart, Philip has moved mountains during his time as General Secretary. From uniting the global service sector unions into one organisation, to inspiring on the ground for countless union reps through the years with his passionate speeches, to setting up ground-breaking agreements on health and safety in global supply chains through the Bangladesh Accord – Philips’ legacy is astonishing. Trade union work is a team effort, but Philip has taken the lead in advancing the union cause on a global scale throughout his long service.
Third – this global gathering comes at a time of historic significance. Old global alliances of power are transforming: Europe and the US is at odds on trade and defence spending. Asian economies continue to grow at a staggering pace, shifting the global balance of power. The battle on climate change and the struggle for peace and prosperity for all is tightly interlinked. As inequalities of income and life chances continue to rise in many Western and developing economies alike, spurring discontent and populism, there is a pressing need to form constructive political responses to global challenges.
In this, the union movement has the chance of a lifetime. Using our combined strength across national borders, we can provide a democratic counterbalance to both unfettered markets and authoritarian political tendencies. Freedom of association, the right to represent ones’ fellow colleagues in a union, the right to bargain and strike to uphold wages and working conditions – these are all decisive factors for a fair world of work in the future, a world where the power of free markets is harnessed for the good of the many, not just the few.
The World Congress in Liverpool is an important step towards that goal.