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Unions ready to face challenges in the Americas

ICFTU OnLine... 017/270106

Strengthened trade union movement ready to face challenges in the Americas

Brussels, 27 January 2006 (ICFTU OnLine): "We have to look ahead, to look for new alternatives for the Americas. We have to make alliances, to fight with our brothers and sisters in the Americas for another continent - one where our people are no longer the servants of the economy but the economy the servant of the people," said Víctor Baéz, General Secretary of the ICFTU's regional organisation for the Americas, ORIT, when he initiated the second Trade Union Forum of the Americas in Caracas, 25 January 2006.

He continued: "Free trade alone will not do any good for our people. Decent work will not be delivered by the present, reigning neo-liberal system. Children and women are the most vulnerable under the present form of globalisation, constantly left exploited by it.

How can we overcome these curses? By being a strong, united trade union movement sharing strategies and dreams from Canada to Argentina."

With these words he captured the ambitions of the trade union forum, which had attracted more than 500 people mostly from Latin America and the Caribbean. There were so many participants that the chairs ran out, and many had to stand to hear the passionate speeches.

For the next two days the forum - a central part of the World Social Forum in Caracas - covered issues such as how to curb the negative aspects of globalisation and free trade, how gender parity and decent work can be advanced in the global economy, what kind of regional integration in the Americas would benefit workers and what the continent's labour movement could do to strengthen its position.

Over the two days of the forum, one problem and one solution was repeated again and again: social injustice is plaguing the American continent, with workers as the constant losers. Only a united trade union movement, respecting differences and diversities within it, will empower workers to change this.

"We can only solve individuals' problems by solving our common problems. Not even the largest, strongest and most industrialised country in Latin America can change these things by itself. We must look for alternative power relations and alternative models for development." said Eduardo Estevez, Deputy General Secretary of the WCL, emphasising the consensus of the forum that one central way of addressing these problems is stronger regional integration and cooperation in Latin America.

He was complemented by Rafael Freire, of ORIT: "We need more than just economic integration. We need the kind of political integration that will serve our peoples. The kind of integration that will secure their social, political and labour rights across Latin America."

"We are suffering. Working conditions in the Export Processing Zones, which is the only sector where jobs can be found, are horrible. This model of economic globalisation is giving all power to multinational companies and making democracy the loser. The model is one of discrimination - against women, young people and workers in general. Trade unionism is the only way for workers to change this and take back some of our lost dignity", said Idalmi Carcamo, from CUT Honduras.

On the priorities of government and the international community, Linclon Lewis, General Secretary of the GTUC Guyana followed up by saying: "Poverty is about people, not about trade. Poverty cannot be eradicated by loans or aid but by putting people to work, to work for development. How will it benefit a country to sign trade agreements but lose its people? People must be put first."

The Forum was co-organised by ORIT and CLAT, the two regional organisations of the ICFTU and the WCL, anticipating the unification of the international trade union movement in November 2006. "This event has been a great success. It shows our genuine interest in working together and the possibilities this unification brings", said José Olivio Oliveira, Assistant Secretary General of the ICFTU, continuing, "together we will be able to tackle the challenges that workers and ordinary people face everyday".

Closing the Forum, Víctor Baéz, Secretary General of ORIT, concluded: "We are entering a new period of trade unionism in the Americas. We share the same dreams of decent work but know that it can only be secured through the right public policies. We have to reinvigorate the idea that full employment is possible."

On the issue of the new trade union organisation for the Americas, Baéz emphasised that: "Unions are workers' organisations. We cannot make a distinction between workers from richer countries and those from poorer countries. We have to remember that solidarity is the main tools for unions."

Finally, Baéz celebrated one of the recent achievements of the continent's labour movement and looked ahead at new challenges: "Together with various partners we have created 'Labour's Platform for the Americas'. It is a foundation of policies for governments to follow to create full employment and ensure inclusive societies. But as unions of the Americas we still have the challenge of constructing a development platform for the Americas."

ENDS

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